Sex in Young Adult Books

THE RISING-final coverI am currently writing my third and final novel for ‘The Painted Maidens Trilogy’. The first book ‘The Rising’ is available now on Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, and iTunes. The second book ‘The Betrayed’ will be available this fall.

Without giving too much away, in the third book (tentatively named ‘The Taking’) the main character, Serena – who is 18 – makes the decision to share herself with her boyfriend. This is not within the confines of marriage because well, they are mermaids and they don’t get married.

I’ve done my fair share of research on sex in young adult books and am admittedly nervous to include it. I want to do it right. The best article I found so far is by ‘Writing Teen Novels‘. Advice in writing sex in young adult novels includes “how important it is to be honest, to be sober and to be in a committed respectful and loving relationship before you take the leap” and “girls should decide that they are in control of their bodies and of their decision-making”.

Another great article I found is by Amber Skye Forbes. Here the author says “Sexual experiences vary widely among teenagers, which is what is so great about YA literature. It encompasses experiences from a myriad of teenagers from all different walks of life” (like mermaids – LOL) and “sex between two teenagers doesn’t always have negative consequences”.

These are exactly the points that I want to portray in my book. My work up to the scene does include a lot of soul-searching for the main character as mermaid 2to why she is choosing to do this.

My next conundrum is how graphic should I get? I have to keep it PG-13 but I don’t want to completely gloss over the event.

One big benefit I have to this is my oldest son just turned 15 – and he reads this series. I can keep myself in check knowing he will be reading the book, but I can also include everything I want him to know about it wrapped into an entertaining fantasy story.

I would love to hear your advice on the subject – especially coming from avid readers, other YA authors, parents, and even teens. What lessons should I preach (without sounding too preachy, of course)? How graphic can I get? What were some of your favorite YA books that touched this subject?

14 thoughts on “Sex in Young Adult Books

  1. I am 17 and I remember reading the intense scenes in Water, but I think it’s a necessary part of the plot. If its a romantic scene of making love, it shouldn’t need to be graphic unecessarily but I feel like you have to stay true to the plot and if that means sex, then so be it.

    • Thanks, Paula! I definitely won’t be nearly as intense (or graphic) as I was in my other books. In a way I think this is going to be more difficult for me to write. :) But I definitely need to stay true to the plot…

  2. I remember being tentative about a nude scene in my YA fantasy, let alone sex! But, I was also dealing with characters who are primarily 15. The reality is that some kids have sex. There’s no reason why it can’t be translated tastefully to the written page.

  3. Have you read Robin McKinley’s YA stuff? She is pretty good about putting in sex, without being graphic, and having it realistic and not all preachy. When I am reading a book, especially if it is a sequel, the character’s actions need to stay within character. So if this main character is fun-loving, adventurous, then keep the sex that way. If she is serious, always taking her time to think through actions, keep the sex that way. You also have to keep her partner in character. Sex can be adventurous and fun for one, and solemn and deep-meaningful for the other. Of course, that can create conflict later when one person puts more weight into the event.

    • Hi Susan – I haven’t read that book but I will definitely check it out. You are so right about staying in character. Since Serena and her boyfriend are sort of opposites, I can have a lot of fun with that!

  4. I’ve defiantely read sex in YA. More than once. It sounds wrong when I put it that way, but it’s true. They don’t exactly gloss over it, but they don’t put in TOO MUCH description. Opal, the third book to the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout, is a perfect example. Her sex scene is more of a brief go through. You know what they’re doing, but you’re not putting a bunch of emphasis that they’re doing “it”. For you, You don’t have to just gloss over it, but I’d suggest not being too descriptive. If you read Fallen Too Far by Abbi Glines and then read the sex scene in Opal, then you’d see the difference. :) hoped this helped!

  5. I’m glad authors are willing to write truthfully about real life issues in this age group. To think that folks within the YA range were avoiding sex would be unrealistic. Frankly, I’m glad authors such as you are choosing to write about sex in a respectful, mature manner, that includes the topics the teens should consider prior to having sex. Please, please, please include birth control within your written discussion/thought processes.

    When I was young, we didn’t have YA material of the type we see today. While I was EXTREMELY naive until I got married (the day before I turned 21), I began reading adult literature at 12. I know you will provide a much more appropriate introduction to sex than what I was reading at that age. Thank you for tackling this topic with style.

    • You are so right! I was in the same boat as you – reading adult literature too early and not fully understanding all that was involved and the consequences! Thanks for your comment, Michelle!

  6. There are only two things that I plan on telling my kids when they are older – that when they take that step, they are ready for it i.e. they are doing it because they want to and not because they are feeling rushed or pressured and second that they are safe – in your book this could be physically but in today’s age it’s in relation to being safe sexually.
    As for how graphic to be in your book it has been my experience that the sex scenes I enjoy reading more are the ones that focus on how the characters are connecting emotionally rather than the physical side of things. Hope this helps!

    • It does help – thank you so much! I think it is a great idea to focus on the emotional rather than the physical. Also being ‘safe’ about it – I’m developing some ideas on how to incorporate that, even with mermaids. :)

  7. Terra, as a grandparent who was naive until I met my husband to be, would have appreciated some YA books as a teen. That said, I agree with much of the above comments … however, keeping it real is very important … not the mechanics, but the emotion. I think today’s teens “know” the mechanics, but I think the emotion and the peer pressure are more important to include. Having Serena “know” herself is very important, and I think you have set a good basis for that. I do, however, think that some vague description of the actual act is necessary to keeping it real … the tactile, feelings involved, the emotions during, perhaps the doubt during, all those things that make that first time ‘real’..I applaud you for ‘asking’ all of us for assistance in this … right on!

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