Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Sex in YA novels...

Should it be kept under the covers or do readers want more?

This is basically just a small discussion to see what opinions people have on these more intimate moments in YA novels. I thought it would be useful for authors to see what their audience desires and just fun for YA readers to voice their views to one another.

I'm going to treat this post as a "chat" so you can comment as many times as you like, change your opinion a million times, whatever! It's a Discussion.

*As YA covers a range of ages (and even some adults or younger advance readers) please can you state your age (if you don't mind doing so) in your first comment as age will affect our opinions dramatically - it's also useful for authors to pinpoint their desired target audience.*

Here we go!

"Your characters are heading towards the bedroom - do you prefer to be left at the door, have it slammed shut in your face before you even get a whiff of what's about to happen or do you like to stay with your characters every step of the way?"

I'm 16! :) I personally think that closed doors are a little boring, wood... grain... door knob - being oblivious to what's happening distances you from your characters and can appear a little wish-washy; but on the other hand, being right there under the covers has me blushing like a lobster! I think having the door ajar (metaphorically of course) is probably the best approach. You can hear what the characters say, you know what they're thinking and feeling, you can even see that there's skin on skin and tangled limbs; you get the gist of what's happening with enough detail to keep you satisfied without anything becoming too graphic.

When a book builds up romance for  300 or so pages and then all that results is a kiss, I find it a little... disappointing? I find a kiss here and there too little but "woo-hoo" in the bedroom every chapter too much! Y'know?

I don't think that young adults are too young to be reading about sex (unless it's unnecessarily graphic) as it's a part of life, it allows you to understand the relationship between characters more - I mean if your protagonist is sleeping with the swoon-worthy hottie then you want to know if she was hesitant or whether or not she was ready for it/enjoyed it/was scared etc but if the scene is cut off as they hit the sheets, you never find any of this out - and it can be good for teens who want to be eased into the topic because they aren't comfortable enough to openly discuss it.

YA novels handle topics such as alcohol, drugs, bullying, abuse death and more so why is 'sex' such a sensitive topic when it comes to teen novels?

I think that this topic is handled well in both YA novels "Hollowmen" and "Amongst the ruins". I've taken a 'sex scene' from each book which you can read below if  you're interested. (These are scenes containing sex, not just sexual tension so I'd recommend you be 14+ to read them - as the authors intended).

"I expected him to kiss me, since his lips were nearly brushing against mine, but he didn’t. He reached down and grabbed both my wrists and pinned them above my head. With his body pressed against mine and my hands above my head, I couldn’t move. I felt powerless. He kissed me passionately, almost roughly, and I closed my eyes, focusing on nothing else except how wonderfully warm his mouth felt. And the heat of it. When he pulled away from me, I tried to follow him, to keep kissing him, but he kept me pinned to the wall. He used one hand, holding both wrists together, while his other hand worked its way down my pants, pushing them and my panties down. Once he’d gotten them to my knees, I helped the rest of the way, moving and kicking my legs until my pants were on the ground and I could step out of them. He kissed my neck, and now his lips felt cool on my skin. I was flushed with warmth, with excitement and anticipation. A hungry heat flowed through me, radiating from my belly down to my thighs. I didn’t even know he’d undone his pants until I felt him thrust inside me. I cried out in surprise and pleasure, and he was kissing me again, silencing my moans. I wrapped my legs around him, and then he let go of my arms, letting me hang onto him as he pushed me harder against the wall. Something changed between us then. There was a frantic hunger in the way we kissed and moved. Even the way he gripped me, his fingers digging into my bare back and pressing me to him, it felt desperate and primal. Our bodies intertwined, moving together in the most animalistic way, and we were firmly in the moment. Neither of us was in control, and it felt wonderful."


This one's probably a little more graphic and it seems a bit choppy because I cut a few bits out.

"If I'd thought him eager before, I had been mistaken. His tongue delved into my mouth. His hand slipped down my body till his fingers grabbed the crotch of my underwear. Then his fingers passed the last cloth barrier. Then it wasn't his fingers. His most intimate part met mine. Pressing into my body, he slowly changed it forever. "Relax," he whispered against the sensitive skin below my ear. I bit into the flesh of his arm, and a tear pooled at the inner corner of my eye. When I thought the discomfort would end, he moved reawakening the pain till his body stilled above me. 
Releasing his flesh from my teeth, I gasped. Tilting back my head, I strangled his biceps.  Would it be this painful the entire time? 
"It's always been you. Always." He began slow movements inside me. 
My body relaxed as the pain subsided. 
The rhythm he created with my body was maddening, yet pleasurable. Hands, lips, and limbs, I lost track of where he ended and I began. The words he spoke during our intimate dance stripped away the feelings I'd masked. 
The tingling touch of his hand rebuilt the multiple sensations he'd created earlier. 
They pooled in the pit of my belly. Unsure of what to do about it, I raked at his back and curled my legs around his thighs. I moaned some unrecognizable words. 
He grasped and pulled at my body, pushing us closer, harder. The sensations burst into complete euphoria. Calling out, I fisted the sheets and arched my back. He slid his hands over my chest, moaning with his own pleasure. His body jerked, and warmth filled me."

So what do you think about sex in YA? Where do you like to draw the line and do you know any books/authors who have handled it well?


  1. I am too old to be in the target audience for YA, but I have children who are in the right age-group.

    I think sex in YA books is all good, as you say, it's a part of life. However, I would prefer if the sex happens when there is an established couple, with romance, love and feelings between the characters (feelings above just being horny, I mean).

    I think that the excerpts you chose (especially the 2nd) are pretty hard-core! The holding the hands over her head thing is not a turn-on for me, it almost seems like she wasn't sure she wanted to do it at all. And there are no condoms. I would hate it if this is how my kids think it should be like. And that very well might be an age thing.

    So, I am for sex in YA, and for condoms and responsible sex, with consenting people.

    1. I can see where you're coming from with the characters being in a relationship. :) I think that's important for teens at the bottom of the YA spectrum; unless the novel was about a teen who's trying to punish their parents by rebelling or is actually unwilling to participate or if it's showing the consequences of sleeping around (anything like that which relates to the plot of the novel). In relation to the condom part, the novel is set in a zombie apocalypse so it probably wasn't a brilliant example for me to use!

    2. Zombie apocalypse sex probably would be a little different :D

      I love how the sex is dealt with in Jeri Smith-Ready's Shade series. The banter between the two characters at first, and how they tease each other about it. Then, when they (finally) get to it, it is so sweet and filled with emotions, but not with too much details. I can post a little chunk of it if you agree, but at the same time I don't want to spoil the series for anyone.

      About the punishing their parents part... how can having sex punish the parents? (Or maybe I'm just a weird parent)

    3. Like... ummmm... if a teen is craving attention or is rebelling to punish their parents they may get bad grades, crash diet, get drunk, sleep around etc or maybe a girl will do it with someone she doesn't truly like because she's mixing with the wrong crowd and wants to fit in or perhaps her boyfriend is pressuring her into it. It depends entirely on the context of the novel I suppose. :)

  2. I’m 17!

    I think there should be sex in YA novels. Not all of them of course and only when it’s relevant to the plot and moving the story forward. In the modern world a lot of teenagers are having sex at a younger age as it’s the “in” Thing to do. (Which I completely disagree with by the way) I’m all for waiting until meeting the right guy but the younger generation haven’t really been taught this. I think they need these books that can show both sides of the story, and the truth about sex. It needs to be truthful for one, there’s no point in an author explaining how a female protagonist is loving her first time when in reality there should be some pain and discomfort. Teen’s these days are left to discover these things on their own and the results are quite concerning. They should be aware of the consequences of sex through other outlets instead of learning first hand.

    If sex is included in a YA novel there should be some detail, like how the character feels and is reacting to the events even what it means to them personally. But I do not want overly descriptive erotic paragraphs. Teenagers have to keep some innocence after all; we’d rather not scare them off for life. I don’t mind if we’re just around for the so called foreplay of sex in YA Novel, as long as we know that what the author is implying happened, and maybe some thoughts afterwards to give the reader minor details.

    I’ll try and dig up some extracts from books where sex is handled in what I think is the best way.

    1. Yeh, it has to be relevant. I agree with the sex in our generation too, books and other sources are where teens turn to before they face things first hand. I just think it's nice to know how your character is feeling other wise there's a chunk of information missing.

      Graphic scenes are too much but I don't mind vague detail of the event.

      Awesome! Sounds good :)

  3. Hey! Well, this is going to have to be a quick comment but I'll be back :) I am 29 years old with my own Book Blog LoverofParanormal.blogspot.com. My thoughts on sex scenes in YA novels varies. Sometimes less detail can actually give the reader more to imagine, thus enjoy. I have found myself disappointed many times from details in sex scenes that were far to unrealistic or just plain lame. I do love the New Adult genre they have out now that gives you a little more without going all "Fifty Shades" :) However I do have a daughter and I really don't want her to think its ok or "normal" for her to act these things out should they be described in detail. Maybe, "NORMAL" isn't the right word...I guess now-a-days having sex at 14-15 is "Normal". Anyways, I believe it all boils down to how mature a reader is. And it is up to the parents to decide that. I read everything before I let my 11 y/o daughter get a hold of it. :) I'll be back when I get some more time! Have fun!

    1. Aha, I like that! "going all 'fifty shades'". Hmmmm, in most YA novels I think the characters tend to be 15+ and I think that it's good to keep it all realistic (including teen ages, places, reasons, consequences) as long as it's clear how it's good/bad either via the consequences the character faces or even if the character is simply scared that their mum will find out - it still shows younger readers that it's not necessarily the 'right' thing to do.

  4. Hi! I'm an author, and I'm in the dilema of how to introduce sex into the third bok in my series, since the main characters are getting married. I know I don't want to be too descriptive but how much is too much and how little is too little? I mean, I have older fans (30's and up) fans in their 20's, and I have fans of the series as young as 9! So I'm really worried with how to tackle it to make everybody happy with the outcome. I liked the analogy above about the door being metaphorically, ajar.

    1. Thank you ;) I think you should focus on the main target audience (say... 12+? like the Twilight saga was... or was that 14? anyway...) and then if anyone is too old or too young, it's up to them/their parents to draw the line? The last Twilight movies had to 'adapt' to stay within the 12 age range while still containing sex. Just sensor it. :) I'd say the first extract I pasted is less graphic than the second so perhaps read the first and maybe other extracts which people may post to see how people choose to tackle the topic? I don't like it when they hit she sheets, cut the scene and start a new chapter but if it turns tooooooo graphic then it's off putting and takes the relevance out of it.

      The second extract I put is about a girl who has just been wed and is 'expected' to have sex, she manages to avoid it for a while but eventually caves in - I think it shows her reluctance well, his familiarity and her uncertainty and ignorance about sex, it also shows her discomfort as well as her pleasure.

  5. I'm 15 :)

    I'd say yes to sex in a book. But like Lixxie Lin said, safe sex/with someone you love. I wouldn't want someone who has never really looked into what's right and what's wrong when it comes to sex to believe in the wrong. Other then that, sex in a book keeps up teens kind of sane, in a way. It helps us realize that our first time (whether it be young or older) doesn't have to be awkward. Yet that's only my opinion.

    Hope I could help! :)

  6. I'm 17

    I say yes to sex in a book. I think it should be with someone you love or if they are getting married, but I also like it when you dont know to much.

    Hope this helps

    1. So would you not agree with it if the story was about a girl who was going 'off the rails' due to say, ummm... her parents getting divorced? Or her handing over her innocence because it's the 'in' thing to do and then showing the consequences this will bring? *curious* :)

  7. I am 23. I believe its a yes and a maybe?? it depends on how graphic the author is going to get with it. Like if its fowl language like (excuse me) Cock and such then NO. to anyone under 17 of course. I mean we have Rated R movies that 17 year old kids can see why not a little sex in books?? The first books I ever really got into were V.C.Andrews and Nora Roberts at 15 (my mom brought them home for me to read-Free Books) and I did not care that there was sex and abuse in the books I just loved reading the stories and they were a part of it.

    It shouldn't be 50 shades of grey sex but a introduction into the world of adults since it is a awkward time in teens lives, their growing and feeling new things and maybe talking about it will help some. Geez my first graphic movie was American Pie when it first came out (my parents are very open and my sister whose 10 years older was pregnant so I learned about the birds and bees early) and it wasn't to bad.

    So yes and not to graphic, Parents should have told their kids about sex already anyways so why not...

    1. I love American pie! It puts a comical twist on sex in teen lives but there are characters/scenarios that some teens may be able to discretely relate to. I think that's useful in books too. :)

  8. I am 22, so a little older than the target YA audience, but not by too much.

    I think that sex in YA books is perfectly acceptable, as long as it's not too graphic. The target audience will be exploring that side of relationships themselves, so I'm pretty sure that if all characters in YA novels were celibate, it would be implausible. However, the sex should really be there for a purpose: to show intimacy between two characters and their growing relationship, for example, rather than just thrown in to please the reader.

    A lot of the time, the sex seems too 'perfect'. Especially for a first time. It should be awkward, possibly quite painful and a totally new experience - but honestly, with some books I've read, it's like the characters have done this all a million times before - they know exactly what they're doing.

    So overall: yes, as long as it contributes somewhat to the book/relationship. And it shouldn't be too graphic, YA books aren't just read by older teens. But sometimes it needs to be more realistic!

    1. With the first quote I posted, it wasn't her first time so I think that's another reason why it was handled well but in the second text she is in blatant discomfort and her reluctance and unease is clear so it's ever-so-truly realistic while also allowing her to experience pleasure towards the end to please readers who still want the intimate moment to be 'romantic'. I think if it's too graphic it spoils the moment and can make the reader feel mildly uncomfortable.

  9. Hey there.

    I'm the author of the 2nd excerpt.

    In all honesty, it depends on the book. In my case, Amongst the Ruins follows Shilo - a rare pale, blonde, beauty - living in a post appocalyptic world where only 15% of the world's population is still alive. Society has set a standard where women are practically expected to have children and men can have more than one wife/woman. It is 'justified' by the need to repopulate.

    Now, back to the sex. When writing this scene, it had to fit the gritty, rawness of the rest of the book. So, Shilo's first time comes after her 'marriage' and is kept within the realness of the story. She is hesitant, but resigned to her 'role' as wife. And while this scene is more detailed, you won't find it repeated again. Not that the mention of intimacy isn't made. It's just that her first time is an important show of growth for the character. And important to the story progression.

    I, personally, do not recommend my book to anyone under 16. I've repeated stated 16 and older anywhere I discuss or post my book. However, this is for a parent to decide.

    Now, mentioning parents, brings up my next point to sex in YA. Parents should play an active role in their children's reading. I try to pre-read anything in a fiction/teen/YA genre my 11 year old wants to read. This is a crucial part in being a parent. You don't just buy a Kindle or book reader, hand it over, and expect children to make perfect decisions. We, parents, are here to guide our children.

    In the end, it needs to be a part of the story, not an added for effect moment. And parents need to be active in the minds of their emerging readers.


  10. I say sex in YA is fine. I'm not for hand holding and sugar coating things for my readers. Teens know what sex is. Sorry if it's TMI but I was a virgin until college, I've been with one man for eight years and I'm marrying him next year, but as a teen I read about sex, watched it on my teen dramas and it's never been a problem, and I've enjoyed having that aspect in my drama.
    Even though I have had a wonderful experience with someone I'm in love with and going to marry, it's just not realistic to think it's like that for everyone. Young adults are coming into their own, exploring their sexuality and have an insane amount of hormones flooding through them. I know parents don't want to hear this, but that means your teens have sexual urges and sexual thoughts. Let them read a little heavy petting if it keeps them reading in their rooms instead of exploring it first hand. Teens are either being pressured into having sex, know someone who is having sex or are having it themselves, and some of them have been or will be sexually abused or realize they weren't ready. And maybe it's not a bad thing that the characters they are reading about explore this topic and provide some form of therapy/guidance in this area.
    That being said, I do understand that my opinion is not a popular one and I have to consider that when I write. I don't want to offend any readers or push them away from my novel, but I'm not making my characters ignorant to sex and I'm not going to exclude it if it's a part of my character's development.
    I've found this blog really helpful as a writer. I've loved reading everyone's opinions! Thanks EponaReviews :)

  11. This post is a great idea, and probably very helpful for YA authors to see. I do think sex in YA novels is okay if done rightly. I'd say for the characters to be of age, of course; for the characters to be in a stable relationship (that's lasted a while); and for the scene not to be too graphic - for it to be tasteful. These are all pretty obvious points, but as long as it ticks those boxes with me I see no harm. I'm 23.

  12. First off, I'm 24, but still read a lot of YA books.

    For me, putting sex in a YA book is a tricky subject. Sometimes the love story is just so sweet and special that you're scared it will be ruined. Other times I'm almost screaming at the characters to stop stalling and just do it already. So for me it depends on the story and characters. If you have a story and characters that call for a sex scene or two, then go for it! But don't force it just because it's what popular or expected or you want to make the story more 'edgy.'

    Also, I like the idea of showing the awkwardness of the first time, because, let's face it, for many of up it wasn't perfect. So unless the character is 'an old pro', it might be awkward for them too.

    That said, I'm not a fan of too many details. Erotica makes me feel a bit awkward, especially since I often read on the train or in other public places. Let the reader know what's happening, include information that's important to the reader (feelings and stuff), but we don't need all the gritty details (unless the story says we do, of course).

  13. I knew what my comments were going to be as soon as I saw the topic, but you pretty much said them yourself!
    I do like knowing what's happening but not too graphically. The fade outs that leave you wondering what actually went down are frustrating because you sometimes can't even tell if they went for it or not.
    And I also like the balance between physical interaction and too much. All the tension for one kiss does not do it for me.

    Good subject!

  14. I'm glad you agree! And thanks :)

  15. I've only just come across this post, which I found fascinating. I'm a British writer of YA books, one of which, Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery includes sex scenes (which aren't very graphic). What occurs to me reading the (well-written and out of context) scenes you quote is that in both of them the man is very much taking the lead and the more active role. The girl in the first extract feels powerless. The emphasis is very much on penetration, and suggest that is the way that girls and women will find sexual satisfaction. This concerns me. I want to read (and write) YA books in which girls take the lead in sexual situations and their needs and satisfaction are as important as their male partner. I also want to read about gay couples. Sex in YA books is important for more reasons than 'do parents approve' and 'is it too raunchy'. Often it is the best information a reader gets about how sex is 'done', and it is nice if sometimes what we show is what you could call feminist sex. Adorkable by Sarra Manning is a great example, I think.