Sex is difficult for authors to write about in any genre, you only need to look at the Bad Sex Awards which take place every year and always feature really well-known and revered writers. But it’s doubly difficult if your audience is YA; How much do you include? Where do you draw the line? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, prompted by slightly differing posts from BookRiot here and BookDaily here.
There are lots of good reasons why some YA books should have some truly wonderful enlightening relationship and sex scenes. My fifteen-year-old self learnt everything I thought I needed to know about sex from Judy Blume’s Forever and when it’s done well, it can be very moving (see The Last Summer of You and Me).
Interestingly, many of the recent big blockbusters haven’t really included it at all: the love triangle in the Hunger Games doesn’t really cover sex (with just the odd chaste kiss here and there); Divergent gets round it by one of the characters saying they want to go slow; and Twilight mentions sex a lot by not having it, because sex between Bella and Edward “vampire” Cullen might just kill her (or at least hurt her a lot).
Obviously it’s for individual authors to decide whether or not to include sex in their YA books but what irritates me most is when it’s half written, when a book suggests the couple are having sex but makes them prissy and naive in their approach to it. I was reminded of this last week when I read three YA books with very different approaches to sex. In All The Bright Places and If I Stay, the physical intimacy between the couples was written to differing degrees but tackled head on, with as much detail as the authors saw fit to include (it doesn’t need to be very much to be moving and realistic). Both were very matter of fact and incredibly touching. In contrast, the main character in The Selection seemed naive about sex and was shocked when she was asked if she was a virgin (it’s actually integral to one of the scenes) even though she was very close to having sex with her boyfriend. It just felt ridiculous, unrealistic and immature.
Everyone is entitled to their own approach and opinions but if you’re writing YA, please don’t be prissy about relationships and sex. Do it or leave well alone. Please don’t try to half-write about it and obfuscate the issue. My younger fifteen-year-old self would have appreciated it…
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