Unpopular Opinion: We Need More Sex in YA

 

unpopular opinion we need more sex in ya lit fiction young adult books

Happy Valentines y’all! Let’s talk about sex in teen lit, shall we?

People are going to have some opinions about this one–I can feel it. #SorryNotSorry

I find it very strange that we have absolutely no problem with violence in teen books, but oh man are we afraid of them finding out that sex is a thing.

Spoiler alert: teens know that sex is a thing. Whether you want it to be or not, sex and sexuality is part of the teenage experience. Refusing to talk about teen sexuality is not going to change that. It does, however, leave teens utterly lacking access to the resources and information that would enable them to explore their sexuality in healthy and safe ways.

To be clear–I’m not saying the YA section needs harlequin romance levels of full frontal action, but YA authors shouldn’t feel the need to shy away from the deed. Stories have always been a safe space to expose young readers to the more difficult and complicated aspects of life. They enable readers to learn to understand and navigate these parts of life before they are confronted with them for real in their own life. That’s why Disney movies almost always include death–it is a way for children to learn to navigate loss and grief so they are better prepared for it when it happens in their own lives.

Sex and sexuality are arguably among the more difficult and complex aspects of life, and yet we as a society continue to fail miserably to prepare teens to navigate them. People fear that by talking to teens about sex we are just encouraging them to have it, but by not talking about it we are setting them up for unhealthy relationships and putting their health–mental and physical–at risk. There is no point in a person’s life where they reach a certain age and magically learn what it means to be in a safe and healthy sexual relationship, and by time society deems them old enough to read books (or watch movies, etc) that deal with sexual relationships most people have already been trying to navigate them in their own lives for years.

I don’t know about you all, but I struggled immensely to navigate sex and sexuality as a teen. I was assaulted by one of my high school boyfriends and genuinely did not realize that was what had happened to me for years because it didn’t fit the script society told me sexual assault was suppose to follow. And on the other hand I was constantly reminded that I was allowed to say no, but never that it was okay to say yes. I didn’t start having sex until I was 20, not so much because I wasn’t interested until then but because it always felt like something I wasn’t supposed to do or want. It felt shameful somehow, and even consciously knowing that was just internalized sexist bullshit, I really struggled getting passed it.

I cannot explain how much having the questions and complexities of sexual relationships represented in the books I was reading would have meant to me. Teens need good references for how to navigate the world of sex and sexuality, and YA authors have the power to make a very real impact by dealing with it in their stories rather than pretending it doesn’t exist, or worse by only portraying it negatively.

What sort of experiences should YA be striving to include? I’m so glad you asked. Here is an incomplete list of narratives desperately in need of writing. Please note that all of these ideas go for characters of all sexual orientations, because if my cis-het ass struggled that much I can only imagine trying to make sense of it all while also having your sexual orientation erased and undermined at every possible turn.

YA needs teen characters who:

  • decide to have sex
  • decide not to have sex
  • give and respect consent
  • experiment sexually (with or without partners)
  • talk about sex with their partners and/or friends
  • are in healthy relationships
  • recognize and get out of unhealthy relationships
  • respect their partner’s decision not to have sex
  • practice safe sex
  • embrace their sexuality or lack thereof
  • learn not to be ashamed or afraid of their sexuality or lack thereof
  • are specifically asexual, aromantic, or demisexual

Normalizing sexuality as part of the teenage experience–as part of life–in the stories teens are reading will help normalize it for teens themselves. It will help demystify sex and help destroy the idea that it is something to be ashamed of. It can help teens learn the importance of consent–giving and receiving–and help them understand that sex is nothing something a guy does to a girl, but is rather a shared experience based on mutual consent, desire, and pleasure. YA could reinforce the fact that there’s nothing shameful in having sexual desires, nor is there anything wrong with not having them. Maybe most importantly it could show teens the difference between healthy and unhealthy sexual relationships.

The fact of the matter is we do not get to decide whether or not teens become sexually active. That is entirely up to them. All we as a society can control is how well prepared teens are to navigate their sexuality and make healthy, responsible choices in relation to it. Stories have always been a way to help people learn to understand and cope with life’s complexities before needing to deal with them in their own life. I see absolutely no reason why sex should be any different.

XOXO

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  • Yes yes and more yes. And honestly, why not have sex in books and know it’s written correctly and right than let them know the wrong experiences in life? I have bad sexual experiences in high school as well, and it wasn’t until later that I realized that it was assault and rape … why is that okay in society?

    Not to mention, it’s shamed for teens to experiment even though they will and it’s shamed for them to ask their parents … yet the internet is filled with information, incorrect and not.

    Thank you for posting this! <3

  • Oh, I agree with this! I never had the birds and bees talk with my parents – in fact, it’s something avoided by my family entirely and it’s bad if I even mention the word. So when it comes to romance and sexuality, I really only have outside resources.

    Earlier this year I was somewhat involved with a guy (nothing happened, but it didn’t end well and there’s probably a lot of explanation between us that needs to happen before we can ever rebuild our friendship) and it was just really uncomfortable not being able to talk to my mom about it. So I definitely understand where you’re coming from – we don’t need explicit stories, but we need some implications.

    <3

    ~ Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts

  • I agree. Largely, the demographic for YA is moving away from young readers, but they’re still reading. YA is a huge way for kids to learn and grow. To show healthy and unhealthy relationships and sexuality, they will learn. We suck at talking about sex so much that PornHub is launching a sex ed portion of their site.

  • I agree that it is really important to talk about or rather write about sex in YA. Many schools have poor sex ed classes to begin with so teens are going to learn it somewhere! I totally agree with you about this!!!

  • I agree. It’s super important to talk about sex and to have it reflected everywhere (YA & screen)> Also, so sorry for your assault experience 🙁

  • Kay

    I completely agree. It’s a topic that is extremely relevant to teens, and also extremely under-represented. And in many cases (TV and movies) it’s not always healthily represented. I definitely think it should be more present in YA, in all the ways that you listed.

  • I totally agree. Recently I read Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley and I thought it was amazing for the sex scenes (and for everything else!). Often when we’re talking about sex we always forget about lgbt+ couples, so it was really great to see. Some may describe the scenes as too graphic, but they were done in such a sensitive way which I thought was beautiful. A lot of young queer people have no idea about protection, so this book was informative and really good! I’d highly recommend it!

  • Yes! I agree! Considering how many young people have sex for the first time as teenagers, why shouldn’t YA books include sex?