If you have read my book blog, I make it pretty known about my feelings on sex and its inclusion in the young adult genre. But in case you don’t know my specific stance … sex should be in YA. It should be in YA, and it should be in there positively. The days of fade to black “sex scenes” should well and truly be over. The days where the heterosexual couple doesn’t have sex until the third book should well and truly be over. The days where LGBTQIA+ sex scenes barely exist should well and truly be over. The lack of sex positivity should well and truly be over.
Teenagers and young adults have sex. Let’s not pretend they don’t, because that would be utterly ridiculous, and more than a little naive. They have sex. And that sex doesn’t have to be with someone that they are in earth-shattering love with, and that they think they’ll marry and spend the rest of their lives with. So why is that the message that YA books are (for the most part) putting forward? Why are female protagonists feeling lust and desire for their male love interests, and then curbing it until the third book?
Writing for a young audience comes with a level of responsibility. And that responsibility comes into play for a lot of themes, and sex is one of them. Messages that safe sex is the way to go, and that wanting sex at a young age is not a bad thing, and that having sex with a someone you might not spend the rest of your life with is okay are the messages that YA authors need to be putting out there.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that sex should be shoved in everyone’s faces when reading YA, and that it should be promoted, or described in explicit and erotic ways, but I am saying that things need to change.
Here’s an example (this was a fantasy novel, by the way): a heterosexual couple is making out fully clothed, and they fall back onto a bed. End scene. The next scene starts with “afterwards”.
Firstly, after what exactly? After a hot and heavy fully clothed make-out session? After a sexual exploration of the hands or mouth? After sexual intercourse? And if it was sexual intercourse, what exactly happened? Are there condoms in this fantasy world? Or a special herb (all the kudos to Sarah J. Maas for including the contraception herb in her Throne of Glass books)? Did the girl like it? What the actual hell happened after they fell back on that bed fully clothed? Because fading to black to save grace or save readers or save parents or whatever the reason for that fade to black isn’t helping anyone.
It might seem to some that safe sex and sex positivity isn’t the responsibility of YA authors, and that parents or guardians or sex ed teachers should be the ones that take on that role. And sure, they can do that. But YA authors can do that, too. They can show readers that safe sex is important, and that girls can want and enjoy sex. Sex positivity when it comes to girls is all too scarce, and the “we won’t do it until the third book” trope is just perpetuating that. That girls have to wait, and be unsure, and be vulnerable. Yes, of course girls can be those things. But they can also want it now, and be sure that they want it, and be completely unvulnerable.
And beyond that, there’s the fact that sexy times in LGBTQIA+ YA are even more scarce. It’s like there’s a diversity threshold and that kissing is all the wider (hetero) audience is willing to accept when it comes to reading about a relationship that is outside their own experience or attraction. But there comes the responsibility again. What about gay guys and lesbian girls and trans teens and intersex young adults (and everyone in between and beyond) who might not have any idea what they’re doing, or what they should be doing, or what kind of precautions or preparations they need to take when having sex? There needs to be examples of that in the books they’re reading, too. Queer teens need to see themselves, and the thoughts and feelings and to-dos of their sexual experiences, represented in what they’re reading.
I’m just so sick of YA taking sex and making it something completely unrealistic. We need books where girls don’t have to wait until the third book, where the actual act of being safe in a sexual situation is explicit, and that show what sex can be like for people who aren’t cisgender and heterosexual. We need to be so much more open about this because pretending and fading to black is doing no one any favours.