One area that has received particular attention in the world of clean fiction is the portrayal of romantic relationships... and it's definitely something we've talked about a lot here at PirateCat in our social media posts, as well as Trope Talks some of our authors have done, and more.
In this blog post, I want to explore clean fiction's portrayal of young adult relationships, including the differences between clean YA romance and non-clean YA romance, and the vast importance of portraying healthy relationships in YA fiction.
Clean Romance v. Mainstream (Non-Clean) Romance in YA Literature
I almost wanted to call this clean v. unclean but that just gave me Leviticus vibes, so... for the purpose of this blog post, we'll call it non-clean YA romance.
Clean romance is a subgenre of romance that is free from explicit sexual content, profanity, and graphic violence. This doesn't mean that clean romance is devoid of all romantic content, but rather that it focuses on the emotional connection between the characters rather than physical intimacy.
Traditional or mainstream YA (non-clean) romance, on the other hand, often features explicit sexual content --yes, even in "YA" genres!--and may include themes that are not actually appropriate for teen readers.
If you do a search of mainstream YA romance fiction, you will find many books that portray teen sex with varying degrees of on-page content (sometimes with fairly graphic descriptions on the page).
Clean YA romance, on the other hand, will not include on-page sexual content.
In fact, here at PirateCat we go a few steps further: we do not include any stories in our portal which portray teenage sex to any degree, not even "closed door" or fade-to-black (though we do realistically address sexual temptation in some stories), and all our romance is focused on the emotional content, with physical content limited to just kisses.
Yes, we know teens in the real world are having sexual encounters. But we believe in fiction that encourages age-appropriate, healthy choices for teens, and in our view, that means fiction that depicts healthy boundaries--including physical boundaries in a teen relationship, and the wisdom and self-discipline to make smart choices even when romantically involved.
Smart choices in romance don't just stop at the physical, though...
The Importance of Portraying Healthy, Respectful Relationships in Clean YA Fiction
Clean fiction for young adults shouldn't just omit age-inappropriate sexual content. It should also include positive depictions of what healthy, teenage romantic relationships can actually look like... and how those boundaries can be navigated.
Like it or not, fictional characters do have an impact on their readers. When we encourage (or even idolize or glamorize) unhealthy relationship dynamics, we greatly increase the risk of teens not noticing red flags in their own, real-world relationships, or even worse, seeking out real-world mirrors of the dysfunctional-but-glamorized relationships they've seen on the page.
The thematic implications of the character dynamics do matter, and here at PirateCat, we choose to include stories which emphasize the importance of healthy communication, respect, and mutual understanding in a romantic relationship. When unhealthy relationship dynamics are included in stories in our portal, there are always appropriate consequences and thematic implications which reveal those unhealthy dynamics as what they are --unhealthy--and provide a better alternative.
By showing characters engaging in healthy communication and mutual respect, clean fiction can help young readers develop a better understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like. This can be especially important for teenagers who may be navigating their first romantic relationships.
The portrayal of romantic relationships in clean fiction for young adults is hugely important. By focusing on age-appropriate relationships with appropriate physical boundaries, healthy communication, respect, and mutual understanding, clean YA fiction can serve as a positive example for young readers and promote a better understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like.
By reading clean fiction with these compelling, healthy romantic relationships, young adults can learn to recognize and appreciate the importance of these boundaries and qualities in their own, real-life relationships.