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Let's talk about sex.

Good morning!

It is a gray day in New England.  The second super Tuesday is almost here.  Juno made it to the Oscars.  

A perfect week to talk about sex and the YA novel.

First, let's set some important parameters.  I'd like to use this week to talk about consensual sex and sexuality.  Let's stay away from sexual abuse and rape.  I think these very important and interesting topics merit a forum of their own.  

I'd also like to use this week to discuss not just the act of sex in YA lit and its many consequences, but also our reactions to it.  And our decisions to put sex in the text.  On every listserv I've ever participated in, the subject of sex has come up and it generates all sorts of emotional reactions in adult readers, including humor, fear, and anger.   Please be respectful of our differing views.   

I'd also like to talk about writing sex.
As a craft.
What I mean: is sex in present tense, different from sex in past tense.  What about first person?  Or third?  On Wednesday, I will deal with the tools we have and if it makes a difference...to readers.

For today:

Sex in YA lit is not exactly a new topic.  Whether we are "pro sex" or "against sex,"  I think it's pretty hard to write a YA novel and not have to deal with it, in one way or anothery.  Whether a character wants to have sex, wants to abstain, or is falling in love, sex is omnipresent in the teen protagonist!  Our young characters, like the young people we were, like young people today, are bombarded with images of sex.  It is difficult to come of age without considering what sex means.  

Our teen characters--like people today-- have sex because of love, desire, peer pressure, or fear of being rejected.  They are disappointed in sex.  They are thrilled.  They deal with the aftermath.  These emotions don't go away with age.  They don't mellow with experience.  Sex is something we all take seriously.  It makes us happy, sad, crazy, beautiful, jealous, ferocious--sometimes, all at once.

(Check this month's Glamour for a funny article about Hollywood and sex, and what is real and not real!)

Tomorrow, I'll be interviewing TANYA LEE STONE, author of A BAD BOY CAN BE GOOD FOR A GIRL.   She would love to take questions!  She wrote a great article for VOYA on The Power of Sex in YA Literature:

Here's the link:


I'd also like to set the tone of this week.

Tell me about the first time YOU read sex in a YA book.  

My "first" came by accident.  I was twelve.  Home with scarlet fever.  I was not a reader, but there was nothing on TV.  My mom was downstairs.  I looked at her bookshelf, desperate for some entertainment.  On the top shelf was a copy of THE STORY OF O.  I thought it must be the "book version" of The Wizard of Oz.

I think my fever went up!

Okay.  That's it for today.  Can't wait to hear your questions and stories.




( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 3rd, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
Question for Tanya
Sarah- I have a couple questions about Tanya's writing process.

As you wrote BAD BOY (as opposed to revising with your editor) did you consider your audience and their sensibilities or did you just write what you felt and deal with issues of "appropriateness" later?

Do you believe these days there are any sexual boundaries that can't or shouldn't be crossed in books aimed at teen readers? Is it different for light "pop fiction" as opposed to more serious literary work? When does sex serve the plot and when does it become gratuitous?

How much did writing about sex force you to become a free speech and/or sex ed advocate as opposed to just a YA writer?
Mar. 4th, 2008 02:36 am (UTC)
Re: Question for Tanya
Thanks, Tami!

Great questions!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 4th, 2008 02:46 am (UTC)
Interesting points.

As a kid, it was always the "forbidden fruit" that looked the best. I would have been looking for those missing pages, too.

There are definitely books out there that are better saved for older readers. My daughter is an advanced reader, too. (I will always be grateful to Alison Morris for helping her find challenging age appropriate books.)

But in general, I believe in the intelligence of our young readers. I think they self censor a lot more than we give them credit for. I know my daughter and I have read the same book many times. I see the sex. She sees an embrace!
Mar. 3rd, 2008 04:49 pm (UTC)
Sarah - One more thing. Today on NPR Morning Edition there was a fantastic segment about Harriet The Spy. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=87779452
Anita Silvey and KT Horning are interviewed and KT briefly discusses Harriet's lesbian subtext and the message it carried (and I expect may still carry) to girls who are out of the mainstream.
Mar. 4th, 2008 02:46 am (UTC)

I'll check it out.
Mar. 3rd, 2008 05:45 pm (UTC)
My mother says my first sex-in-books was when I was six, and she caught me reading her copy of Forever Amber, however, I don't remember that. :D

The first I remember was 12ish, 13ish, reading that venerable classic of literature, the Flowers in the Attic series. And as I recall, it took me several readings to realize what, exactly, Chris and Cathy were doing.

I'm fairly certain that my entire circle of friends were introduced to sex by way of VC Andrews.
Mar. 4th, 2008 02:49 am (UTC)
I think a lot of us were 12 or 13.

I remember rereading a lot of passages, too.....
Mar. 3rd, 2008 06:33 pm (UTC)
I read FOREVER relatively young; I remember it being passed around my sixth grade English class with certain juicy sections dog-eared and broken-spined. But, I also know I read DEENIE before then, and that's got masturbation in it. So, I was maybe 9 or 10 the first time I read sex in a YA novel.

I'm glad you're taking the slant you are in talking about sex in YA fiction. Too often things like rape are discussed side-by-side with what Emily Lockhart calls "sex positive" books, and that's a shame. Both kinds of books have their place in the canon, obviously, but not necessarily tied together.

As for writing sex, I remember reading a torrid (adult) romance novel when I was 11 or 12 and the line "hot juices spurted forth to pleasantly warm her insides" has always stuck in my head. This, to me, is the exact kind of sex writing that should be avoided in YA - not because it's too graphic, but because it's just bad writing. (Also, it really screwed me up when I became sexually active - I couldn't understand why I never felt pleasantly warmed inside.)
Mar. 3rd, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC)
I must have read the boy Blume book, um, THEN AGAIN MAYBE I WON'T about the boy peeking in a window- without "getting" the wet dreams- at least twice. I think if you are too immature, it goes over your head sometimes.
Reading FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC was the most upsetting to me- it scarred me, never before had I been so freaked out by what I was reading and imagining. Still gives me the creeps.
Mar. 4th, 2008 02:53 am (UTC)
Sex Positive
I like that term!

But hot juices spurting...that does provoke some horrifying images!

Mar. 3rd, 2008 07:26 pm (UTC)
FOREVER was it for me, too. Trying to remember exactly when . . . I know the girl who gave me hers (we all passed it around, dog eared, etc, too) . . . and I don't think we were friends past 8th grade.

I like what you said about how sex is present in our YA because it is present in our teenagers' lives. My book has The Decision in it, and I've already been asked questions like, "Why'd you have to put sex in a book for teenagers?" and "Why couldn't you just leave that out?" And my character decides she's not ready! I didn't even think about leaving it out -- it's part of what I see as the authentic thoughts that go through your mind when you start making out with someone. Yeah, even at fifteen. How far will it go?
Mar. 4th, 2008 02:59 am (UTC)

Today, the possibility of sex is so much more "out there." And the consequences are different. so the conversations come earlier and perhaps, they are more frank.

Even for those who don't have an interest--young adults are aware of sex--even if it is way before it becomes a possibility.

Mar. 3rd, 2008 10:13 pm (UTC)
I'm dealing with the issue of sex in a YA novel that has a budding relationship- and I guessI am probably prudley (?) skirting the issue with non-specific language. I am not comfortable being more explicit- can we still be prim AND published?
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:00 am (UTC)
Hold that thought!

That's exactly what I want to talk about on Wednesday!
Mar. 22nd, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC)
I kind of feel like it depends on the story--that as with adult books, some YA books want to draw more of a curtain over their characters' sexual activities than others. Even aside from the differences in how we write about sex for teens and adults, which I do think exist.

(I say this like I know, but actually, my own characters often have trouble getting past holding hands ... :-))
Mar. 22nd, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC)
I kind of feel like it depends on the story--that as with adult books, some YA books want to draw more of a curtain over their characters' sexual activities than others. Even aside from the differences in how we write about sex for teens and adults, which I do think exist.

(I say this like I know, but actually, my own characters often have trouble getting past holding hands ... :-))
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:29 am (UTC)
I was recovering from a broken arm and mom bought me a book 'cause it had a dragon on the cover. She used to do that a lot; buy me a book 'cause it had something on the cover or something in the name that she identified by litmus test as something I was interested in.

Turned out to be a bodice ripper.
Mar. 4th, 2008 11:58 am (UTC)
That is a great story. A dragon on a bodice ripper? Did you tell your mom?

We could spend a week talking about the power of book jackets...

When Laurent Linn sent me the jacket for Head Case (I LOVE my jacket!!), it was clear he had read the book. I owe him so much for that. The cover takes the person directly into the world and the character.

Mar. 22nd, 2008 04:32 pm (UTC)
I think it was Madeleine L'Engle's A House Like A Lotus, and I was well into high school. Old enough not to be shocked, but I remember feeling kind of indignant and annoyed at the time at the idea that Polly O'Keefe, who I'd already been reading about for some years, might actually have sex.

Oh, wait--I read Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey some years before that, and the other dragonrider books as well, but somehow, oddly, that made less of an impression.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )