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