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!