Open for Discussion
My YA debut, Night Owls, (aka The Anatomical Shape of a Heart in the U.S.), is a book about two very different teen artists who are having trouble communicating. My hero, Jack, is an anonymous graffiti artist spray-painting enormous gold words across San Francisco—BELONG, FLY, BLOOM. But he can’t seem to get the attention of the girl he likes until does something that causes the police to show up at her doorstep.
My heroine, Bex, is obsessed with anatomy and wants to become a medical illustrator. She is withdrawn, limiting herself to black ink, striving for scientific perfection—Jack’s artistic opposite. But when the pair meet on a midnight bus in San Francisco, there’s a mutual admiration, a connection based on art and attraction, and over the summer they end up bringing out the best in each other.
That connection culminates, as it naturally does in two healthy teens who are falling for each other, in the couple having sex.
As an author, I never even considered not including a sex scene in a contemporary teen romance. Nor did I want to fade to black during the kissing, or skim over the good parts. And by good parts, I don’t mean the actual sex. (Though that’s in there, too—don’t worry!) I mean the talking. Because Jack and Bex talk about sex. A lot. Before they do the deed. Jack tells her:
And he’s right, of course. Sex is complicated. It seems so simple, the act itself, but it comes with so much emotional baggage. And when you’re starting out at something—cooking, painting, playing the guitar—some people are natural talents, but everyone needs a certain amount of training, yes? You learn things by reading, watching, asking questions, and listening. And Jack is quite curious. About Bex’s past experiences. What she likes, hates, expects. He’s nervous, and he’s worried about disappointing her. He doesn’t want to be selfish. (In case you haven’t picked up on it already, Jack’s a pretty terrific guy.)
So they talk about it, and open up to each other. And they set ground rules. Talk about birth control and pleasure—and what if it’s all terrible between them? Everything is up for discussion. Because isn’t that how it should be?
And hey, maybe that’s not the experience you remember having with your first boyfriend or girlfriend. But that’s okay. This is a work a fiction, after all. Fiction is part escapism, part mirror…and sometimes, it’s rebuilding the world how it should be. To that end, I hope some teens reading Bex and Jack will be able to start the discussion some of us were too shy to have.
Thank you, Jenn, for such a great post! Be sure to check out her website, and my review of Night Owls, which is out now. Follow Jenn on Twitter at @Jenn_Benn and on Facebook.