Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sex in YA? Tabboo or ignored?

Hey there everyone. My name’s Leslie Soule and I’m pleased to be a guest on this blog today.

When Deanna gave me the idea to do a blog post on the topic of sex in YA novels, I thought it would be a good challenge to tackle. It got me thinking about the novels I’d read and enjoyed as a teenager and how they handled the tricky topic of sex. I used to love reading a series called the Redwall series by British author Brian Jacques.

The series is about a bunch of animals like mice and otters and badgers who live in a big sandstone abbey together and act like people. The very first book I’d read in the series – one I still have, whose pages are old and dirty, whose spine is so cracked you can barely make out the title since I’d read it so many times – deals with the title character named Mattimeo.

Now the book mentions Mattimeo’s parents – warrior Matthias and his love Cornflower, but there is no mention of sex in the entire Redwall series, and yet we know that Mattimeo had to have come from somewhere. Little mice do not just POP into existence from nothing.

So I thought about other novels that I loved when I was a teenager – and realized that, at least with the books I’d read, (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, etc.) sex was completely ignored. I searched the internet for other opinions on the topic, in order to gain some insight.

A Google search led me to the Magical Musings blog, where the question was being posed, “How much sex is acceptable in a YA novel?” The author of the post came to the conclusion that there are no rules. While I can see this, I also think there are still standards and traditions.

I recently went to the midnight showing of the new “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One”. For any of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, turn away now, because I will spoil it for you.

***Spoiler Alert***

Okay, so here’s what happens – Ron sees a vision of Harry and Hermione embracing nude. I didn’t remember this happening in the book when I’d read the Harry Potter series all those years ago, so I looked up whether this scene was in the books or not. Turns out it wasn’t. J.K. Rowling, following in the tradition of many other YA fantasy authors, steered clear of the topic altogether in her novels. She, like so many others, didn’t want to touch “sex” with a ten-foot pole.

Personally, I am guilty of ignoring sex altogether as well in my work and in my upcoming YA novel FALLENWOOD. There’s not a scrap of sex involved in it. At the risk of not practicing what I am about to preach, here are my thoughts on the question of how much is allowable: I believe that in a YA novel, if sex is included, it should be used as a tool in order to enlighten the reader (and I don’t mean “enlighten” as in teaching them different positions).

I find it appalling how nonchalantly various forms of social media advocate casual sex as a normal and healthy lifestyle choice for young adults. However, where are young adults to go in order to get the right information on the subject? It’s rare to see YA novels make any statement at all other than silence.

So there ya go – How is sex handled in YA novels?

It isn’t.

~Thanks Leslie!

Leslie will give away a free copy of her short story THE DEVIL'S BIDDING to anyone who would like to post a comment below on this topic.

You can visit Leslie on her website or her

Thanks for stopping by and good luck!



  1. Thanks Leslie! I wonder if teens are upset by this lack of truth in books written about them. Often I think that YA is written by adults as a way to guide youths with life lessons and adult authors, especially parents who are writers, fear that a YA with sex is like a how-to manual or a permission granted to fornicate.
    Personally I was reading bodice rippers in 5th wonder I write erotica!

  2. My answer to your question--where do they go--is elsewhere. Even though YA doesn't explore sex there are many books that do. I remember a friend of mine reading Madame X--this was in junior high. Books about sex and drugs--it's out there and, if they are interested, they'll find it.

  3. I agree, but YA covers such a wide range of ages that to break the rules would be irresponsible to some extent. Kids from eight to adults read it. It can be a dilemma. My HS age students think is ridiculous that intimate topics are ignored or glossed over, but when my daughter and son were in upper elementary and middle school - though I answered their questions - I would not have wanted them to read about casual sex in the stories they enjoyed. It is tough. If parents have no problem with it, or kids want to find this sort of thing, it is readily available in a variety of adult work. YA doesn't need to become adult literature. Good topic.

  4. I agree. But, I think sex can be handled in YA literature, if it is done the right way. I'm thinking of Twilight--no descriptive language, they are married--or in the Shiver series from HQN where it is behind closed doors. I think it would be unrealistic to assume that teens don't have sex in this day and age or want to read it about it. Having said that, I have actually written a YA book (not out yet) and the hero tells the heroine, I want to have sex with you, and she says 'no, I'm not ready.' He listens to her. That seemed the best way for my particular story. Anyway, its a fascinating topic and one that deserves exploring. I did read a teen book by Judy Bloom called Forever when I was a teen. Boy, did she do a lot of sex in that.
    Great blog post!

  5. I remember hearing about that Judy Bloom book! I need to go look it up.
    Thanks for stopping by ladies!

  6. And that's why Judy Blume is always on the list of books being banned from one school district or library or another. Adults think that if they keep sex out of the books teens read, the kids won't think of it themselves...even when they are bombarded 24/7 by it in advertising, movies, TV, etc. I have gotten reprimanded when I suggested to students that if they read Romeo and Juliet closely, they will find that every time the nurse opens her mouth, it's to say dirty jokes/innuendos. They looked forward to their Shakespeare unit! Hey, I didn't choose the story as required reading! I just tried to make it less painful. That being said, to use Twilight as an example of "good" use of non-sex in teen books is weird. Edward is a dysfunctional stalker...I certainly don't want my 17-year old daughter dating some guy old enough to be her great-grandfather! Or who hides in her bedroom at night to watch her sleep! Or who follows her around constantly, to reduce her to a victim who needs his protection constantly. I'd get a restraining order out on him! Their story is the age-old Romeo and Juliet thing: they want, but they can't have. The only new twist here is that HE is the one saying "No", which takes the onus off the wonder some girls like the books. What I can't figure out is why adult women like them.

  7. LOL Fiona! I thought Edward was a creepy stalker too!