Readers of adult romances are likely used to seeing sex scenes in novels. While the genre ranges from chaste to naughty, the average contemporary romance will likely contain some amount of sexuality. When I made the switch from reading almost exclusively romance to a mix of romance and Young Adult, I couldn’t help but notice the stark difference in the approach to sexuality.
Now, that isn’t to say that books for teens should have long explicit sex scenes, like you’d find in adult erotica or the like, but it struck me as a bit odd that sex seemed to be so taboo for these fictional teens. I think that the Twilight is a good example, albeit very outdated at this point, because so many are familiar with the story. In the books, Bella is actively interested in furthering her and Edwards’s romantic encounters, and he is the one that holds back. There’s the issue that he might freak out and drink her blood that dampens the mood some, but he also wants to hold off and make it special.
Okay, let’s really think about that. He’s been perpetually 17 years old for, what, 100 years? I’m sorry, but I have to snort a bit at the idea of someone with the undying hormones of a 17 year old remaining chaste until he happens to meet his true love in biology class.
Yet readers, me included, ate this up. It seems that it set a tone for the future of the YA genre. There are troves of books now with immortal teen beefcakes who meet these young girls and barely make a move. The paranormal and fantasy books in the YA category seem to want to avoid sexuality, or leave it to steamy kisses. The contemporary novels seem more apt to broach the subject of the big S-E-X, yet usually avoid having the main character actually take the plunge.
I recently read the book Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy and I was actually shocked about how frank the discussion of sex was, when really it was pretty mild. The main characters best friend plans to lose her virginity, and the main character actually helps her pick out sexy underwear to impress the boyfriend. The moment so vividly took me back to being 16 and having nearly the same conversation that I thought “Wow, where is this in the hundreds of YA books I’ve read?”
As I said, I don’t think there needs to be explicit sex in YA, but where are these conversations? I don’t know about you, but sex was a frequent and fervent topic when I was a teen. Yet, teens in YA novels seem so sterilized. I read almost entirely fantasy/paranormal YAs and I can only think of a few books I’ve read that even approach the topic, let alone actually go all the way. Notably, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas(which Dabney and I discussed in a Pandora’s Box) and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.
I personally would like to see YA novels embrace realism and become more sex-positive, but what do you think? Do you think YA novels should be totally clean and chaste? Do you think there’s a need for mature discussions of sexuality? Do you know of any sex-positive or stand-out books that deal with sexuality in the YA genre? Let me know in the comments.