Let’s Talk About Sexon November 12th, 2010 at 6:27 am
Yep, sex, because as some of you know it is one of my favorite topics. I can talk about it all day long…
Except when it comes to young adult fiction.
You see, in the realm of YA, sex is one of those elephants in the room we don’t like to discuss. We pretend it isn’t there, sucking up all the water and spraying it all over us. We’re sopping wet because the roof leaks. Really.
Many adults like to live in this nice, pristine world where young people are proper and aspire not to do anything of a questionable nature until they reach adulthood (which might hit at eighteen, but I’m pretty sure most of those people would prefer to bump the age to twenty-one or higher). In other words, there are a lot of adults who want YA fiction to be fictional to the point it’s impossible to suspend disbelief.
Now that isn’t to say all kids curse or drink or have sex, but I was a teenager once too. And, as senile as I may be getting, I very clearly remember all those things happening on a regular basis. To remove all of it from YA fiction would make the stories less realistic than populating every one of them with supernatural creatures and aliens.
Does sex belong in every YA story? No, of course not. It doesn’t belong in every adult story either. Statistically though about half of all teenagers have had sex by the time they are seventeen (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/FB-ATSRH.html), and ninety-five percent of Americans have sex before marriage (http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/20061219_95_of_americans_have_had_premarital_sex/), so using that math, half of the characters in YA should have had or be having sex. Sorry, that’s just the reality, and in worlds where there’s so much unreality, authors need to cling to some truths to make their stories believable.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean the sex in YA needs to happen on the page. I know that seems counterintuitive to my argument above, but in many YA novels, the hero and heroine meet and are in trouble right away. They might have time to develop feelings and fall in love, but pausing the action for sex doesn’t work. It can sometimes work between books one and two (or wherever it makes sense). The point there is not denying teen sexuality without having to force it into the story.
Other times it fits to have it on the page. If the story is more romance-based, or the action/mystery that’s happening starts out quietly, the hero and heroine have time to make that leap. That’s when the author has to decide how far to take it. Fade-to-black is a simple answer to a complex problem, but it might not ring true to the characters. As some of you know, I write adult stories too, some of them downright dirty. I know that teenagers get up to some of the exact same antics my adult characters do, but I would never put them on the page in the same way. Not because it isn’t real, but it isn’t necessary (and it could be very uncomfortable for a large chunk of my YA readers). So I rein myself in and only go so far.
And that’s the crux of the matter. As an author, I need to be true to my characters and their sexuality, but I don’t want to put off readers by going too far. So for me at least, highly descriptive sex is out. My leanings tend toward fade-to-black and off the page for the simple reason that it fits my characters and adding more would just be for shock value. That’s not me, and I hope my readers understand it.