Monday, August 6, 2012

Much Ado About Sex

Sex. Sex. Sex. SEX!!! Now that I got that out of the way, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Haylee :) and I write children’s & YA fiction. Considering that I’m the new kid on the block I thought I’d start off with a maybe not-so-unique topic but it's something near and dear to my heart. Why? Because I grew up in a conservative household where sex before marriage was a big no-no. Oh, and it's controversial – I love me some controversy!

Sex is a touchy subject (pun intended) specifically among the YA realm. I've heard mixed reviews. Some say leave it out. Others think it's a realistic element of YA. I can respect both sides, but here's what I think.

I was raised in a conservative home by loving, laid back parents. While I didn’t have a curfew per se my parents were still firm on aspects of my life and relationships, making it clear what was expected of me. As an adult, some of those things are still in force. Sex before marriage is taboo and watching racy rated R movies with my parents is still uncomfortable – and always will be. I can honestly say that my parents wouldn't have given me a YA book with underage sex in it. In fact, I don't know many parents who would.

There is this stigma that if you give children a book featuring sex that it will encourage them to explore. I disagree. I firmly believe that books provide a safe environment for kids to learn. Personally, I've read numerous YA books that handle sex in a tasteful, realistic way. Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer is a fantastic, moving piece. It presents sex in an age-appropriate manner while being honest with readers. Recently, I read a post by Sarah where she talks about her book being banned and it really struck a chord with me. The book is just great - seriously, I cannot say enough about it - and when I found out a school district in Missouri banned it, I was bummed. Aside from the presence of sex, the novel talks a lot about grief and self discovery. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it helped me cope with the death of a family member.

In light of this news (which actually happened last year - yeah, I'm behind) I started re-evaluating my work. At this point my characters are celibate and will remain that way. Why? Because sex will not advance or enhance my plot and I think that is an important thing writers should consider. Sex in YA should be well thought out and pertinent to your story. In my opinion, it's just excess fat when thrown in to sell or create shock value. Some writers think it creates romance - not this girl. In fact, the best romance scenes I've read really had nothing to do with sex at all. I will add that not every author can handle the topic properly and reviews can be very revealing (no pun intended...okay, well maybe), so parental discretion is advised.

Now, I am not a parent and I'm not claiming to be an authority on how you should and shouldn't raise your children. And I completely understand why parents would not want their children absorbing YA works that contain sex. Parents want to (and should) subject their children to things that reflect their values and opinions. On the flip side, public school doesn't give a crap about morals, and neither do the kids who attend it. I remember what it's like to be a teen, considering that it wasn't too long ago, and I was exposed to some rather shocking events including (but not limited to) being offered drugs, watching kids get busted by an undercover cop, and listening to some overtly sexual accounts from fellow classmates. And I attended a remotely privileged high school so I can only imagine what it's like for less fortunate schools. My point is that teens are bombarded with sex on all fronts – television, music, the internet, cellphones (sexting, anyone?) - and we should arm them with knowledge. After all, as Schoolhouse Rock always said, knowledge is power.

Thoughts? Opinions? I'd love to hear them!


  1. I completely agree. I don’t think it should be left out, or just thrown in. I also agree that parents need to “parent up” and actually advise/teach/relate pertinent information to their children. Well said!

  2. I used to read novels that had sex scenes in them in high school and I still read them now. I don't think it's a bad thing in YA at all. Like what you said, books are a safe environment. If you had parents like mine (amazing but afraid to mention sex), you probably need them just as much as I did. Thinking that teens DON'T need books with sex means that you are completely discounting them as young adults and the issues that they are already faced with. With that said though Haylee, just as you believe, books shouldn't just throw it in to sell something.

  3. It's such an interesting topic. I was sort of raised conservative by default - my parents aren't especially that way in nature, and I certainly wasn't taught at home that any of it was bad, nor do I think my parents would've withheld a book from me simply because it contained sex. However, I also went to Orthodox Jewish schools for 13 years, and wasn't aware of anyone I knew having premarital sex until I was 19. As such, it was always interesting to me to read YA books with sexual relationships in them just to see a different side of things, because it was so not a factor in relationships of mine or my friends.

    The biggest reason I got into writing was to sort of live an alternate reality vicariously through my characters. Not that I didn't enjoy by own upbringing, but I've always found something limiting in that we only get to live one life! So now, I find that I always write stories that allow me to explore high school paths different from mine - all my YA books have sex, there will always be mentions of food that's as non-kosher as it gets, there are almost always things like dances and football games etc. which we never had... I guess it's just more fun for me to write that way!

    Do I think all books need to be that way? Of course not. And when I do have kids of my own, I'm sure I'll be thrilled that there are some YA books out there without sex in them. But they probably won't be my own ;)

  4. Great post! It's clear you've thought a lot about it.

    I agree that if sex does not have a place in the plot, it's gratuitous. But I want to use the dirtiest word every writer knows: SUBJECTIVITY. I may think sex is necessary to moving plot or character forward, and you might disagree. There's no objective measure, otherwise we'd be able to run a DOES THIS SCENE NEED SEX? scanner over our MSs and it would be easy. ;)

    I also disagree that "gratuitous" is necessarily "bad." Some teens might be happy to see sex in a book for the very reasons you mentioned - just giving them a safe space to learn about that.

    Lastly, I want to urge all of us to please, please, PLEASE remember that it doesn't really matter what parents want their teens to read or not to read. Teens are going to read whatever they want - and if they want to read a book with sex in it badly enough, they'll do it no matter what their parents say.

    Love your open mind and the way you shared your experience. Congratulations on your first post!

  5. I'm 16 and I'm waiting until marriage. I prefer books that don't have sex in them, but it won't change my views if they do.

  6. This is an awesome post. Great insight and a solid opinion.

  7. Thank you for the interesting feedback :) I was nervous about posting this in the first place because I don't want to discredit anyone's opinion. All of you have been great!

  8. Personally I think that sometimes sex is only put into YA books for the sake of being put in. What annoys me though is "fade to black" scenes. If you're gong to talk about sex, at least give teens enough credit to write about it properly. Being the age that I am, its a foreign thing to me, but I know about it. All my friends know about it. They'll read books like "Fifty Shades Of Grey" which is about sexual as they come.

    Do my parents know what I read? No. I could be reading anything. Would I not read a book if my parents told me that I wasn't allowed to? Heck, I'd probably go out of my way to find it, to see what the fuss is all about.

    I like the fact that you have an opinion about something controversial, which is hard to find in blog posts. Congratulations on your first post!