Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Sex Scenes in YA?
Sex scenes are fun to write, don’t you think? Or are you like some people who avoid writing them until the last possible minute to just “get it over and done with”? For me, a writer of YA fiction, the question about sex scenes is: should I or shouldn’t I? The answer is elusive. Richelle Mead, YA author of the well-known Vampire Academy series said the inclusion of sex scenes in YA is at the discretion of the publisher; some are rigidly against it, while others say “Sex it up!” My problem is threefold, I have to decide whether to include sex at all, and if yes, how much, but I also have to consider what the moral/ethical ramifications of doing so might be.
Adolescence is a time of sexual discovery. Sexuality is one of the major developmental milestones of this stage. I’m not suggesting adolescence is a time to start sexual activity (although some do). Statistically, most teens have had sexual intercourse by the age of seventeen, and like it or not, we as adults have to face that.
I think most of us would agree that if there are sex scenes in YA, that there should be A LOT less detail than in adult fiction. Why? Well....I think you know why. So if we go ahead and include it, there has to be a reason. I like to look beyond physical descriptions and the obvious feelings of lust and desire, into secondary emotions that drive the characters. What about insecurity, fear, a need for love, or power? These are important themes in the lives of adolescents, and to avoid them would be dishonest. I work with adolescents every day and they can sniff out a fake faster than Hercules the police dog.
In this day and age of sexting, webcam sex, and sex chat, I think there’s a duty as adults to bring some of the mystery and specialness back to sex, to highlight the importance of waiting, the value of monogamy and the connection between sex and love. It also allows us to explore complicated themes such as unplanned teen pregnancy and sexual health. The young adults I work with appreciate my direct and honest approach to the topic, so why wouldn’t I do the same as an author?
So I have decided....well, I haven’t actually. My YA novel Indigo Blaze had two sex scenes that started out with a fair bit of detail, but then I got nervous and cut them. The other option I have is to do it “behind the scenes”, but for now I have gone back to add them back in, but this time with less physical detail and more emotion, more tension. Before I get a tongue lashing, keep in mind my protagonist is eighteen years old, and my target YA audience is sixteen and up.
What do you think? Do we have a duty in our writing to address the topic of sex with honesty and respect for the reality of teen life? Will teens enjoy....er, appreciate this honesty? Will parents prohibit their teens from reading it? Will it corrupt young innocent minds?