I’m venturing into the Young Adult (YA) genre. I’ve completed my first YA novel, and have two more planned. I’m actively writing the second.
I have to say, I’ve really enjoyed writing from a younger person’s perspective. It has cleaned up my language considerably (although not in real life) and has forced me to be more selective in what situations I write about.
So, yes, it’s a YA book. The protagonist is sixteen for most of the first book, and as adults, I think we all can agree that there is a large number of teens that age that are considering having sex– if they haven’t had it already.
I’m not really interested in debating the morals of when the right age to have sex is, because it’s really based on maturity more than a number. I know plenty of 20-somethings who aren’t mature enough to be in a mutually-fulfilling, monogamous physical relationship. I do believe that jumping into a sexual relationship too soon is rarely a good idea, no matter what age you are. I will agree that sixteen might be a little too young in most people’s eyes, but let’s face it. There are probably a TON of good people you know personally who had sex at sixteen (or before) and turned out just fine.
That being said, of the YA books I’ve read recently, there’s not sex. Sexual tension, yes– well, in Twilight, anyway. (And the fade-to-black doesn’t count as sex in my book, nor does any subsequent vampire-speed-humping.) But other YA books I’ve read are the Hunger Games trilogy, Ally Condie’s Matched and Crossed, Divergent, and I started the Birthmarked series, but I haven’t gotten very far into it. These are mainly paranormal or dystopian books, though, and none that I’ve read recently are present-day-present-world. I can’t imagine anyone having sex in Ally Condie’s world– yet. Anyway. For those of you who read/write YA on a regular basis, is there ever sex, or even situations that lead to it? I can fade-to-black just as well as the next author, but I think some readers want more. I’m not saying full-on-lady-porn more… just something that explores the feelings that a teen might feel in that situation. Tasteful, non-descriptive…
There’s no shame in that, is there?
When I was fourteen, my friend Jenni loaned me her copy of Flowers in the Attic. I was shocked at what I was reading, and I remember that I wasn’t exactly forthcoming with my book of choice back then with my family members. It was shameful for me to read about sex (and incest, of course) back then. I was raised Catholic, and in my mind sex before marriage was bad. Very bad. Very shameful.
I’m older now, and have a much more realistic view of sex. It’s certainly not bad, nor is it something to be ashamed of when it’s done by two consenting parties who understand the consequences and appreciate the natural intimacy created by it. Does that mean “only adults?” If so, “adult” by whose definition? Isn’t a young adult still an “adult?”
My point is, sex can have a place in the lives of teens, can’t it? Or is our society still in denial about what kids– even good kids– do? What about different types of sexual situations in YA? For instance, is it okay to explore the topic if there’s thoughtful consideration behind the choice? If they use contraception? Is it bad to have a sixteen-year-old who hops from boyfriend to boyfriend? But it’s okay if they get married at seventeen? Should I only allude to the act? Do I need to build it up as one of the biggest decisions ever? What if it “just happened?”
I don’t know what the boundaries are…
…and then I have to wonder… who sets those boundaries? Is it the parent that doesn’t want his kid reading about other kids her age having sex? Or are there teens who really don’t want to read about it, either?
Who am I, as an author, really catering to? Because I know that sixteen-year-old me would have loved the story I’ve written solely for the emotional relationship between the two main characters.
I’m asking this all hypothetically, because at the end of the day, I know the stories I want to write, and will likely write them as planned. I just want to know what kind of backlash to expect once they’re published.