Saturday 14 November 2015

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Sex in teen Lit Month II Discussion: How Important is it For Sex to Be On the Page in YA?

For Sex in Teen Lit Month II, both Donna Freitas and Carrie Mesrobian have discussed the importance for readers to have their YA novels feature sex. But what I found really interesting when reading their thoughts was how they differed when it came to their actual sex scenes.
Donna Freitas Carrie Mesrobian

Donna said in her interview: I think the desire is often the most important and best part—all that anticipation, and discovering that you want someone. I also think that the best sex scenes are often the least graphic sex-wise. Simply talking about body parts doesn’t mean a scene is going to be all swoon-worthy. I think it’s evoking the desire between two people and how that unfolds that’s the really exciting part.

And Carrie said in her guest post: YA authors: if you want to write about sex, I applaud you and encourage you to do it. And I don’t care how you do it: if it serves the plot, if it’s graphic, if it’s romantic, if it’s funny, if it’s tragic or traumatic. Just be honest and brave and write without fading to black or to timeworn clich├ęs. Because when you write your version of The Secret That Is Sex, know that so many readers are privately and quietly rejoicing about getting to see it. Getting to know what is was like for you. Understanding what it could be for ourselves, and others. That is what I believe you should serve when you put sex in your stories. No other rules are necessary.

As an adult reader of YA, I personally prefer it when the scenes don't fade to black. I'm not a fan of erotic novels, so it's not about reading something sexy for me. What I really like with YA is how there tends to always be the emotional side to sex - whether it's happening as part of a relationship or not, how the character feels emotionally during is something I enjoy. If a book fades to black, or glosses over sex, I find that emotional side of things is either left out, or not expressed as well as I'd like.

When it comes to the target audience of YA, I think it's better for the readers to see the characters having sex, no matter their own experience. Both Carrie and Donna say that porn isn't the best source to learn about sex, and I think teens are likely to have questions, and feel, possibly, that there are certain acts they should do simply because that's what sex is, and that's not the case. I think it's important for teens to see all aspects of sex, to see there's no wrong or right way, and that they don't have to do everything to be having a full sexual relationship, that if they're not comfortable with something, they don't have to do it. I also think this is especially important when it comes to sex for LGBTQ characters. Whether a teen reader is LGBTQ or not, they might not know exactly what sex looks like for various identities under the LGBTQ umbrella (although it's a movie rather than a book, I would suggest looking up Boy Meets Girl, about a transgender girl, which also looks at what sex is for a transgender person having sex with each gender.)

So I do feel it is important that the sex is there on the page. It doesn't need to be gratuitous, but it does need to be there, for me. Saying this, I wouldn't put a YA novel down for fading to black or glossing over sex. I would be disappointed, but it wouldn't affect my review of a book.

What do you guys think? Do you prefer to read the details of sex, or prefer to see it glossed over, or even fade to black? Is the fact that sex is covered in some way - in dialogue, in the narrator's thoughts, or some other form - enough to be helpful to teens, or does it need to be on the page? I think this is a really interesting topic, so I would love to hear your thoughts!


  1. This is a really thoughtful discussion on this topic. Personally, I like to see a wide variety when it comes to sex in YA - I appreciate that there are some books that leave it out, some that address it but fade to black and some that show it a bit more explicitly. I think that all of these can have a place in the YA world and I appreciate them all. I'm glad that it's not being completely avoided or kept secret, but I don't know that I think EVERY YA book has to have sex in it in order to be a great book.

    Actually, while I'm at it, I'll mention my one pet peeve about the current trend in YA when it comes to sex, though - I DO kind of feel like it happens a little too quickly in a lot of books that I've read lately. Like the expectation is that as soon as you start dating someone (or sometimes as soon as you know there's mutual interest) you'll have sex with them. I know that in the real world this DOES happen, but it's not a message I'm fond of, I have to admit. Then again, I'm a much older YA reader (heck, my oldest son is thirteen), so I look at these types of things through a slightly different lens! :-)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. I think it's true that not every YA book needs to have sex to be a great book, but if the characters having sex works for the plot, then it shouldn't be left out - it should be there in some way. I perfer sex to be on the page. It doesn't necessarily have to be "sexy" sex - sometimes I think it's even better if it isn't - it just has to be true. I don't want to read fantasy, fairy tale sex scenes between teenagers all the time, because that simply doesn't happen for everyone. I think it's owed to teens to have clumsy, awkward sex shown in their books, and you can't have that if you fade to black.

      I don't think I've read many books where sex happens quite quickly on in a relationship, unless it's a book about casual sex. I'm not particularly against casual sex in YA, but as that's not for me, I have trouble relating to that, and so prefer books where it doesn't - personally. But I am all for books covering such things, so everyone can see themselves in the books they read.

      Thank you again for stopping by!

  2. I think if the teen in the book is in a relationship the the topic of sex needs to be explored in some type of way. It may not need to be an actual sex scene but the topic should at least be brought up. I know that when I was a teen that was what was on everybody's mind. We talked about it all the time. Others were already pregnant. And most by senior year were no longer virgins. So to have a book where the teens are dating but sex never comes up is not realistic to me.

    1. I completely agree, sex needs to be brought up in some way, shape or form to be realistic. But I do think it's better if the sex is on the page. I don't think it needs to be overly explicit necessarily, but I do think it needs to be there, and we need to know exactly what's happening.