Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

If my parents thought this was my life in a public high school, I'd have been home schooled.

If my parents thought this was my life in a public high school, I’d have been home schooled.

Remember when you first heard that song on the radio? I do. Very specifically. I was in my best friend’s bedroom, somewhere in the early hours of a summer sleep-over. Previously that night, there had been nail-polish, a pillowcase contest, and reruns of Step By Step.

Sex? On the radio? They’re talking about sex? No freaking way.

Oh, and I was nine years old.

What did I know about sex at nine? Well, not a whole lot, and that song and all it’s talking about it did nothing to provide me a glimpse as to what it was. I knew it existed. I knew adults loved it. I knew my schoolmates made jokes about it. Imagine the amount of information ABOUT SEX I learned in the following eight years until my high school graduation. No, that’s not a hint as to when I really learned about sex, that’s just about the point when the reality of sex really hit home. I mean, high school.

Who reads Young Adult fiction? High schoolers! *shudders* (Chuck Wendig wrote a fabulous article about how teenage characters should suffer teenage problems in novels.) I’m writing a Young Adult Fiction series. There will possibly be a point after my novel is published that those young adult readers will find my blog and read through these posts (and then find one with the word ‘sex’ in it and go all bat-shit because ohmygodshesaidsex shealsosaidbatshit adultsgonewild). And you know what? I want these young adults to read this post for some insight as to why I’m choosing to write sex into my novel.

Yes. You read that right. I am writing sex in a Young Adult novel.

Hang on, I’ll get the hand fans.

To be honest, I didn’t come at this decision lightly. There’s a fine line between writing something realistic and writing something to be edgy or controversial. My YA series prominently features death, drugs, suicide, and murder. A lot of recent YA series have featured those themes. But sex? That’s something that makes readers squirm and makes you as a writer look like a dirty creeper for making their teenage characters engage in the horizontal tango.

Now, before I go any further, the characters who will be participating in this scene (scenes?) are at least 18, so don’t get your panties all in a bunch. It also won’t happen until at least the second book, possibly not until the third.

But why the decision at all? First off, my Main Character is a girl, a normal, sexually awkward teenage girl. I can relate to her being a teenage girl because I was one. It was quite some time ago, but recent enough in history that I still look back on that time in my life and cringe at how horrible it was to be so terrified of the male sex, yet equally curious of their peculiar body parts. People talk a lot about how often boys think about sex, but rarely talk about how much girls do. This may be because of the differences of how girls think about and talk about sex. For boys, it’s mostly a physical curiosity, and most are in a hurry to get the first time over with so they can reach manhood. For a girl, there are expectations, fantasies of prince charming with candles and moonlight (but the room still must be dark enough so he can’t see you). Some girls wish to wait until marriage so the man they first make love to is their one true love (or something like that).

But it all boils down to this: I know not a single girl who’s first time having sex included candles and moonlight. Did yours? Because mine sure didn’t. Mine was fumbly and uncomfortable, and most of it felt . . . weird. The second time wasn’t all that great either. In fact, it took some practice to actually enjoy it without all the self-conscious bumbling about like a gorilla with feet for hands.

So when I read sex in a YA novel (or not read it, like I did recently — because it’s like, implied? I guess?) and the characters go into it with this shy hesitance slash self-assured gusto, and come out of it with smiles on their faces and sweat glistening on their chests as everything had gone just as planned, I’m all like did you know what to do your first time? because that is not at all what I remember happening, and it’s a pretty difficult moment to forget. I’ve had enough with the smoke and mirrors. I’m tired of sex being written as something that will undoubtedly be the most amazing thing the first time you do it. Because it’s not. If we as writers want to sell to our teenage readers the importance of protection (YES!), waiting and finding an appropriate partner (YES!), not succuming to peer pressure (DOUBLE YES!), then by all means, lead the way. But do not sell sex as something it is not. It is not a fairy tale. And it is not a subject to be brushed over like it’s something we hide in the back of our underwear drawers. Everyone has sex, it is a part of life, part of the circle of life. Treat it as such, and it may actually teach a few teens something real.

We as writers hold the playing cards. We deal these adolescents the reality of death and violence, depression and suicide, and yet we are squeamish about sex because it’s something pleasurable and a little dirty. But it’s real. I aim to write about sex the way I remember it, the way most of my friends remember it. When you’re young, sex is awkward and uncomfortable and strange. I don’t intend to portray sex in this fashion in my books as a means to deter teens from having sex — nothing I can say will change that. But I would at least like there to be a reference to sex that doesn’t cause teenage girls to believe their first experiences were supposed to be something they weren’t.

Hopefully then, the next generation of teenage girls won’t feel so isolated with their feelings and experiences with sex.

** Dear readers, what Young Adult books have you read recently that you felt gave a more realistic look on sex and sexuality? Please note in the comments!

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9 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

  1. mad_cat says:

    Growing up, I found sex to be a weapon. Since 3rd grade, children would ask each other if they knew what sex was. It was an “us” vs “them”, as in, “we know what it is, but you don’t know what it is, which makes us better than you”. My younger brother seemed to know more than me.

    I once spoke to Tom Leveen at Phoenix Comicon, as my concern in writing Young Adult is that I don’t like the idea that I have to censor myself in writing, about sex and violence in YA fiction. He stated that no one really seems to be concerned with violence, but when it comes to sex, it has to mean something. Unlike us adults who can have meaningless sex one moment to the next (well I can’t, even if it is friends sex has some meaning), with teens, there needs to be more behind sex.

    I agree with you that the first time is usually awful. Mine wasn’t awful, but at the same time, it wasn’t mind blowing either. I’ve had much better sex since then, but the first few times I had sex, my it was not such a great experience for either of us. I always felt I did something wrong and my partner was too nice to say anything about it.

    I hope to write YA one day, but how does one resolve that teenagers engage in sex, without being creepy that your teenage characters are having sex. I don’t set out for sex to appear in any of my books, and only use sex for character building or moving the plot forward, but equally, I need to know that option is available if my characters decide they want to have sex.

    Great post. Best of luck to your books.

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    • Allison Rose says:

      Thanks for the comment, mad-cat!

      It is true, that as adults sex becomes a rather casual event, whether you’re in a relationship or not. It becomes a part of everyday life. Not to say sex isn’t meaningful, because sometimes it is, especially in the beginning of a new relationship. But to give teens the expectation that it will always be meaningful is misleading. Sometimes sex is just, well… fun. And there’s no reason to feel shameful for that.

      And yes, it seems to be okay in YA fiction to write all the horrible details about violence, yet there are boundaries describing sex. I think most of us understand full well that there is such a thing as statutory rape, that sex between underage teens is a tricky subject. But, then that’s also a topic to be brought up.

      In all honesty, as a writer I strive for truth, especially when it comes to teenagers. I remember being a teen, I remember feeling lied to because I was “too young to understand” or it was “too sensitive a subject”. I am an advocate for education, not omission, especially in a day and age where we’ll plaster sex and violence and death all over the media with no regard for context.

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      • mad_cat says:

        Thank you for the response back.

        Allow me to clarify. By meaningless sex, I mean two adults have it either out of obligation, or two people just randomly have sex at a party. There can less take away from the experience. You have sex and can more easily move on. Doesn’t mean that either person doesn’t read more into it than the other, or that it had more meaning for one of them than the other.

        From what I’m told of YA, and please correct me if I am still wrong about this, is that while teenagers can have meaningless sex, it has more of an impact on them than an adult. Say two teens have sex, male and female, at a party. They never see each other again, however, both talk about the experience of it to their friends. They have more take away from the experience of it. It could be a romantic entanglement, could be a coping mechanism, could be a means of “fitting in”.

        There was the movie Carrie 2, in which high schoolers made a game out of sex. Many times their sexual conquests were meaningless, but there was score keeping, and not just with the men. Even though it appeared meaningless, it still had an impact on our characters.

        Take the movie Matrix Reloaded. The infamous sex scene, which added nothing to the plot and if anything, slowed the movie down. It had no impact on the characters, no character building elements. It seem like it was, “Let’s do 1 part stylistic shot of Neo and Trinity and 1 part Orgy and see if we can see any nipples.”

        So I did misspeak in what I meant. Not that it always has to be meaningful in of itself, but that it holds some meaning to the characters, even if it is just a lingering feeling. Ultimately, it needs to add to the plot, not be there to just say, “let’s get these two characters naked for no reason.” But then that has been my philosophy with sex in narrative anyways.

        I’m an advocate for truth and feel that not telling people necessary information is a form of abuse to them. My family treated many things like that, as it wasn’t important for me to know, so there was no discussion. However, I felt like an outcast (for many different reasons) for not having sex while all my friends around me were bragging about it (and mostly girls bragging about it). It was a very tough time.

        In all of this, you’re the YA writer, I’m not. I do have a YA story planned to be written next year that deals with some issues that children deal with now, but I don’t consider myself one now. Even then, I’m sure I will have difficulties. However, you are more of an expert than I, so I look forward to your reply. I always look forward to new opportunities to learn.

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      • Allison Rose says:

        I suppose what I meant to say is that sex isn’t always meaning-FULL. That’s not to say that it’s a good idea to simply add a sex scene for the hell of it, just like a random explosion in a movie because, hey, they had the extra explosives. It’s just bad storytelling.

        For teens, sex always means something, especially the first time. I don’t mean to say it won’t leave an impression. What I DO mean, is that in a lot of YA there is the expectation that it will always be perfect, especially the first time. I remember wondering if there was something wrong with me because my first time didn’t live up to the expectation.

        The whole reason why I would ever have my characters have sex in my novels would be to show the realistic action and reaction of my characters. I know my MC, and for her things don’t always go according to plan. To break that reality would be lying to the reader.

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