Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sex in YA stories - what YA readers & writers have to say on it

Earlier this week my friend and I were discussing sex in YA and whether or not teens expect sex to be included in a novel.

 I'm not for arbitrary censorship personally, (believe everything has it's place in the right context), but I have seen first hand that not all YA readers are comfortable reading about sex.

Sex should be plot driven for me when in stories (obviously erotica is another kettle of fish cause sex is kinda the point of the book). There are times when the story simply can't occur without sex. I decided to test her theory on members of the YA Writer's community I'm part of. So let's find out (please respect people's right to opinions in comments):

Age 15
Writer and Reader of YA

It's honestly a matter of opinion as to whether or not you could bring yourself to read, or write, a 'sex' scene in a YA novel. Naturally, sex scenes can only be implicated in YA novels, you're not allowed to go into any detail. My parents aren't married and have been together for seventeen years and have two children. Being brought up I don't mind sex outside of marriage.

But I don't think that means you should 'jump around' so to speak. Naturally with what I’ve been brought up I don’t mind implied sex scenes in novels; as long as they have some major contribution to the story. In YA novels today you do see a lot of casual sex, and I don’t agree with that part of it.

For me, if it means something to the characters and adds to the plot (sub or main) then I don’t mind reading about it. But there's a responsibility of the reader as well when taking on novels with implied sex scenes, or even adult sex scenes.

Age 13
Reader of YA

I don't think that there should be any sex scenes in YA books. And I agree with Nana_Hassan that we have to consider that your book will be out there for the world to read. Some people may be comfortable with it, and some might not. To me, kissing and romance are fine, but having sex in books make me feel squeamish. Also, it's not right, especially pre-marital sex. It wouldn't be teaching any morals in the YA. That's what I truthfully think. And being a Christian... well, it just adds to the fact that sex in books for the YA should not be allowed.

Age 14
Reader of YA

I believe that sex shouldn't be allowed in YA, because it is just not right. This is my opinion. I mean, you have to consider that your book will be out there for the world to read, and some younger people coould stumble across it by mistake. You can imagine the consequences. Romance, is fine, kisses too, but sex shouldn't be described in full detail or otherwise. I'm not critiscizing anyone here. Just my opinion.

Age 20
Writer and reader of YA

Sex in YA is always controversial. In fact, I had some Texan told me I was going to hell because of the sex in my book (which, by the way, is non-existent, I think she had more of a problem with the language). Generally, I don’t always want to read it. I think some it can be absolutely ridiculous (AKA House of the Night) but then also there’s a place for it. Take Twilight, three and a half books of pure sexual tension and then ‘I woke up’ and the deed is done? That’s a cop out by the author not being able to write appropriately for teenagers.

Ariel Marie
Age 19
Writer and reader of YA and comic book obsessed
The controversy of sex in YA novels comes most likely because of age. Even if premarital sex is introduced in a novel, that does not necessarily make it a bad thing. Once I heard somebody complain about how sex in such novels is a disgrace, it makes sex look awesome and corrupts the youth.

But at the same time, my dad wanted to introduce me to such a situations to make sure I wasn’t naive in middle school. He started to show me such movies as Revenge of the Nerds, explaining that I had to understand the way that boys thought. Meanwhile, my mom told me to read a book called Forever by Judy Blume because it explained what happened to a girl after she lost her virginity.

By portraying such scenes in a certain way can help people in the future instead of hiding sex completely creating a surprise in the real world. Not only boys but girls take advantage over those who may be sheltered, not understanding such words or questions that involve sex creating a problem. Even though it’s not a novel, a great example is a teen movie, Mean Girls. A boy asks the main character if her ‘muffin has been buttered’ but she has no understanding of what this means. If sex or even the language in general is allowed more in YA novels, it can be used to help avoid such events.

Age 17
Writer and reader of YA

Sex in interesting and touch subject. There seem to be two extremes for it - a) it's fine, teens have it, or b) it's wrong and shouldn't be discussed. Personally, I don't at all think it should be in any form of public entertainment, as I believe that sex is to be saved for marriage, and kept secret. People aren't designed to have sex before marriage.

To have it in a YA book is often an encouragement of young adults to have it, even if it's against their parent's wishes. And, it's simply not an image that one should have presented in their head often because they read it in a book. Sex is like dessert. If you have before marriage (dinner) your appetite is spoiled.
Age 19

Writer and reader of YA

Sex is part of life. It happens every day, whether we like it or not. Here's a secret. Are you ready? Let me whisper it for you. Censoring Sex isn't going to stop it from happening. Teenagers are still going to do it. We need to stop feeding them this sparkly vampire (oh yeah, by the way - SEX in Twilight. Spoiler right there.), fantasy crap and give teens the TRUTH about the world.

Guess what? It's not a pretty place all the time. I got told off by someone because my latest project talks about sexual abuse. Guess what? It happens. Don't like it? Too dang bad, we don't live in a perfect world. People turn a blind eye and don't want to believe the evils of the world.

Frankly, I'm sick of it. I'll pick up Ellen Hopkins books (she talks about Prostitution in one of her books, incest and sexual abuse in another) or the book Speak (talks about Rape) over this stupid fantasy crap any day. I understand hating books that are like "oh everyone go have sex at fifteen!" But I do support those trying to show people what to avoid. As a YA reader and author, I don't think we need to censor this stuff at all.

Age 23
Senior Creative Writing Major & YA Writer and Reader

I see nothing wrong with sex in YA, whether it's a tasteful scene or dialogue on the subject, if it's within context of the characters and story. The more teenagers are informed and exposed to sexual subjects in other mediums, the less likely they will go off and do something foolish. Am I saying all YA books must have sex? Of course not, but having characters talk about sex is more realistic than if the issue is skirted altogether. The heroine in the book series I'm working on has sex towards the end of book one, but it's something in context with her character, where she is at that point in the story, and something she knows she wants to do.

I always reference the Judy Blume classic FOREVER when discussing sex in YA, which is perhaps the most realistic view of teen love and sex. Blume wrote the book for her teenage daughter who, "...asked me for a story about two nice kids who have sex without either of them having to die. She had read several novels about teenagers in love. If they had sex, the girl was always punished - an unplanned pregnancy, a hasty trip to a relative in another state, a grisly abortion, sometimes even death. Lies. Secrets. Girls in these books had no sexual feelings and boys had no feelings other than sexual."

FOREVER has been a challenged since perhaps the 1980's for its suggestive nature, detailed (but not gratuitous) sex scenes, and the fact the protagonist, Katherine, goes on the pill, and, well, let me just quote the wonderful Ms. Blume again, "The 70s was a much more open decade in America. Forever was used in several school programmes then, helping to spur discussions of sexual responsibility. This would never happen today. How are young people supposed to make thoughtful decisions if they don't have information and no one is willing to talk with them? Girls and boys have to learn to say 'no' or 'not without a condom' without fear."

Age 13
Writer and Reader of YA

I think that within a certain boundary, it’s fine to put sex scenes in YA fiction. People are people, and generally people are going to do it. As long as it isn’t overdone, I don’t think it’s an issue. I also don’t think that authors should go into extreme detail about it. These are teens that are reading, teens that may still be virgins, and it maybe a bit jarring, even for the most jaded of us.

I’ve read a few books where sex scenes were inserted, and they all seemed to have the same reason why they fit and seemed appropriate: none of them went into detail.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people get worked up when there are these sorts of scenes in YA novels, saying that they’re inappropriate. A lot of the time, these people are adults. I know that they may be parents and might not want their kids exposed to that sort of thing, but as for if younger teens mind, I doubt that many do. Also, if used the way that I already talked about, it would be completely non-scarring.


  1. Such interesting perspectives! Nice post.

  2. Fascinating, but no male perspectives on the issue?

  3. @ Anonymous - unfortunately no guys from the site offered their opinion. But would definitely include a YA male's view if they shared it.

  4. I really like this post. I've never had an issue with sex in YA and was actually reading YA at the age of twelve and adult romance books by 14 so I have absolutely no issue with it. But can understand other people squeamishness. :D

    It's all about what floats your boat. < lol :D

  5. I think it depends on the book. NYT Bestseller Melissa Marr gave it to you in Wicked Lovely. In that case, the two characters were best friends, fell in love, then eventually had sex. I thought she did it in a very tasteful way. On the other side, you didn't see it in Twilight (until they married) even though the sexual tension was all over the place. I felt like it should have been there earlier. I wouldn't force it if it doesn't need to be there, but I do think you have to be honest about teen relationships. If your characters have been together for years then it's likely that would be having sex, but if they just met then I wouldn't include it.