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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sex In YA

I read a really fantastic and thought provoking blog post by author Ramona Wray, called Let's Talk About Sex in YA Fiction. In this article, she talks about the different views on sex in YA, and also her own opinion on the matter, looking at it from a writer's perspective. I agreed with most everything she had to say. I decided to put my own thoughts in on the matter, using her article as a starting point.

To me, sex in YA isn't bad or taboo at all. On the contrary, I think there could even be a bit more of it. Sex in YA isn't crude or inappropriate, it's realistic. As a high school attending teenager myself, I can honestly say that sex plays a very major role in every single teenager's life. It doesn't mean that every teen is having sex, but a good number of them are. As a parent, there is no possible way to shield your teen from it. Sure, you can monitor what your teen does on the Internet, and what they read, and the movies they watch, but the moment they go to school, guess what? Teens talk. If one has sex, it gets around, and your teen is exposed to it anyway, only now it's worse, because now your teen has the added pressure of looking "cool" when talking about sex. Or maybe you're one of those parents thinking, "Well, my child goes to a Catholic/Christian/private school, so there is less of all that going on." I'm sorry, but all I can do is snort at that. I've been going to Catholic school for 8 years now, and trust me, there is just as much of 'that' going on in a private school as there is anywhere else.

Ramona wrote:
Teenagers have sex. It’s a fact. They either have it, or think about it — either way, it’s no secret. Whether they read about it in the books or not won’t make any difference. There’s the TV, the internet, their own friends who have stories and are eager to share them. They know.
That's really the truth of it.

Of course, there is a huge difference in how a 13 year old understands sex, compared to how a 17 year old understands it. Just as there is a huge difference between a 17 year old's understanding of it, and a 25 year old's, and so on. I guess that's where the tricky part comes in, because what's to stop a 13 or 14 year old from picking up a novel that is, ideally, meant for older teens? Nothing. Well, there is one way. In Ramona's article, she writes about having a friend who read every novel before she let her daughter's read them, and that worked for her. That is probably the only way, but really, up to what age can you baby your children like that? 15? 16? I guess it's up to the parents to decide, based on the maturity level of their child.

I was always allowed free pick of what I wanted to read, because I've always been very mature for my age. When I was a bit younger, I could always tell what was appropriate for me and what wasn't, so my mom never worried about me. Now I'm at the point where, even if she wanted to, my mom couldn't monitor what I read and what I don't. I'm old enough to make my own decisions, and mature enough to understand what I'm reading and the context that it's in.

From Ramona's post:
Here’s what I think the real danger is. YA books have and will continue to contain sex — it’s a fact. True to life. Almost overemphasized, when we take into account books like Jenny Downham’s Before I Die, or Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely that deal with oral sex. Or Tabitha Sazuma’s Forbidden — which takes it one step further, dealing with incest (the love between a brother and a sister). But the danger isn’t that these books allegedly put ideas into the young readers’ minds. No, I think the danger consists of how sex is portrayed. High-school couples who have sex and live happily ever after. The bad boy who is presented as ‘cool’ in light of his belittling attitude toward the opposite sex. The casual way in which kids ‘hook up’. The good girl who never ever kisses with tongue, let alone has sex, which paints all the other girls, the real-life, normal ones, as morally inferior. In a word, the clich├ęs at the extremes. The good and the bad.
See, I actually kinda disagree with this. Sure, extreme cliches are bad, and do paint a bad picture for sex with teens. But, the worst part isn't the cliches--it's that most of them are true. I know many 'bad boys' that could care less what a girl's name is, as long as she's willing to put out. And if she isn't? I've seen girls' reputations and names get slandered because they had some self-respect--by these 'bad boys'. Unfortunately, there is also quite a bit of casual sex with teens today. The problem is that a lot of teens want instant gratification, and they don't think of the consequences. I guess I don't necessarily see a problem with seeing these things in books, because I see them almost everyday in my real life high school. I'm not saying they're right, but they do exist. (Unfortunately.)

I will finish off this discussion post with this last piece from Ramona's article:
Sex should be part of YA books, because it’s a part of every young adult’s life, one way or the other. But I think it should be portrayed exactly as it is. A BIG DEAL. Messy. Wonderful. Confusing. Occasionally bearing STDs or unwanted pregnancies. LIFE-CHANGING. True to life.
YES. I agree with this a million times over. I guess my whole point with this long post was to say that YA author's shouldn't be afraid to include sex in their novels. Not pointless, slutty sex, just for the sake of it. That kind if just irritating and makes me instantly hate the book. But include it in there because it adds to the story. It adds to the realness of it. Sex isn't going anywhere--not unless you really want the world to end. So don't hide it because "teens can't handle it." We can, trust me. 

I'm not entirely sure if this post made much sense, I feel like I just rambled on and on here, but share your thoughts in the comments! What do you think of sex in YA? Are you for it? Against it? Why? I'd love to know!


  1. This post was so necessary! I do think that authors don't need to fear of putting sex into their novels, because as you said, it's just everywhere within teens. True fact.

  2. Excellent post! I agree, sex is a part of life, especially teen life (though that doesn't automatically mean everyone is doing it - they're just talking and thinking about it, at least) - to leave it out of YA would be very unrealistic and problematic.

  3. Great post, and we love how you used that article as a jumping off point!

    Gripped Into Books had a discussion on this topic too (talking about "romance" in YA, but really sex) and there were some good comments and spinoff posts there:

    We think Ramona would agree that sometimes the stereotypes are true, but her point is that authors shouldn't perpetuate the stereotypes without showing why they're not healthy. Otherwise there's no learning for teens, no reason for them to change their behavior into more positive interactions with sexual activity.

    Thanks for writing so intelligently and eloquently about this! We agree with pretty much everything you said.

  4. Definitely agree with all of this. I think a lot of Authors shy away from that subject because it's quite taboo, which is silly. Ignoring something won't make it go away. There's quite a few books I've read that needed sex in it but I could see the author veering away from that.

  5. People always talk about sex in YA, but I don't believe I've ever read a YA book with sex in it. The only teen book that I've read that has sex in it is The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce. And in those books, she would simply say that 'she bed him that night' or something that simply. I remember as a teen saying, "that's inappropriate for a childrens book." Back then they didn't have "teen" books. However, it didn't bother me or affect me at all and I was the target audience.

    Sex is just sex and that's how I've always viewed it. It can be a ton of fun or you can be stupid about it and get pregnant or an STD. It's really up to you how you experience it. We all take SEX ED, we know how it all works. No hot and steamy YA novel is going to convince us that we can't get knocked up.

    Should there be sex in YA books? If it's true to the story. Don't stick it in there just to educate me-- I DON'T need or want that! Don't stick a random sex scene in that doesn't pertain to the story either just because you think it sells better. If it seems natural that the characters would have sex at that point, then do it. Be true to the story! Be true to the characters!

    One question I often have is, what do you mean by sex? When Tamora Pierce wrote 'she bed him that night', does that not count as sex or does it? It's simple and un-detailed. Read too quickly and you might miss it, but it's still sex. What about implied sex? Lots of lusty lead up, minus any graphic words, and then cut off before the actual act begins. We know they had sex, it isn't hidden from us, but we're spared the hardcore details. Is that what everyone is talking about? Then I think, maybe we're talking something more hardcore. Ya know, heaving bosoms and bulging members. When we talk sex, Are we saying yes/no to all of this or just one type in particular?

  6. I'm sorry, but saying it's okay to put it in books because it's "real" is the worst excuse ever. I mean, who's making it real? Teenagers. Sex doesn't have to be such a big part of their lives, but they're making it a big part by inviting more of it. You don't have to talk about it, you don't have to think about it, you don't have to have it, you don't have to hang out with the kind of people that do. It's not a matter of whether you can "handle it", it's the fact that you shouldn't have to. There is no legitimate reason it has to be a part of your life, especially when you're so young and should be thinking about other things.

  7. How come nobody will admit that there's another reality: chastity. This is what's real for me. I don't, I haven't, and I won't unless I get married. My friends are the same way, so don't label me as some random anomally. And because I don't/haven't/won't, it even rarely crosses my mind. You probably won't even believe that statement, because it's so far off from what the majority seems to think, but it's true.

    Furthermore, doesn't anyone think it's a little warped for adults to be providing kids with sexually explicit or implicit material? If an adult posted half of what's popular in, say, paranormal YA on a site for minors, they'd be labeled a pedophile. Think about it.

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