I’m always curious whenever I see people describe shojo romances as ‘pure’ or ‘innocent.’ While the average shonen manga may contain more panty shots and jiggling breasts than every single shojo manga combined, shojo series are actually far more likely to explore the topic of sex. Many newcomers to shojo manga are surprised to find that a good portion of shojo series feature couples who eventually do the deed. This surprise may stem from the assumption that materials intended for female audiences are automatically ‘chaste,’ since (supposedly) males are the only ones interested in viewing sex. Sex shows up in everything from ‘fluffy’ series like Absolute Boyfriend to more gritty fare such as Nana and Sand Chronicles. But the presence of sex in shojo manga can be very divisive. While some fans prefer for the topic of sex to be explored in romance manga, others feel bothered when shojo series cross the line. Part of what may influence fans’ reactions to sex in shojo manga are their expectations from manga as a whole.
Many of the fans I’ve seen complain about sex in shojo manga prefer idealistic romances. They don’t want to see teenagers in bed – instead, they look to shojo romances as an escape; a fantasy that should be ‘pure,’ and sex often gets in the way of that illusion. Meanwhile, fans who prefer shojo series that do include the main couple consummating their relationship don’t just like it for the kinks (though that can factor in too, of course). These fans tend to like sex in shojo manga because they think it’s unrealistic for teenagers to be so pure that they never think about or discuss sex. As for myself, I tend to agree with the latter opinion. In my post on what makes a good couple, I purposely left one criteria out: physicality. Knowing that a manga couple is physically attracted to each other (through kissing, sensual hugs, etc.) is important in getting attached to them, and this attraction includes, and often leads up to, the couple consummating their feelings. But let me clarify: I don’t think every shojo manga with teenaged characters needs to show that the main couple is sexually active. However, what I do think is that shojo series should at least show the main couple addressing the issue of whether they should have sex or not. It’s more important for me that a series includes a scene where the main female talks with her girlfriends about not wanting to have sex with her boyfriend yet or the main couple has a conversation about sex than for an actual sex scene to occur. Regardless of what the media and those right-wing PSAs will tell you, in real-life not every teenager is having sex, and thus, it’s not unrealistic for a character to not be sexually active in a romance manga. But it is unrealistic for a teenaged character to have no thoughts about sex, even if those thoughts are that they’re not ready for it yet.
Still, to some extent I can see why there are fans who don’t like to see the topic of sex come up in their favorite shojo manga. Over the past few years, shojo manga has grown increasingly smuttier. While this may or or may not be problematic in itself, what is troublesome is that smut often takes place of developing interesting plots or characters. My opinion of sex within a manga is often affected by how many sex scenes there are and how they are depicted. I’d much prefer for sex scenes to be depicted sensually and for there to be few of them than for a series to be all-out smut. Not to mention, how a fan reacts to the presence of sex in a shojo manga really depends on the manga itself. For example, I came into Kimi ni Todoke expecting a very pure love story, and seeing Sawako and Kazehaya in any sort of physical relationship would be somewhat disconcerting given Sawako’s naïvété.
But what’s interesting is that regardless of how many shojo manga include sex scenes, very few series have a female protagonist who is not a virgin. The only series I can think of whose main female characters have had sex prior to the story’s start are Mars, in which Kira was raped by her stepfather several years before falling in love with her boyfriend Rei, and Gatcha Gatcha, which implied that it’s main female character had sex with at least a few of her past thirteen boyfriends. Even once female manga characters do have sex, intimacy is always placed in the context of ‘progressing’ the couple’s relationship – very rarely do we get to see the female’s thoughts on the pleasure of the act itself. So while it may seem like shojo manga are very ‘contemporary’ by showcasing couples who eventually have sex, in reality they’re still upholding very traditional values of what a ‘good’ teenaged girl should be like by reinforcing the female protagonist’s virginity at the start of the series. Still, I don’t think saying that all shojo series should or should not include sex is the right answer. Instead, there should be a range in the depiction of love and sex, and I would argue that shojo manga already does this: if you don’t like to see couples between the sheets, there are plenty of chaste alternatives out there. So what do you guys think? Does it bother you when you see characters having sex in a shojo manga, or do you find it to be unrealistic when they don’t? Share your thoughts, guys!