When it comes to frequently asked questions on the writing boards, sex and young adult writing is king. Chances are good there’s a question every week, on every YA board, about whether the writer’s characters should have sex.
- Do they have sex?
- How much sex can they have?
- How much is too much sex?
- Will the audience buy my book?
- Will parents allow the audience to buy my book?
- Would I let my mother read it?
There’s so much sex talk, I wonder if the characters have time for the actual act itself! It’s a valid concern, because for as much sex as teenagers purportedly have, it’s still a taboo topic. Parents don’t want their kids to do it, because chances are they know how it can break hearts and mess up lives, as well as conflict with religious and moral views.
Views and ethics aside, many YA books today have the main characters doing it, plain and simple. If you want an authentic YA story, write it how you see it. If that includes sex, then it does. If it does not, then it doesn’t. There are definite sides to the matter and nobody wins the argument.
In my opinion, there are different levels of YA depending on subject matter. Crushes, kissing, and general social issues should be okay for the early teen set, but sex, drugs, suicide and other weighty subjects are more suitable for the older teen crowd. When I finished writing A Place In This Life, my neighbor offered to have his 13-year-old daughter read a draft. I politely declined. (Now that I’ve got your interest — yes, there is sex in the story.) However, I remember being 13 and reading Forever by Judy Blume, which I purchased on my own in a small San Clemente book store. Was I too young to know about Ralph? Who knows? All I know is that I, as the reader, wanted to know. And for many teen readers, the curiosity is still there.
Teen sex shakes at the moral fiber of every human being. Your upbringing, your beliefs, your experiences, funnel into how you handle the topic of sex in your stories. From top to bottom, adolescence is where sex usually happens first. This is no reason that you MUST have sex written into your YA story… just that you feel comfortable about it and that your characters do, too.