Controversy Colors Teen Book

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Controversy Colors Teen Book

Newspaper article

By: Carol Memmott

Date: May 22, 2005

Source: Memmott, Carol. "Controversy Colors Teen Book" USA Today, May 22, 2005. 〈〉 (accessed March 14, 2006).

About the Author: Carol Memmott is a staff writer for USA Today. Established in September 1982, USA Today is one of the most popular newspapers in the United States. It was started with a goal of providing entertaining news with colorful photographs and graphics. The newspaper established itself within a year, selling more than 1.3 million copies a day all across the nation. As of 2006, its daily circulation is approximately 2.3 million, making it the largest-selling daily newspaper in the United States.


Since the 1970s and 1980s, numerous surveys have been conducted to gather diverse information about adolescent sexual activity in United States. Most of these studies reveal that children as young as ten or eleven years old become sexually active and indulge in unsafe sexual practices. Consequently, there has been an increase in pregnancy rate, sexually transmitted diseases, and other psychological as well as physical problems among teenagers.

An increasing number of teenagers are involved in oral sex as compared to intercourse. The National Center for Health Statistics (NHCS) states that about ten percent of females, between fifteen and nineteen years of age, have engaged in oral sex but not intercourse. Among the many reasons for such practices are instant thrill and gratification, peer pressure, and most commonly a misconception that oral sex is a safe alternative to intercourse, as it involves no risk of pregnancy. An April 1997 New York Times article noted that high school students who had been educated about sex, HIV, and pregnancy considered oral sex to be a safe option, in both physical and emotional terms. The Washington Post also published an article in a July 1999 issue that emphasized the high prevalence of oral sex among middle and high school students. According to a study conducted by the NHCS in 2005, more than half of teenagers, aged fifteen and above, have engaged in oral sex.

Medical experts state that although oral sex does not lead to pregnancy, it may expose teenagers to various sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). According to a survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least one in twenty teenaged girls have chlamydia—an STD. In many cases, this infection has been transmitted by oral sex. Yet, most teens are completely unaware of the risks involved in unsafe oral sex. In addition, most parents find it difficult to discuss oral sex with their children, fearing that it would only add to their curiosity. On the other hand, there are some who feel that talking to children about general safe-sex guidelines and pregnancy should suffice.

Apart from newspaper articles, books about the hazards of sexual practices perceived to be safe have also been published. The USA Today article discusses one such book titled Rainbow Party. Written by young adult fiction writer Paul Ruditis in 2003, the novel is about teenage girls who plan to perform oral sex at a "rainbow party." The article discusses the controversy surrounding the book.


A battle could be brewing in the book stacks over a new novel about teens and oral sex.

Rainbow Party, aimed at the teen market (ages 14 and up), has some booksellers and librarians wondering whether author Paul Ruditis sensationalizes the subject—and, more significantly, whether they should carry it on their shelves.

"Parents count on us to have books that are appropriate for their children," says Monica Holmes of Hicklebee's Books in San Jose, Calif. "We're not a conservative group, but this one is outside our safe area."

Elly Gore, a buyer for Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee, concedes that the book is "edgy" but will stock it mainly because, she says, "I knew that if I skipped it, I would have been censoring it…. I couldn't do that."

Two of the large chains—Barnes & Noble and Borders—will sell the book online but not stock it in their stores.

"This was one our buyers thought wasn't likely to be of interest to the bulk of our customer base," says Borders spokeswoman Anne Roman.

Rainbow Party, (Simon & Schuster, $8.99) is about a group of teens who plan an oral-sex party at which each of the girls wears a different color of lipstick.

Ruditis says the book was never meant to sensationalize sex parties. "We just wanted to present an issue kids are dealing with," he says.

Bethany Buck, Ruditis' editor at Simon & Schuster, came up with the idea for the book and says she hopes it will "scare" young readers.

Suzanne Kelly, a buyer for the Chester County Book and Music Co. in West Chester, Pa., which will stock a limited number of Rainbow, agrees. She says the book's message that oral sex "really is sex" and that teens can contract STDs through such sexual practices far outweigh the controversial story line.

"I can't imagine anyone reading this book and saying, 'Hey, what a great idea. Let's send out invitations,'" Ruditis says.

Gillian Engburg, an editor at the American Library Association's Booklist magazine, says her publication will not review Rainbow. But the reason, she says, has nothing to do with the subject matter. "We just didn't feel the book had enough literary merit to justify purchase."


The novel Rainbow Party is a fictional account of two fourteen-year-old girls who plan a "rainbow party," wherein girls wearing different colored lipsticks perform oral sex on several boys in sequence, thus leaving a "rainbow" of colors on the recipient's penis. However, as news of an epidemic of STDs creates mass panic in their school, the girls abandon their plan to organize the party. The book attempts to portray the common notion existing among teenagers that oral sex is casual and safe. There is no evidence to suggest that teens actually participate in "rainbow parties," but, as mentioned earlier, the prevalence of oral sex among teenagers (and pre-teens) is much higher than sexual intercourse.

According to the author Paul Ruditis, this novel is designed to "scare" teenagers by showing them the "dangerous side" of oral sex. Moreover, the author also suggests that the book is an eye-opener and aimed at motivating parents and schools to educate teenagers about oral sex through constructive dialog. Soon after it was published, the book generated considerable controversy.

Rainbow Party received extensive media coverage after popular talk show host Oprah Winfrey included it in an October 2003 show on teenage sexual behavior in the United States. Some critics have condemned the book, stating that it did not successfully accomplish its educational purpose. Terming the incidents depicted as shocking and exaggerated, they questioned whether teenagers, after reading the book, would feel repulsed by oral sex. Atoosa Rubenstein, Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen magazine, in an interview with CNN stated that he had never heard of any girl attending a "rainbow party." He also suggested that parents should use such books as a reference for discussing oral sex with their teens instead of relying on books alone without discussion. Although the publisher recommends Rainbow Party for ages fourteen and up, many critics feel that the content is inappropriate for such young readers. Consequently, the book has not sold well, and some bookstores and libraries have refused to sell it or include it in their collections.


Web sites "Teens and Oral Sex … There are Risks." 〈〉 (accessed March 14, 2006). "Teens in America." 〈〉 (accessed March 14, 2006).

Guttmacher Institute. "Oral Sex Among Adolescents: Is It Sex or Is It Abstinence?" 〈〉 (accessed March 14, 2006).

National Center for Health Statistics. "Sexual Behavior and Selected Health Measures: Men and Women 15-44 Years of Age, United States, 2002." 〈〉 (accessed March 14, 2006).

USA Today. "Teens Define Sex in New Ways." 〈〉 (accessed March 14, 2006).

Washington Post. "Study: Half of All Teens Have Had Oral Sex." 〈〉 (accessed March 14, 2006).