Tuesday, March 26, 2013

'The Talk'

One day I’m sure I’m going to have to have ‘The Talk’ with my daughter. I’m sure it will be uncomfortable and she’ll probably already know a fair amount about what I’m saying just from watching TV. She’ll learn a lot at school as well. But I still think it’s part of my duty as a parent to have this talk with her.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, it’s because of something my line editor said.

“Would you want your daughter reading a book where the main characters didn’t use a condom?”

Of course my answer was NO, and that was her point. No matter how I inferred it, I had to add a line that said they were safe. And I’m not talking about anything real explicit here. I’m talking about the YA fade to black kind of sex.

Now, it’s not my job as a writer to teach safe sex. It’s my job to entertain readers. But I also want a mom like me to be able to pick up my book and say that she’s okay with her teenage daughter reading it even though the characters are sexually active. The thing is, even though I write fiction, the story has to be relatable to readers or it won’t sell.

So what do you think? Obviously, it depends largely on the story and what else is happening to the characters, but how do you approach this in your own writing? And as reader, how do you feel about it?


  1. I actually came across this in a book I was reading the other day, and I have to admit -- I appreciated it being there. Not just from a responsible stand point, but from a realism stand point. These characters were careful and protective of each other. And during the scene, there was some awkwardness, embarrassment, fumbling and a lot of excitement. And the whole effect was beautifully real. It captured the essence of some of those first times, where you don't know everything and have no expertise with what you're doing. For me, the nostalgia brought on by the realism enhanced the romance, instead of detracting from it.

    1. Very well said! Would you mind sharing what book it was in?

  2. "Now, it’s not my job as a writer to teach safe sex. It’s my job to entertain readers."

    I really agree with this part. I don't think a book, in YA particularly, would sell well if the writer is trying to teach the reader a lesson. Teens are pretty perspective to that type of thing and will quickly call "BS" on a writer for trying to do that.

    But I understand where the line editor is coming from. I think that this part doesn't really come off that way (as trying to teach the reader) either. It can go into a lot of things, like plot and character development. It can help develop a character to have them pick to be safe.

    Plus, something that always sort of bothers me about a sex scene (in TV, in movie, in books -- where ever I come across them) is how unrealistic it can be sometimes. I know someone can be caught in the throe of passion, but most people will stop and take the thirty seconds it takes to be safe. But you never hear or see that part.

    Great post!

    1. Thank You! And I agree, finding a way to balance what we say and to work it into the development of the character is the best way to go.

  3. Yes I agree. It would be obvious if a writer was bashing the lesson on the reader's head. That said I notice when safety is missing too.

    Recently I read a NA book, where the MCs have sex in the heat of the moment and use nothing. Afterwards he asks if she is using any birth control,(although he knew she was a virgin when they had sex - with condom- the night before.) She isn't and his response is, oh well we can't do that again (ie go without)until you are.
    And then nothing. They carry on with no worries at all. I instantly shot a email to my US critique partner asking if Morning-After pills are available in the US, where the book was set. (The sequel is hinged on pregnancy I believe, so I see the need for the plot line, but it was the blase attitude afterwards that threw me.)

    And that's just pregnancy risks. I grew up at the time when we were bombarded with AIDS pamphlets (the ones with tombstones on the front) so naturally, brainwashed as I am, I think condoms should be mentioned regarding STDs too.

    I write myself, including teen sex scenes, and I think that safety has to feature. A character may not have needed condoms before, but can still be savvy to their importance. In fact, maybe that is what there is to be promoted in YA writing; the attitudes towards safe sex. That it is OK to expect safe sex when it comes to it. That it is OK to insist on a condom. I know I have written the line "I might be easy, but I'm not stupid" in this regard before.

    I learned loads from books like Judy Blume's Forever, when growing up. YA books already equip teens with how to handle situations. Surely this is the same? We needn't be teaching as such, but rather showing a raft of ways that issues can be tackled and difficult/embarrassing subjects broached.

    Good post. Thanks. And Good Luck with The Talk.

    1. Thanks!!! You make an excellent point about the STDs and I’m glad you mentioned that. While it is the first time for both my character, neither of them knows that in the moment, so protecting themselves does need to be addressed. I really didn’t want to bog down the scene since it’s mostly raging hormones, but I think I managed to work it in without being too subtle or standing on a soapbox about it. We’ll see if what I did works when my editor gets her hands on it again. :)