How much sex is too much?

by CiCi
(Virginia)

Question: If I never go into specifics...how much description is too much for my book to stay young adult, as far as sexual encounters go?


Answer: These days, there don't seem to be hard rules in this area. Sex is certainly not required in young adult books. On the other hand, it's far from forbidden.

Of course, within some romance genres there are lines that have strict rules. Some "sweet romance" or Christian romance lines have no sex outside of marriage. That's just the publisher's rule - but it applies to adult books as well as YA. On the other hand, there is the Harlequin Blaze line, which I'm sure some YA readers dip into.

It also matters if you want to write a book that can be taught in schools. In some regions, sex in books can still get them banned from classrooms

Apart from such considerations, I think what matters is that sexuality is not gratuitous, that is there because it is an integral part of the story and the main character's journey. And it should be true to the character. If you're writing about a 15-year-old character's first experience, don't glamourize it. Don't suddenly give them a level of confidence and maturity that is out of step with their personality.

Also, it helps to have a sense of your ideal reader. YA readers range from 13 to 25 these days. My feeling is that, the less mature your reader, the fewer graphic details you should include (partly to avoid turning it into pornography, and partly because that's not what some younger readers want in a story). More emotionally mature readers can appreciate the details of sexuality in the context of the character's growth as a rounded human being. They want to read about characters like them who see and experience sexuality from a similar perspective. Some young people still wait for marriage, but most do not. YA literature should reflect this.

Let me refer you to an article that does a good job discussing this topic in reference to some YA novels which are intended for the older YA crowd...

http://acrowesnest.blogspot.ca/2008/12/marianna-lets-get-it-on-sex-scenes-in.html

Also, I would suggest you read a number of recent YA books to get a feel for the genre.

Comments for How much sex is too much?

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Aug 01, 2012
Sex in YA is too much
by: Anonymous

I was a little dissapointed here. I started reading YA fiction at age 11 or 12. I would find sexual references very innapropriate when the author cannot control the maturity of the readers.
And even beyond that, unless proving a point about good and evil, sex outside marriage is an immoral waste in the minds of lustful teens. I would know.

Aug 01, 2012
to God be the glory
by: Jenni

God did not intend for sex to be glamorized. When authors include explicit material in YA fiction, they are hurting young people who might be trying to stay clean for marriage. The impact an author can have on even Christian teens cannot be underestimated.

Jan 10, 2013
The question is in the details.
by: F.EN.I.X.

First of all, I believe that unless your target is atleast older YAs (age 18 or older) then you can just leave sex out completely. the point of reading a book is to enjoy the story and possibly inspire the reader. YA readers don't need the hero, the person they are most likely to relate to, in the book they're reading to be sleeping around.
I've never wanted to read about someone's explicit sexual experience in a book (I'm 31, so I could if I wanted to but I just don't see the need). now to get along with my answer to your question: I'm not opposed to a character having sex in a book. However, i believe it should be handled the way it is a PG-13 movie. Perhaps have the two characters kiss and close the door and then pick back up in the morning (Or later in the day, depending on when they "did it"). To me though, this is still too much for YA books. I really feel that it should just be completely left out.

Jan 10, 2013
Response
by: Glen

I had planned to refrain from further comment on this topic, since it inspires strong feelings in some.

However, I will say that one of the greatest things books can do for young people is give them a private world where they can explore ideas and feelings through the eyes of a character who may or may not resemble them.

Often young people are bothered by feelings they don't feel they can discuss with others, or that their parents might disapprove of. Reading about a character with similar feelings can help them feel they are not alone. It doesn't mean they have to act on those feelings, and if a book offends them or doesn't interest them they will probably put it down. But there are times when being able to look at such things in a situation where they will not receive a lecture from an adult on what they "should" think or feel can be a beneficial thing.

That said, any treatment or mention of sexuality in a story aimed at 14-year-olds will be very different than in a story aimed at 22-year-olds. (And a story intended for adults that is about 14-year-olds will be different again.) You have to know who you are writing for and treat them with honesty and respect.

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