February 19, 2012

Yeah, let's go there--Sex in YA Fiction

I’ve given this topic quite a lot of thought lately, mostly because it concerns my current WIP. This past week I realized something that hadn’t occurred me when I was first plotting the story out (I use the word plotting loosely here): that my protagonist absolutely, undeniably HAS to lose her virginity for the mid-point, second plot point/crisis, and climax to work.


When I realized no amount of “beating around the bush” would accomplish the same goal, I had a moment of panic. But they’re seventeen, not yet "legal". They’re not married, or from cave-dwelling times, or aliens from a different planet. They are a couple of teenagers set in now-a-day USA (albeit one of them is not your average human).

I wholeheartedly believe I have a responsibility to the teens I’m writing for, but perhaps not in the way some think. I believe it is my responsibility to write a story they can immerse themselves into, to bring them characters and situations they can relate to, and others they would have never thought about before. Teens are savvier than ever today, and to deny that some are having sex, others are thinking about sex, and most are faced with decisions regarding sex, is unrealistic.

It’s not so much the “CAN” sex be included in YA books as it is the “HOW” sex is portrayed that becomes the real issue. Some questions worth asking before writing this type of scene: Is it more about the emotional aspects versus the down & dirty? Is there more alluding to rather than graphic detail? Is there a timely “fade to black”? Is birth control mentioned? Are there consequences—emotional or otherwise? And most importantly, is it in the story because it absolutely has to be there? 

Some great links I found on this subject include:

Literary Agent Mary Kole weighs in her opinion over at Kidlit

YA Highway has a 4-part posting on Sex in YA, starting with Part 1 here

Author Suzanne Young discusses Sex in YA at WriteOnCon Vlog

A list of popular teen books dealing with Sex & Pregnancy at Goodreads


  1. For what it's worth, I read an amazing book by Nancy Werlin, where the girl got raped and was pregnant through most of the book. In other books, couples "do it" but it's glossed over. I think you need to do whatever to keep your plot real.

  2. Whether it's in a book or a television program, I personally haven't seen much sex that adds to the story. It turns me off to be honest since I feel it wastes my time. Hmm, a guy who doesn't like sex? Um, no. I love sex. I just think that most times it isn't necessary to move most story lines along, it's just there as filler or to increase interest. I think the story itself should be interesting enough imo. (Catherine's example or something like it is a bit different than what I am talking about of course)

  3. Thinking about sex will be making more of an appearance in my WIP, but I haven't decided how far they'll physically take it yet--partly because the characters haven't decided yet? I know that always sounds crazy to nonwriters, but it's true that I have to see how the characters develop and interact before I know what's true to them and their experiences.

    As far as reading other books, a graphic sex scene in and of itself has not put me off unless it seems really contrived or just there for the shock value. There has to be a reason, character-wise or plot-wise, for it to be there.

  4. I knew you'd research it! I think you're asking very important questions. I think sex is up to your MC. Is he/she the type that would go there or are you fitting it in to be cool? I know that having your MC go through this experience is important, but for mine it isn't necessary.

    If authors start adding it in YA to be "cool" and relate better with their audience, then absolutely it's added for the wrong reason. I like the idea of being able to guide our readers. Make them really think about what sex is, that it is more than an action, it is an emotion, and with sex comes possible life altering consequences.

    Can you tell I'm frogging tired? tee hee good entry.

  5. @Catherine: Totally agreed, it's really all about keeping true to the plot.

    @Michael: I definitely hear you. Gratuitous sex or filler sex scenes should never be used in YA.

    @Angelica: Dontcha just love it when your characters have a mind of their own? Yes, it's all about being true to them and their experiences.

    @RAD: So true, it must be an important experience for the MC, and the emotional (and sometimes physical) consequences should be dealt with. Now, go get some frogging sleep ;-)

  6. YA Confidential had some teens weighing in on how much is too much today

  7. Why not sex? Teens have sex. But I agree, it's how it's presented and it shouldn't so glaring that it detracts from the story.

    YA covers quite the age range, not just teens, but those younger and a bit older. I enjoy some YA because there is usually an engrossing story/adventure. It's fresh and fun. Emphasis is more on the characters and adventure and discovery. What sex that there is more fade to black--you know they had it, you saw the preliminary set up but the details are unnecessary.Good Grief, Twilight, anyone?

    Good topic.