The Compulsive Reader: Sex in YA

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sex in YA

As time goes on, it seems that there are more and more YA books coming out that deal with sex--whether it's just mentioned in passing, alluded to, or actually described.

I know that many people wouldn't expect sex in YA books, but let's face it--teens aren't ignorant of it, as many aduts would like to believe, and for many, sex is a big part of their lives. However, there are also some teens who aren't ready to read sex scenes, and for them to pop up in a YA book might come as a bit of a surprise, therefore causing many adults to judge the more risque books unsuitable for teen minds, which leads to book banning and slamming, and all sorts of civil rights violations.

So I want to hear your thoughts. How far is too far, or is there even a limit? Do you believe that teens should be responsible for self censoring, or that such books should be "branded" with a warning? Let me know.


Chelsie said...

Young Adults (and to me, young adult is best described as someone 13 years or older) should know about sex... it's a natural part of life, and by the time you reach 13 you should have had that talk with your parents about it. That's something that should be expected.

As far as sex in Young Adult books, I see no problem with having it as part of them. While not all teens have sex (which is a good thing) there are some who do, which makes it realistic to be part of YA literature. It would be unrealistic if every book made for teenagers was perfectly happy and pleasant.

That being said, it depends on your age, maturity, and upbringing whether you can handle reading something with sex in it. I was reading adult romances at age 12, and so a little bit of sex and romance in YA doesn't bother me one bit. But there are some people who may not have had the same kind of upbringing that I did who might find it offensive (I'm thinking more about religious beliefs at the moment).

I think that teens should be able to tell what's too much for them to handle, and for those adults who filter their child's reading, the adults should take into consideration the fact that not every book may be as innocent as it looks. I don't see the point in having a "branding" as you called it, because sex is something that should be expected from young adult books.

I hope that my point came across without it sounding offensive or rude...

Katrina L. Burchett said...

As you know, Compulsive Reader, my debut novel, Choices, tackles the issue of teens and sex. I understand what Chelsie is saying about "religious beliefs", however I am a Christian who accepts the reality - teenagers are having sex and that does not exclude teenage Christians, because quite a bit of them are doing it as well - so I don't find it offensive at all if a YA Novel explores this issue. But for me it depends on how it is written.
There are teen characters in my novel who have "chosen" to engage in premarital sex, but when sex happens I didn't write every little detail; I left the act to the reader's imagination. Although my novel is honest about what goes on with some young people, I wrote it in a way that I felt would be pleasing to God, so I couldn't have graphic sex scenes that could get a girl all excited (I'm sure you know what I mean). Besides, as a reader I'm not into books that describe the act of consensual sex. Whether I'm reading or watching a movie, I do not need to know what's going on behind the closed doors of a couples bedroom. I do not care and it just isn't any of my business.
As for the age & maturity of the reader, these days teens are losing their virginity as young as eleven, so I've heard. Sad, I know. Still, Choices is a dramatic, emotional story that probably shouldn't be read by anyone younger than thirteen (they're more mature than we think these days). Then again, every young person's life is different, and there are those who are mature beyond their years.
And Chelsie - you weren't offensive or rude at all :)

K. M. Walton said...

I don't know if anyone remembers the book Forever by Judy Blume. I actually got my babysitter to buy it for me because my parents banned it from me. I was in 8th grade - 12 years old.

It was "innocently graphic" and filled with actual details about the act and what it felt like. It was spellbinding to me at 12. I also learned quite a bit - and this was years after my mom gave me "the talk".

I wholeheartedly agree with Chelsie that sex is a natural part of life...but for adults. The thought of my 11 year old son having sex literally blows my mind as does the possiblility of him reading about it.

I feel parents have the responsibility to not only be open and honest about sex but also to STAY open and honest for the duration...not just during "the talk". Parenting should reach far and deep into children's lives, including monitoring what they're reading, who they are spending time with, what they're watching on t.v., listening to on their iPods and texting to their friends. It all boils down to responsibilty.

This is America, right? Writers should be able to write what they feel is necessary to their story BUT, they must be responsible,or willing to take the slack, for what their readers read.

Great topic, thanks.

The Compulsive Reader said...

Thanks for weighing in, guys! Here's what I have to say:

Growing up a very Christian and open household, I was taught that premarital sex is wrong, and it is what I believe. However, my parents, my mom especially, always made it clear that she was open for discussion on the topic any time, no matter what the circumstances, no judgement. When I was younger and just starting to test the waters of YA, she would always make a point of knowing what I was reading, but not in an overbearing way. She'd read an occaisonal book that I read (still does, actually, but now it's because they're all really good, not because she's worried about sex), but our relationship is one that is built on trust, and she trusted (and still does) that I would not read anything that was inappropriate for me.

I am a believer of self censorship as well...if a teen starts reading something and comes across risque or questionable content that they don't want to read, they'll stop. However, if they choose to read it, chances are that they are ready for it, even if a parent may disagree. Parents, like my mom, I think should always be open for discussion on such topics without making their kids feel bad or judged by going to them. Because the way kids and teens are, I think that if a parent tries to control their kid too much via reading habits, you'll have some major conflicts. Be aware of what your kid is reading, but also trust that they know what they may or may not be ready to read and that they'll act accordingly.

And thanks for bringing up Forever! I have to confess, I didn't read it until after I finished Anatomy of a Boyfriend, which is hailed as this genreation's Forever (and also has more relevant sex issues). While I think it is an excellent book, I think that more teens will be able to relate to Anatomy.

And as for authors being responsible for what they write...I'm not sure whether or not I agree. I can see both sides of the argument--authors should wanr their readers about content, but they are no substitute for a parent's guidance.

Thanks for your input, everyone, and keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

Ppl shldn't let kids read about sex til their at least 18. No one needs to know about it til then, and they'll just pollute their minds with garbage.

Ashley said...

I think teens need to learn about sex. It's important, because it will eventually become a part of your adult life.

Some may even enjoy reading the more sexually-detailed sections. I mean, I think it makes the story more realistic, and you understand characters in a more emotional/physical way.

Daryl said...

Obviously teens need to know about sex. However, I don't think that it's the responsibility of the books they read to inform them. Parents, school councilors , and others should be there to tell them and answer any questions.

As for sex in books, personally, as a teen, I don't like reading it. Obviously, lots of teens do have sex, and so it can't be completely ignored in the writing. However, I think that detail of the act should be saved for adult books. If a teen really feels they are ready to read something of that caliber, then they can read adult books.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

I think you need to know about it, but i can see how some kids don't want to know too much too young or to find out about it in their books...I guess if you're so young, parents should pay attention to what you are reading and if you are an older teen and still worried, just try and do some research. I think books being banned is awful. It's not that bad for some people...I've read a lot of different books, YA and adult, so not much really gets to me.


Anonymous said...

Censorship has been a problem for a long time. I believe that different limits are right for different people. I think teens can be held responsible for what they take in, whether that be music, movies, or books.

Anonymous said...

I think if teens can watch movies with sex in it, and listen to music where everyother line has a sexual reference, then books shouldnt be such a problem. Self censorship is important for readers, so that nothing is limited in the ya genre. But really, all of the YA books Ive read, which is many, even if they go into a 'sex scene' absolutely nothing is graphic so Ive never considered that anyone might be offended by it :-x I guess I can see where some might though.

Anonymous said...

Teens/Young Adults should censor their own readings. No book should be banned because they contain "inappropriate" sex scenes. That's just my opinion. I've read Adult romances before and they contain pretty graphic scenes of sex. At first it was pretty uncomfortable, but sex is a natural thing. It doesn't bother me anymore. I feel like I learn a good lesson from books that my parents don't tell me.