Welcome to another post in this series! This one will be slightly different, though, because I’ll actually be discussing a trope I don’t like, instead of one of my favorites.
WHAT IS A TROPE?
In storytelling, a trope is just that — a conceptual figure of speech, a storytelling shorthand for a concept that the audience will recognize and understand instantly. Above all, a trope is a convention. It can be a plot trick, a setup, a narrative structure, a character type, a linguistic idiom… you know it when you see it. (source)
Our trope for today will be
THE PREMONITION SEX
That’s what I like to call whenever books or shows have the main characters have sex right before the biggest twist in the story. It has a “premonition” feel to it, because it’s almost like by having sex they were already predicting something bad was about to happen and break them appart, even if temporarily.
I feel like most people don’t even notice that they’re doing this when they’re writing a story. But, it’s always bothered me, especially in YA.
This is a small list of books I remember having this trope:
- Alex, Approximately, by Jenn Bennett
- All The Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven
- When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon
- My Life Next Door, by Huntley Fitzpatrick
- The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland, by Rebekah Crane
- Queens of Geek, by Jen Wilde
- Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
I am sure this is present in a lot of other books, but I don’t remember that many details about some titles.
And this is *why* I think this is such an annoying trope:
First, because it pitches “sex” as a life-changing event. I know everyone will have their own personal view on sex, intimacy and what it means to them. But, from a strict biological point of view, there’s nothing life-changing about sex.
(And, no, I will not be talking about hymens and whatever, because that assumes a heteronormative kind of sex that does not apply to everyone).
However, when authors put their character’s first time right before the major plot twist, where actual life-changing circumstances will come to play (main character’s mom just announces she’s adopted! Love interest gets accepted in college in the other side of the country! Major fight breaks between them – will they find each other after such fall out?), it becomes impossible not to associate the two.
And they should *not* be associated. I remember reading All the Bright Places for the first time and feeling so bad, because I knew that the moment they had sex, something bad would happen in the story. And that’s not how sex should be perceived! I should not fear for my characters to finally do the deed, because I know the tone of the story will change dramactically, because this is not how it happens in real life. Your life doesn’t go from bubbly roses to emo soundtrack just because you had sex!
Another reason why I hate this trope is because it can add even more drama to the storyline. Let’s say that these characters have been together for a while, but have yet to do *it*. There’s typically a lot of anticipation – in most cases, because all the books I mention feature straight couples, the girl will be nervous and the guy will be fucking ready to do it from day one – and so when it happens, it really feels like a milestone for their relationship.
Just so they can break up the next day because of whatever tragic event the story brings to us.
You can almost always expect a regretful inner monologue from one of the characters saying that they wish they hadn’t done it. And, honestly, it’s understandable! If you trust that person enough to have sex with them, just to have that truth be broken, it hurts a lot. And that’s why I feel like the sex always have to come before the “fall out” in these books – because this trust has to be marked with this event, just so the characters can feel even worse when they do break up.
(Is this post even making sense? I hope so).
All of this to say that this is *not* necessary. You can show a really emotional trust bond between characters without them having sex – that is not the only way you can show to another person you’re comitted to them. And it also does not sit well with me that this is only used to add drama to a story.
One of my favorite movies of all times is guilty of having said trope – 27 Dresses. The only reason why I feel like this one doesn’t bother me as much is because there is no implicit expectation in the sex. It’s not the “first time” for any of the characters, and it happens sort of out of the blue, without them having an established relationship beforehand.
I think this lack of expectation doesn’t make this sex feel like a huge premonition, even though it pretty much is. And in this case, sex is also used to show the trust between the characters, that is obviously broken the next morning due to a huge misunderstanding.
The last episode of season 3 of Gossip Girl also features an amazing example of this trope. The way Gossip Girl deals with sex has always been problematic. Not only there’s way too much implication of these TEENAGERS having kinky sex at 17, but it is also pitched as this life-changing event that bonds these characters together forever. Like, no thanks.
Let me know in the comments if you’d ever noticed this trope in the past and if it bothers you as much as it bothers me, hahah. Do you remember any books or shows/movies where sex was used as a premonition for the big twist in the story?