“Sex is going to have emotional consequences no matter how much you tell yourself that it’s not.”
Aury Wallington’s teen fiction novel, Pop!, focuses on Marit, a young woman who’s desperate to lose her virginity. Pop! is an honest, nonjudgmental look at sex in high school – a remarkable feat, considering the recent trend toward abstinence-only policies in public schools.
teenwire.com caught up with Aury Wallington, who has also written for Sex and the City and Veronica Mars, to ask her about Marit’s quest to have sex, and how fiction is a place to explore the realities of sex and relationships.
teenwire.com (TW): Why did you choose to write about virginity?
Aury Wallington (AW): My main goal was actually to write a funny, smart book that teens would like. I was writing for Sex and the City at the time, so I had sex on my brain. I’ve always been interested in writing about the embarrassing, cringe-worthy, humiliating moments I wish I could go back and redo. I wanted to write something that teenagers could pick up and say, “That’s what sex is actually like.” You don’t know if you’re supposed to make noise or if you’re supposed to move your hands, if you’re doing it right . . . at least that’s what my first time was like.
TW: Seventeen-year-old Marit wants to lose her virginity, but, like many teens, she’s afraid. Why do you think so many teens are fearful of sex?
AW: In Marit’s case, I don’t know if the fear is as much about sex itself as much as it is about losing her virginity. It’s such a huge deal, whether society’s made it that way or whether it’s peer pressure. There’s this idea in popular culture that you’re crossing a line you can never come back from. It’s stepping over that line. Who’s going to be the one? If I don’t pick the right guy will it scar me permanently?
TW: Marit loses her virginity to one of her best friends, and then regrets it. Why?
AW: She doesn’t regret having sex. It isn’t a rash decision. She has no sense of being damaged goods. She prepares for it. She is ready, she is safe, she thinks it through. She discusses it with her sister. She and her best friend Jamie are both virgins, it’s the perfect solution. She has no idea that Jamie has feelings for her. But as much as she wants to tell herself it’s no big deal, it really is a big deal. Jamie uses it as a validation of their feelings for each other, and once they have sex their friendship changes.
TW: Why is it important to present sexually active teenagers in a realistic, mature way?
AW: Good fiction and great stories start with characters you can identify with. What’s important in all literature is to find this emotional truth, especially when you’re writing about something as sensitive as teenagers having sex for the first time. A lot of books give this unrealistic expectation that sex is going to be amazing the first or second time. It’s like magic. You think when you have sex your body is going to be exploding with pleasure. And then when you do have sex you think there’s something wrong, because it’s not like it is in the books you’ve read. Poor Marit – it doesn’t hurt, but it’s weird and uncomfortable and he’s sweating on her.
TW: How can fiction play a role in answering questions about sex?
AW: There’s learning about the physical mechanics of sex, how babies get made, safer sex precautions, etc. But in fiction you can get into the emotional aspects of sex because you can get inside the character’s head and see what they’re thinking.
TW: What do you want readers to take away from Pop!?
AW: Sex is going to have emotional consequences no matter how much you tell yourself that it’s not. Sex does unleash a whole new set of feelings and ideas and emotions about the person you had sex with whether you want to follow through with them or not. Marit learns that in a painful way.
TW: What advice would you give teens who are thinking about having sex for the first time?
AW: I’d encourage them to talk about it with someone, whether a friend or an older sibling. Make sure you really are ready, and be aware that your feelings about that person are going to change, for better or for worse. Things won’t stay exactly the same.