Young Adult

Talk Amongst Yourselves: Let’s Talk About Sex

I’ve wanted to try a discussion post, get the wheels turning on a good convo, so I thought I’d start off with a bang (no pun intended please).

Last night I finished Graceling (review to come soon) and, if you’ve read it, you know that there are some sexy times in it. As a single grown-up, I often live vicariously through sexy times in books, but, as I said, I’m a grown up. Sexy times are not the same for me as they are for a 16 year old.

My first experience with Young Adult literature was Twilight, which, as we all know, has like zero real sex in it. At least, not until they’re married and even then it’s pretty lame tame.  So most of my preconceived notions about literature written for teens is that there isn’t sex in them. Or at least not the kind of sex that you find in adult literature.

But as I’ve gotten deeper into the world of YA lit, I’ve started to see more and more sex popping up (no pun intended please). I feel like I’m a little bit on the fence here when it comes to sex in YA lit. On the one hand, I think that maybe sex shouldn’t be as explicit or implied or even present. It should all be sweet kissy times and that be it. Which I know that makes me a total prude, but lack of sex was something that appealed to me when I first started out reading YA.

On the other hand, sex amongst teens exists. For me to say “no sex in YA books!” is like saying “no real, hard hitting issues that teens face every day in YA books!” Which, as we all know, is NOT a stand we should take.

So I’m curious… I know most of my followers are adults and we’re well beyond those teenage years, but as an adult what do you think of sex in YA lit? And for those of you who follow my blog (or are even just stopping by) and are still teens, what are your thoughts of sex in YA lit?



17 thoughts on “Talk Amongst Yourselves: Let’s Talk About Sex”

  1. I like the fact that there is a variety. Or that there should be a variety. I like to see YA as a gritty, realistic view on what teenagers really do. But not always. Sometimes I like it to be more idealistic. But kids read about sex to learn about real relationships and the consequences within them, so I see the value those scenes and topics have for kids. It’s like experiencing things without having to actually do them.


    1. I agree. I don’t know what sex education in high school is like now nor what it is like in other parts of the country but when I was a teenager it was either basic science or a random PE coach who gave us the awkward “you should wait” speech. Most things I learned about sex as a teen were either from books or the internet – neither of which had very realistic explanations because they were both well above my level. I think today’s books tackling subjects that were once thought taboo are great because it gives teens an outlet to learn about these things in a way that is on their level – meaning how it affects someone their age, not someone 10+ older than them.


  2. I’m with you. I think YA should be tame. That’s why I started reading more YA. I got so sick of reading way too intense scenes in adult books. I don’t want to read that stuff. If YA books start with sex scenes too, what am I supposed to read?


    1. Haha, I know, right? We’ll have to start reading kids books! I’m still all for romantic sex scenes in adult literature, but sometimes I feel like it’s a little to cavalier. For me, having multiple relationships and/or sexual relationships is not realistic. I think that’s what I was trying to escape from, not necessarily all sex, just the throwing it around part. I think what I’ve loved with YA lit is that it’s not just having sex to have sex or because you think the guy is hot; teens (IMO) tend to see sex and love as going hand in hand so when they do end up having sex, it’s because they’re actually in love. Granted this isn’t all the time, but the majority of books I’ve read that have had sex scenes in them this has been the case. And when it hasn’t, there’s been regret or repercussions that the characters deal with, which I think can be very real when you have sex.


  3. I’m okay with sex in YA as long as it has a meaningful place within the story and is handled well. No gratuitous sex, please – but I hold adult fiction to the same standard. One of the reasons I got back into young adult in my late twenties was due to so much sex for sex’s sake in adult genre novels – I hate bodice rippers, so to speak. I will say that reading detailed sex scenes between children, no matter how old, makes me a bit squeezy (my own word), but most of the time I’m picturing them in their twenties anyway because my brain has stopped fully understanding what being a teenager is, or was. Or maybe I just automatically make most characters my own age in my head?


    1. I do the same thing! Mostly because I feel slightly ridiculous fawning over a 17 year old romantic interest… so I imagine the characters to be my age and voila! I no longer feel like a cougar. But yes… I’m the same way about sex scenes. Having sex for the sake of having sex no longer appeals to me. At one point in my life I did enjoy those scenes but as I got older I felt like it was the same thing, over and over, and there was a definite lack of romance involved in it. That’s what drew me into YA initially – the fact that there was romance WITHOUT sex. As I’ve read more, I’ve seen more books that do involve sex, but it’s not graphic or just for the heck of it. Mostly it’s been well done and age appropriate. However, I will say that most books that do involve sex feature older teens; I think I would be slightly uncomfortable reading about sex between younger teens, despite the fact that I know kids are sexually active at that age.


  4. I’m fine with sex being included in YA. Teens have sex and not writing about it isn’t going to change that. BUT I think if it does so it needs to show the effects of having sex. Like, I’m not exactly an expert on this topic (read: still a virgin), but I think that it’s necessary for teens to know that sex is fine, but that protection is important and when you have sex it’s not just a physical thing. It will affect how people view you (for girls this usually means you’ll be viewed as less, unfortunately), and it can affect you emotionally as well. I’m not saying shove the lesson down their throat, but I think YA is the perfect place for these kinds of discussions to take place and hey might as well educate a bit while you have their attention, right?

    Also, I don’t think sex needs to be GRAPHIC in YA literature. Though, that said, I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some graphicness…if not about sex then at least…and I can’t believe I’m about to write this on a public book blog…then at least about masturbation. There is a huge stigma attached to female masturbation and I think it’s healthy for women to be comfortable with their bodies and to understand their bodies. Sex is about feeling good too, and if girls don’t know how to make themselves feel good, then how can they expect their partner to?

    Alex Day/Nerimon actually made an excellent video about this topic.


    1. It’s interesting that you say “I can’t believe I’m about to write this on a public book blog…then at least about masturbation.” Because doesn’t that statement alone show the stigma that is attached to masturbation?! In my comment below, I talked about how much I hated/hate reading about sex in books. But, I think I would have appreciated reading a book that dealt with masturbation from the female perspective. Unlike sex, which EVERYONE talked about, no one talked about masturbation! I’m not saying, none of the books I read dealt with the topic of masturbation. A few did, but they were always from the male perspective. Which honestly, as a teenaged girl, it grossed me out. Like…really, really grossed me out.

      Not once did I read about female masturbation. For all I knew, it was a strictly male experience. Or, at least it was only acceptable to do if one was a male. Or maybe it wasn’t acceptable at all. Or maybe it was a deed only for those who “couldn’t get laid”. Or maybe, just maybe, it was acceptable. I had no idea. No one ever said anything about it. I didn’t have the courage to ask questions, and nobody had the courage to write about it!
      Well, maybe somebody did, but those books just never made it into my hands.


      1. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray was the first book I’ve read that discusses female masturbation, and it’s one of the big reasons I loved the book. There is also a sex scene with condom use. So we’re getting there!


      2. Yeah, I’m well aware of the stigma. As much as those who know me know that I’m outspoken, I’m also very aware of how some topics can change people’s opinion of you. It’s not an easy topic to talk about as a woman because female sexuality itself is still such a stigmatized topic. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been told by a guy that girls don’t like sex.

        And the only time I’ve seen anything about female masturbation was in a horror movie. The woman was a lesbian and a mass murderer with split personality disorder (the other personality being a man), so what does that say about the world view on female sexuality and masturbation?


  5. I didn’t like reading sex scenes when I was a teenager and a virgin, and I still don’t like reading sex scenes as an adult and a non-virgin. As a teen and as an adult, I was/am bombarded with sex. I mean, in very different ways of course. As a teen, all of my friends were losing their virginity or enjoying casual sex. They all discussed their experiences, both physical and emotional. Then, as an adult, I had my own experiences. And then, tack on to that all the sex media bombards us with. It’s so hard to escape sex! It’s on TV and in movies and in advertisements. So, honestly, I like books that can give me a break from all the sex talk.

    That being said, sex in YA books doesn’t “disturb” me as long as it’s not gratuitous or written like the sex scenes in the Harlequin romance novels (ew). I realize that teens are being pressured by friends/boyfriends/family/society to have sex/to not have sex. And all the different opinions floating around out there are pretty confusing! Books can be a good starting point for a good and honest discussion about the topic. Or, even if discussion is out of the question, it can still be a somewhat safe place to get knowledge about the subject.

    My biggest pet peeve about all the sex scenes in the books I read…the lack of protection. I’m not asking the author to be preachy about safer sex, but it does bother me that the characters in YA novels are enjoying sex without protection and also without worry of consequence. It just doesn’t happen that way in real life!


    1. Your first sentence makes me wonder if opinions of sex scenes in books changes as your sexual experience changes. As a teen (and virgin) I had no problems with them. I read my mom’s romance novels and there was sex aplenty in them; I remember loving these books too. However, now, as an adult I look back at these books and think how they probably ruined my sexual expectations for me as well as led me down a completely wrong path at what to expect from sex. As an adult, I’m like you: sex is everywhere and is such a common part of our lives that it’s nice to escape it and read about situations that don’t revolve around sex or trying to have sex.

      I think if authors choose to include sex in their novels, it’s not e a bad thing as long as they do it tactfully and show the consequences of it – whether good or bad. Teens need an outlet to understand sex as a natural part of life but also as something that shouldn’t be done cavalierly like it’s so often done on TV shows and movies.


  6. I’m all about the XXX in YA. I know, that’s horrible. But okay, most of my friends had sex by the time we were 16. Plus when I was an actual young adult, I was reading adult books, so lolololol the pearl clutching about sex makes me laugh because the adult books I read had plenty of that and not even the sexy kind of sex, but the scary kind a la Stephen King. I don’t know, maybe I am just more open about all of that stuff than most or not as weird about it. It didn’t bother me then, and it doesn’t bother me now.


    1. Ha, tsk tsk tsk! Just kidding! I think I was mostly sheltered when I was a teenager because I didn’t have friends who had sex – okay, I did have one or two but we were older teens – and was always SHOCKED when I found out people had sex. Looking back, I was very naive. That being said I was reading adult books at like 13, so I was very familiar with sex in literature. Although I don’t know about scary sex… I mostly read my mom’s romance novels. I don’t even want to think about scary sex! Haha! As I got older – like college age – I was reading books about women in their mid to late 20s who had serious dating woes and I ate it up. I didn’t mind sex in these books and liked to think that one day I would be just like these women. Of course, when I got to be just like these women I found out it wasn’t quite as glamorous as they made it seem. So I guess my point is that I originally looked to YA to escape this kind of literature and have, luckily, found a great escape. Sex isn’t just sex in YA (for the most part) so I get to read about real subjects without there being all this underlying “okay we’ve been out on a date time to sleep together!” nonsense. I think as an adult who is well past the teen years, I have to step back and remember that the audience YA lit is marketed to is not made up of children… they’re young ADULTS. There will be things such as sex, drugs, drinking and the like… Luckily though, I think these somewhat touchier subjects are, for the most part, handled very well and in a way that teens can relate to.


  7. Such an awesome discussion! I honestly don’t especially care one way or the other. I don’t read a ton of YA “romance” so maybe that’s why I don’t feel like I come across it a lot? But, I know lots of middle schoolers are having sex (oh, I HOPE that does NOT start happening in MG novels – that would break my heart), so it just seems unrealistic to think that it won’t be in YA books. I read this post this very morning that I think has a great perspective on sex in YA:


  8. I think it depends on the book — there is graphic, casual sex in DUFF and it didn’t bother me per se, but I wouldn’t buy that book for my virginal 14 or even 16 year old nieces. However, there’s sex in several of Melina Marchetta and Gayle Forman’s books (even Stephanie Perkins!), and I think it’s handled quite well. In “Before I Die,” which I just wrote about, there’s a few sex scenes, and they’re very descriptive and evocative of the difference between casual sex and sex when you love the person. It was beautiful, actually.

    Also, I should admit that I’ve ONLY read YA (with the exception of a few books I read in middle school) as an adult; I was reading “grown up” books when I was a teen.


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