Thursday, 15 September 2011

Writer's Corner - Touchy Subjects (Literally!)

Inspired by this post by Lani and because I'm currently grappling with this contentious topic in my own writing, I thought I'd open up the forum and get your thoughts on S-E-X in YA books. I personally don't have a problem with it as long as it's not overly graphic and portrayed in the right way. Then again I'm not really a young adult anymore and have probably become desensitized to it (come to think of it, libraries really shouldn't let 13-year-olds borrow adult romance books!!).
      From the perspective of a parent (even though I'm not one) I guess the idea of your 14 year old reading a book with sexual content is a bit of a minefield. I'm curious if there are any parents out there who screen the books that their kids read for the naughty bits. I guess my biggest reason for not really minding sexual and probably also drug related content in YA books is because let's face it, kids are probably experimenting much more in real life than what is written in a book. Then there is the issue of sex on TV and whether there is any point in trying to leave it out of books when they can pretty much flip on any channel and it's right there in front of them.
      I suppose there are heaps of arguments for and against sex in YA books, but is there ever a time when, for want of a better phrase, it just feels right? 


  1. I don't mind sex in YA books when it is done right. That is, if the relationship feels real and loving (not just including it for the sake of spicing it up). I think it is a natural thing and to view it as uncommon in sixteen and seventeen year olds is a bit unrealistic. I don't think these books would give anyone reading them any more ideas about sex than the stuff they see in movies or tv, but that's just me!

    I'm not a parent, but I thought I would throw my two cents in anyway!

  2. I think we feel about the same on this one. It doesn't bug me that bad but I'm not a teenager nor the parent of one. If I were (a parent) I'd certainly be a little more wary of it.

  3. Personally, speaking only in my own interests, I don't care about sex in books at all. Of course, I am a young adult though. And I'm not a parent.

    For YA books whose primary audience is teens, I think it's okay to incorporate sex, but I think there should be some restrictions. For example, off-camera sex is okay -- I don't want it to be super graphic like I'm reading a romance novel! I also think the sex should be meaningful. I mean, yes, I know people have meaningless sex in real life, and I don't mind reading about meaningless sex in 'adult' books, but since it is a YA book, I feel it has a responsibility to send a good message. I don't agree with people who think sex should be cut out of ALL YA books, because teens *do* 'do it' and keeping teens in the dark about something just make them want to experience it even more. Or if there *is* meaningless sex, then I think they should not glorify it at least.

    I don't know, sex in YA is a sensitive subject. I guess overall, I don't mind it being in the genre, it just needs to be executed properly -- though what "properly" is differentiates person to person.

  4. Rebecca: I don't think book could give kids any more ideas either. I mean, what teenager doesn't know all about sex these days??

    Jenny: If I were a parent I'd dump all the sexy YA books in front of my kids and let them figure it out for themselves. Saves the very awkward talk!

    Jinny: Thumbs up for meaningfulness. I'm down with that. At any age actually.

  5. My personal feeling is that whatever goes into a novel is not about what's going on in the real world, usually. Unless that is absolutely what you must convey for your story. But, people read books in order to escape reality, so why use this argument about "teens are having sex in real life, so why not in books?"

    My point is that novels are meant, usually, to convey something more ideal than reality, or else why would anyone want to read them? I think parents take issue with sex in literature for teens for this exact reason. It isn't ideal, whether happening in real life, or not. To add it to teen literature is to take away that ideal place that parents want their children to roam in their minds.

    Well, that's just my opinion. I'm actually okay with sex in YA books so long as it is not graphically described. There is Harlequin for that sort of thing, after all.

  6. Cathy: I agree and disagree with the sentiment about novels meaning to convey something more ideal than real life. I think some novels aspire to this kind of idealism but there are also lots of books that try an reflect the reality of things as well. In fact, I find that there's usually a lot more sex happening in contemporary YA than there is in say dystopian or even fantasy.

  7. Great discussion! I'll chime in here as a mother of a future teenage girl who is currently nearing 6 years old.

    I'm fairly laid back about it. I was mature enough to handle it when I was a teenager. I didn't end up losing my virginity until I was 18 and it was with my future husband. And it was all love and butterflies and frolicking in fields of flowers and here we are 8 years later. So, I can definitely say I wasn't influenced by sex in books I read. It didn't make me want to meet a horny stranger at a party and wake up in his bed the next day with a nasty hangover. Looking back I *knew* that sex went with love hand in hand. I idealized it as something you only do when you love somebody. And most of the sex I've read in YA books plays out the same thing. So it doesn't really bother me... I really don't know how I'd handle the age situation though. Like I'm reading the Vampire Academy series right now and it has a lot of sexual references in it... Now if my daughter was 13 and wanted to read it, I'm not sure how I'd handle it honestly. I'LL CROSS THAT BRIDGE WHEN I GET THERE! :) If she was 15 I know I'd hand it over without a second thought. And then I'd want a book discussion where we could squee over how super sexy Dimitri is. And I'd probably point out that Rose acted like a total hooker when she made out with that boy she didn't even really like for fun... but that's how I roll. Other Mothers might handle things like that differently. :) I just try to do my best at how I see things. And for me sex in YA books doesn't even really phase me.

  8. Liza: Love your response. My parents (bless them) can't read English so they thought everything I read was for school. Luckily they didn't look at the cover of said books borrowed from the library when I was 13, but even then I wasn't phased by the sexual bits. Like you, I *knew* that sex and love went hand in hand and something written in a book wouldn't have changed my mind. In fact, if I ever came across a book that didn't fit that ideology I probably would have stopped reading.

    PS. I'll have the super sexy Dimitri discussion with you ;P

  9. Thank you! Awww! Exactly! I think one of the things I like so much about sex in YA books is that it's so much more sweet and innocent than it is in adult books 99% of the time. I'd much rather my daughter read about a 16 year old couple that is desperately in love doing it than a sheriff with handcuffs and whip ready to show his lady some hardcore lovin'.... And I think it's normal for a teenager to want to read about sex. It's something that is a huge damn deal and they'll try to get their hands on something that includes it. It's like teenager boys and porn. I guarantee 99.9% of teenage boys have taken a peek. It's just how it goes! Sweet teenager sex in a book > porn!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Gosh, Dimitri is even as sexy as a Strigoi. Oh, swoon swoon! I'm reading Blood Promise at the moment! I need to stop - it's 3:25 in the morning!

  10. That's the other thing I forgot to mention Liza, as you've stated, it's very natural for teenagers to be curious about sex or romance and I think YA books always try to show this in a positive light.

    As sad as it sounds, I really liked Strigoi Dimitri. I liked seeing a side of him that wasn't always restrained. Don't worry, I lost heaps of sleep reading the VA series. Waiting for your review on this one!

  11. I know! In earlier books he acted really restrained. Almost frustratingly so! But it was understandable! Ahhh! :) Love it! Though I really love Adrian as well!

  12. I can give or take Adrian. I've said it before on here and I'll say it again: Pansy assed moroi have nothing on hot Russian dhampir!

  13. Touché! :D Very true! I love how they're in Siberia in this book! My home is getting some love! Those Siberian boys.... Sigh!

  14. Im living such a double standard at the moment. There werent really many 'young adult' books in Samoa when i was growing up, heck there werent many books around at all! I started rdg Harlequin romances when i was 10 so i was well and truly sex-ified with fiction. I love rdg YA fiction now and so do my children. My oldest daughter is 13 and we reall the same YA books. I will NOT let her read Twilight. Or Vampire Academy. (I know, I know...Im an ostrich with my head stuck in sand...) I will let her get to it evventually. In the meantime, we read books and then talk about them together which i think is very impt 4 a parent to do. I dnt know why im blocking Twilight - we both read Hunger Games 2gethr and love it. And Mortal Instruments ...Maybe the whole Edward/Jacob thing swept me so far over the swooning cliff that i dont want same thing to happen to her?!
    Ok, but sex in YA. Is fine. As long as promiscuous ssex with everybody is not being portrayed as the key to eternal happiness. In which case that author is just stupid.

  15. LOL Lani. See I would class The Hunger Games as less young teen appropriate than Twilight so I guess it's to each parent their own. Just goes to show how much a writer has to take into consideration when they're working through a book.

  16. Hey Lan,
    Great post. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I can tell you I've seen a few of my students reading Sookie Stackhouse and one (though she was probably about 17) reading the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Both really did shock me, but their parents let them read them so...I don't know. I think in YA authors try to tread carefully (which I think they should b/c young adult aren't adults yet imo). But I definitely wouldn't rec BDB to young people. THe violence, explicit romance, and language which I love soooo much is just not right or intended for young ears. *shrugs*
    Ninja Girl

  17. Great post. I did a posting about this subject too. it seems to be popping up more and more in teen fiction books. It used to kind of bother me, but I agree with some of the comments here. If it's done in a right way, it should be okay. I feel that there are some authors who go a little over the top though, and for some reason, it's still labeled as a YA novel. Why not just call it fiction if you're going into that much detail? lol. Thanks for stopping by! :)

    Livin' Life Through Books

  18. I agree that most teens know about that stuff. By sixteen I wouldn't read YA literature, and I think my parents were just glad I was reading. Now on the other hand when I was eleven I boldly told my mother I wanted to read one of her romance novels, like any good parent she said no. See as a child I thought there was a secret in them, that I wouldn't be able to figure out, by eleven I knew it was about sex. I had a curiosity that could kill many, many cats. Sooo after she told me no, I took one, hid it in my room and read it by night light. I remember thinking.. 'That's it? That's why she won't let me read them? I don't want to read it anyway, this isn't any fun. Where is the adventure!'

  19. @Cathy: Hmm, I don't think I agree with your statement that people read books to escape reality. I don't think many authors write books with the idea, "I am helping people escape reality", but rather, "I have a story to tell" and this story can be very grounded in reality. Books are also often written to explore issues that are present in today's society, and sometimes that includes sex. But even if someone IS reading to escape reality, I do not see why sex is so bad that it cannot be a part of fiction.

  20. Ninja Girl: It's hard when you're reading books that you don't want younger people to read because they're curious but on the other hand you want to protect them from certain things. I don't envy those of you who are responsible for teaching teens.

    Felicia: Authors that go way over the top aren't cool. There's a place for that kind of writing and it's not YA.

    Beth: That's my point exactly. Teens and to some extent younger kids are very curious and even though you think you're keeping them away from things they will usually find a way to get it if they're really committed. I was the same as you and I still have that attitude. I see a lot of romance/explicit novels and think, wtf?? Where are the dragons and vampires? Next!

    Jinny: Yep. I think it's a bit of a fear factor thing. Parents don't want their kids learning about stuff too early on and it's understandable. But I tend to like the way YA book portray sexual issues i.e In Raw Blue there was a lot of sexual content but it was done well and very realistically and I think I would let my teenager (If I had one) read it just for the stuff about dealing with rape. But then again, I kinda expect my kids to be super mature bookgeeks like I was.

  21. I don't mind it in books if it is portrayed right. I have problems with it when it is used in a negative way - encouraging teens to have sex without thinking about the consequences, making it sound more than it is etc.
    If it is handled correctly - gets the mesage across about practicing safe sex and not falling under pressure then it's fine.
    I work in a library and a lot of teens like to read the books with a bit of sex in as they find it a good way to learn and find out about things - therefore it has to be done right.
    I have had parents try to sensor some of thier kids from reading them, but then I've had others say 'I rather they read about it than actually did it, and hopefully it will make them more aware.'
    So I think most people are ok with it as long as the books don't glorify or send the wrong message.

  22. I don't like when it's portrayed as normal, and that you aren't normal if you aren't having sex. A LOT of teenagers don't, and I think they should be able to feel good about their decision and feel like people respect it, instead of feeling like its an abnormality.

  23. Heavy foreplay doesn't bug me in YA, but I'll admit that when there's actual sex involved it gives me pause because I'm like "But they're so young!" But I think that reaction is mostly due to the fact that I come from a religious background that discourages sex before marriage.

    Generally, I think teens are smart enough to not read a book or part of a book if it makes them uncomfortable. So I think YA authors should be free to write sex into their novels if they want, because it's up to the reader to take responsibility for what they read. And I think parents should've already spoken with their kids about sex by the time they're old enough to be reading YA, so I don't think them reading about it in a book is that big a deal. Especially since sex in YAs is almost never graphic or even that descriptive.

  24. Great discussion! I'm no longer a young adult, nor am I a parent, but I don't care for detailed descriptions of sex in any book. Nothing can match my imagination, and I tend to skip those scenes as they're tedious and too much like instruction manuals. I read Harlequins when I was in junior high and think my parents were just happy that I was reading!

  25. I read romance novels as a teen, and I survived.
    Actually though, I don't like to read scenes that are too graphic... I like the hesitancy that you see in a lot of YA novels.
    I think some YA novels - especially ones written for boy-crazy girls have a super-unrealistic sense of insta-love.
    Also, love triangles were not a thing when I was a teen. Now you can not turn around without finding another "Team This" vs. "Team That" I wonder if/how that will affect current teens who are reading them?

  26. Becky: I am so jealous of everyone who gets to work in a library. I'm glad there are parents out there who still involved enough in their kids lives to censor them even if I don't totally agree with it.

    Peggy: Portraying having sex as being normal isn't my cup of tea either. I guess for me, sex in YA has to be there for a reason and not just to make the book seem grittier than it really is.

    Karen: Sometimes I think YA characters are too young too. But then I remember when I was 17 and thought I was the maturest thing around. I agree that if teens don't want to read about something they will find something else.

    Alexia: Ditto on the harlequin reading. My parents were the same. As long as I was reading I couldn't get into any real trouble...apparently.

    Madingan: Don't get me started on the insta-love because that's probably the worst perpetrator of the YA sex scene. I think the whole Team thing and most love triangles are just another way to either create conflict or have a love interest that everyone can enjoy.

  27. I'm neutral on this one. On one hand, I don't think its ok to have sex when you're a teen and I don't believe that there's such a thing as safe sex. On the other, we do learn about it (and get very graphic lessons) when we're in 7th grade. As long as it's meaningful. It is up the writer after all. Like what Karen said, the reader can chose whether or not to read.

  28. @Lan: Oh yes, maturity is definitely a good thing. I totally understand if a parent doesn't want their child to read a certain book because they don't think they are mature enough to handle it. What I dislike is when parents can't tell the difference between "keeping their innocence" and "sheltering". =(


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