‘The Hunger Games’: Katniss Everdeen Is Uninterested In Sex And That’s 100% Okay
More than dystopian hellscapes, dreamy supernatural boyfriends and confident teenage girls who save the world from destruction, one of the biggest and most popular tropes in YA fiction is the infamous sexy love triangle.
But in “The Hunger Games,” which will conclude later this month with “Mockingjay — Part 2,” Katniss Everdeen’s situation is a bit different than the ones we’re used to reading in other books. Sure, she’s got two gorgeous young men interested in her affections, but unlike your average teenage YA protagonist who’s got plenty of options and a lot of adrenaline rushing through her body, she’s honestly not very interested in exploring a sexual relationship with either of them.
This lack of sex drive sets Katniss apart from many contemporary heroines like Bella Swan (say what you want about those books but she
wanted to jump Edward’s bones), Hazel Grace Lancaster and Tris Prior — and not in a way that everyone necessarily appreciates. In fact, many fans of the books and movies criticize the strangeness of a franchise that focuses around the government-sanctioned murder of innocent, underprivileged children, but that doesn’t allow for its characters to experiment with healthy sexuality
However, whether or not Katniss’s lack of sexual desire was intentional on author Suzanne Collins’ part, it’s become a necessary form of representation for many people who share her emotions — and on top of that it’s surprisingly true to life, according to sex educator Dr. Logan Lekhoff. She’s worked with hundreds of teenagers to teach them about sex and while she freely admits that teens can be sexual beings, Katniss might have a bit too much on her plate to even consider her own desires.
“You see trauma work in one of two ways: people shut down or they act out and go to the extreme to redefine their experiences,” Lekhoff told MTV News over the phone. “It’s not really true to the story if all of a sudden this super strong, powerful woman becomes the damsel who fell into a man’s arms. That’s not how I’ve ever seen her.
“Do I think it’s possible to be tough and fearsome and fabulous and sexual, too? Absolutely. But I think that under the circumstances, we know that for adults, stress impacts our libido. So imagine the stress that Katniss and these characters are under. Is it a surprise that lying down, being vulnerable, being naked in a place that isn’t safe wouldn’t be the greatest idea for her?”
Add to that Katniss’s overwhelming concern about rearing children in a world full of so much violence, which is sure to be a mood-killer — after all, we have no idea what kind of sexual education or birth control the citizens of District 12 would have had access to, so sex and childbirth would probably be very connected in her mind.
“We know that you don’t have to perpetuate the Hunger Games system and can still be sexually active, but we really don’t know in this case,” Lekhoff continued. “Based on how they’re living, access to that stuff is probably not available. When you give your body and share your body and someone else, you are incredibly vulnerable even in the best of relationships, and this is a character who can’t afford to be vulnerable.”
That aspect of Katniss makes her an incredibly relatable heroine to many readers, including me. When I picked up the very first book in 2012, I was struck by how she dismissed every tender feeling she initially had towards Peeta as soon as she felt it. Not only was it believable given the circumstances — one of them would probably have to kill the other in order to win the Hunger Games, after all — but it mirrored my own teenage fear of letting myself be vulnerable, and of being taken advantage of by someone who has completely different priorities than what they present. It made complete sense to me that Katniss, who has so much more to lose than my overachieving nerd-self did back then, would shut down any natural desires she had so thoroughly that she didn’t even know she was doing it.
But there’s another explanation for Katniss’s feelings (or lack thereof) that have nothing to do with the stress and danger she faces — she simply might not be interested in sex. Since the books first became popular, many members of the asexual and demisexual communities have embraced Katniss as a relatable hero for them to rally behind.
Asexuality, for those not in the know, is when you have little to no sexual desire, and it can exist in various forms — like Katniss, an asexual person can still take pleasure in romantic activities like kissing and hand-holding, and may still engage in sexual activities for the sake of their partner. People who identify as demisexual may become interested in sex through feeling attraction towards a specific partner.
Levkoff hesitates to definitively apply the label of asexuality to Katniss, but certainly acknowledges the importance of a character that asexual or demisexual people can identify with; in her work as a sex educator she often asks her students to select figures from fiction or popular culture that they feel represents them, as an exercise that helps them pinpoint their own feelings towards sex.
“For them to see a character where the person’s whole life doesn’t revolve around sex and sexual desire and the need to get laid, which so many teen genre books and films seem to do, I think that’s really liberating, and in the end if it initiates a discourse about sexuality with a capital S, that’s a really good thing for everyone,” she said. “With really good, well-rounded characters, lots of people from a variety of genders and orientations can see something of themselves in the character.”
Given that Katniss Everdeen has practically inspired a generation — both on
off-screen — we bet a lot of people in the world are more than happy to relate to her.