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From Trish Doller’s upcoming book in September which I’ve been told by Brie from Romance Around the Corner that I must read:

I’m scared and shaking so hard and he keeps asking me if I want him to stop, but I don’t want him to stop. Then he touches me with his mouth and I melt.

When his body finally moves up over mine, my cheeks are damp with tears because I never believed it could feel good or that I would like it. Right now, in this moment, the absence of shame is shaped like Alex Kosta and I don’t want to let go of this feeling.

What I think is so important in this scene is that Callie admits to her own fear, but then she is very open about how good she feels. Not just emotionally, but physically, too. Her body feels good and her body can feel good. StackedBooks

I know that some readers feel like YA books should not have such explicit sex. What do you all think?

Self pubbed authors who have used this service report that it is a big money earner. But the termination of the Audible honorarium tells us all something and that is not everything that Amazon does today will be around tomorrow. Don’t build your business plan on it for the long term. The Digital Reader

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

55 Comments

  1. KT Grant
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 05:34:09

    I really don’t mind love scenes in YA, even oral sex scenes, as long as they don’t enter purple prose over the top descriptive ones where I end up cringing. I do feel the love scenes should be more subtle in YA’s because of the age group reading them.

  2. Kaetrin
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 05:44:40

    I want that Trish Doller book so bad….

  3. hapax
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 08:08:51

    I’ll be honest and say that a sex scene (even one as mild as the excerpt above) would never ever fly in the YA section of the public library in my community, and the same goes for every library I’ve worked in across various areas of the country. School libraries — since they are to some degree in loco parentis — would have to be even more careful. And libraries (because of the reduced spending power of teens) are a VERY significant part of the YA market.

    I’ll also add that I will almost certainly purchase the Doller title for the *Adult* Fiction side of the library. That is, if it’s available through library vendors; Doller is published by Bloomsbury, so I can get her books, but an awful lot of NA (which I would probably mark this as, to get it past the Acquisitions Department) is self-published or e-only, which is much more difficult for libraries to purchase.

    tl, dr; it isn’t so much a matter of whether YA should be more sex-positive (I’m all for that), as whether the YA marketplace will make sex-positive books profitable.

  4. Brie
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 08:20:43

    I pretty much agree with what Kelly ( from the Stacked article) is saying. It’s good to see YA books that feature sex and positive portrayals of female sexuality, as long as they are not meant to titillate. Doller’s book has a lot of sex in it (more and more explicit than Something Like Normal). Some of it has negative consequences for the main character; some of it has good consequences, and all of them are an integral part of her character arc. Another author who writes female and sex positive YA is Kody Keplinger. I highly recommend her books.

  5. John
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 09:55:57

    I admit that I am surprised by hapax’s comment because my own high school library included adult books into its collection – and we’re talking about a generalized fiction section.

    I do think sex can make it hard for the more picky libraries to champion the book, but that needs to be challenged to some degree. I know too many teens that slut shame and/or have negative ideas about sex (it will always hurt/be unpleasant/morally corrupt) for me to say it isn’t necessary.

    And NA, fwiw, proves that sex-positive YA is most certainly profitable. They share a similar market, after all, and I would love to see libraries marketing crossover/college fiction like NA anyway. Patrons could read up as they would see fit without the danger of labeling it as YA, which has that broad 14 – 18/19 age range of protagonists.

  6. Keishon
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 10:31:21

    I know that some readers feel like YA books should not have such explicit sex. What do you all think?

    If the story calls for it, then yeah, other than that, no. I’ve read a few YA that featured explicit sex so I’m not sure why all of this seems new somehow. Or maybe it’s me.

  7. hapax
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 10:36:11

    @John:

    Your high school library had adult romances with explicit sex scenes?

    I’m not questioning your word, I’m just very surprised. Kudos to your school librarians*! If you don’t mind answering, in what part of the country did you go to school?

    *I agree one hundred percent with your belief that “that needs to be challenged to some degree.” I’m just doubtful that — in a time when most school and public libraries are strapped for cash — many school and YA librarians will risk preserving what they have for “frivolous pleasure reading” that they cannot defend as having “serious literary value” — those quotes taken from actual parental complaints I have received.

  8. jmc
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 11:08:53

    @hapax: Like John’s experience, my school library (eons ago in the late 20th century) did not really differentiate among age groups for fiction. My high school library, which served grades 6-12, included what I think of now as juvenile fiction, YA, and adult fiction, with none of it segregated. Which is how I first came to read the likes of Harlequin Presents, Celeste DeBlasis, and Rosemary Rogers as a 14 year old. In retrospect, I wonder about a lot of those books — were they purchased by the librarian or donated to fill shelves?

  9. Willaful
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 11:20:58

    My gut reaction is agreeing with the idea of expressing sexuality positively but keeping the actual depictions subtle. This is from remembering how embarrassing it was for me to read sex scenes as a teen, and thinking teens shouldn’t have to run across them unexpectedly. On the other hand, is it fair or smart to make the kids who want those scenes have to seek them out elsewhere — which of course is what we all did? Perhaps if sex scenes had been more common in YA I wouldn’t have been shocked by them.

  10. mari
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 11:26:54

    Well color me hopelessly old-fashioned but I feel a little dirty after reading the above scene. If I saw an underaged girl having sex in a movie, I’d feel it was wrong too. And how young is too young to feature explicit sex? 11, 12, 13? I’m sorry, but featuring explicit sex between minors is wrong and how can it be anything but titilating? I know kids have sex, (I am not stupid) and for some, it is a positive experience. But. Depicting in graphic detail? How can that be anything but child porn? I know depicting sex acts between minors in a fictional setting is legal. Doesn’t make it right.

  11. Willaful
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 12:01:13

    That was graphic? I can hardly imagine a more subtle sex scene.

    How it can be anything but child porn… well, it’s a matter of point of view, age of the characters, what’s called “gaze.” I’m guessing the narrator in that scene is at least 16, probably older, and that she has some unpleasant experiences around sex behind her — and she feels really good about this. I know those things because it’s her gaze, not that of someone exploiting her. That all makes it vastly different from child porn, to me. Even though teens are legally protected — and should be, because of adult predators — you can’t just lump them in with younger kids as if there are no differences.

  12. Jane
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 12:03:48

    @Willaful: She is 17 in the book, IIRC. But I’ve read “Uses for Boys” which has graphic sex scenes for a girl younger than that. The point of those sex scenes was to show how soulless they were for the girl. She was trying to find affection and love in the arms of boys because she had none at home.

    I read a lot of complaints about how this was disgusting and titillating and unnecessary but I completely disagreed. The story was such an important one and it probably spoke to any number of girls who have felt and done the very same thing at young ages.

    Sex isn’t a dirty thing and hiding it or making girls feel ashamed of it doesn’t do any good to teens or anyone reading YA books.

  13. reader
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 12:10:30

    That wasn’t explicit. More importantly, it was all focused on emotions and the emotions rang true.

    This is the kind of work teenagers should be encouraged to read. Teenagers are in basically adult bodies, experiencing adult emotions, even if those bodies and emotions are new experiences. A combination of supportive, understanding parents, basic sexual education, and books like these that are honest and real–those are the things teens need while they’re learning to deal with the adult world.

    Guidance in the form of meaningful, substantive fiction is a wonderful thing. Nothing helped me as a teenager as much as knowing that, yes, other people are going through these things and coping with these feelings, too.

  14. Willaful
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 12:11:10

    @Jane: Haven’t read it, but I would guess “gaze” is very important in that book as well. This conversation brings to mind a book I read which has several rape scenes. Although the stated point of view of the actual narrator — who is never the one being raped — is that this is all just horrible, the gaze from which the stories are written is from the pov of the rapists making it very clear that the scene is intended to titilate. It was one of the most disgusting books I’ve ever read.

    Reading books literally misses out on a lot!

  15. Janine
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 12:18:25

    @jmc: I had a similar experience at age 15, thanks to the fact that my high school and the public library were in the same complex of buildings. When I was on break, I could walk to the public library and read the most explicit romances around at that time. That was heaven for me at that age.

  16. Deljah
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 12:58:09

    What does “sex positive” mean in the context of young teens having sex? By young, I mean below 16 to pick a number. I can see not shaming kids/teens about their bodies or sexual urges or interest in sex, but there would’ve been nothing positive or beneficial about me actually having sex as a fourteen year old.

  17. Willaful
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 12:59:41

    @Deljah: IMO, “sex positive” should inherently include not coercing anyone into having sex before they’re ready for it.

  18. farmwifetwo
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 15:17:50

    @Willaful:

    This is one of those slippery slopes since I honestly don’t think most teen sex isn’t peer pressure. Also countries like Canada have raised statutory rape to age 16 and anything less should be considered porn/abuse. Yes we all looked for it and shelf reading every Sat at the library had us in the sex section every couple of months. But I am not convinced that less than adult sex is appropriate even for teen readers.

  19. Lia
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 18:46:07

    @Deljah:

    I’m a little squeebed out by this notion as well. Sex-positive and sexually-active are two different animals. I’m all for YA books that promote healthy self-awareness and discovery of self, but depicting — or even alluding to — two CHILDREN “going all the way” isn’t my idea of sending the right social message. Just because it’s happening IRL all the time doesn’t mean that writers and publishers should release books that tacitly tell kids, “Hey, it’s all cool.” I live in a state where our legislature is churning out Draconian anti-birthcontrol/anti-choice measures right and left. So yeah … best not go there.

  20. gsprendergast
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 19:07:39

    I think a little sex in YA books is fine, as long as it’s relatively realistic. That is teens aren’t likely to be having super erotic sex anyway, because they’re still learning and all. As far as being titillating – let’s not delude ourselves. Teen readers will be titillated by the sex in USES FOR BOYS and Trish’s book. So what? Weren’t we all titillated by FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC and FOREVER? Maybe we’re ashamed to be ADULTS titillated by stories about teens having sex but we need to get over ourselves. Adult YA readers are crushing on the teen characters whether they are having explicit on the page sex or not. Maybe that’s weird but who does it hurt?

    Laws about child pornography are to protect minors from being exploited, not to protect our eyes from sexual images of minors. There’s nothing weird about finding sexually mature teenagers interesting and attractive . There are laws about acting on those interests, for good reason, but it’s not sick to have them(feeling that way about prepubescent children is deviant, however). And better that teens AND adults are titillated by well written books than morally questionable “legal” porn, which is as ubiquitous as weeds.

    I’d much rather teens read sexy books than watch the widely available porn on the internet. From which would let get better moral messages about sex? Even 50 Shades has condoms, consent etc. That is not a feature of porn.

  21. Carrie Mesrobian
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 19:31:44

    What Gabrielle said times a million.

    Except that lots of porn has condoms. And not all porn is negative, shitty, unrealistic or ugly.

  22. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 20:01:17

    @gsprendergast:

    Weren’t we all titillated by FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC and FOREVER?

    I believe teenagers have regressed since then. Teenagers now are far more delicate than we were then and are more prone to acting out things they read because they cannot think for themselves and they’re one big walking hormone. They must be protected!

    Just because it’s happening IRL all the time doesn’t mean that writers and publishers should release books that tacitly tell kids, “Hey, it’s all cool.”

    I want to know who makes the rules for what should and shouldn’t be published anymore.

    Honestly, I’m sick to death of “we shouldn’t write/read X” where X is what one person/a minority of people dislike.

  23. Kaetrin
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 20:04:45

    Hasn’t it been amply demonstrated in the US that “abstinence only” isn’t really working as sex education? Having sex accurately, safely and positively portrayed (including the emotional and the physical) in books is important.

  24. Carolyn Jewel
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 21:19:08

    For what it’s worth there are high schools here (northern calif) that carry Zane. I was startled but the librarian who told me said Zane was an author young women of color identified with. She said Zane was very popular and got checked out a lot.

  25. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 21:56:10

    @Carolyn Jewel: One of my editors is a HS AP English teacher in the Bay area and he knows ALL ABOUT Zane. To his great dismay. OTOH, he’s almost like, “Well, they’re reading independently.”

  26. Carolyn Jewel
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 00:11:06

    That was this libriaian’s reaction as well. Her feeling was the more books they read the better. I’ve lived In the East Bay and I’ve read enough YA that doesn’t come close to resembling a city like Berkeley or Oakland, And Zane does. I’ve really enjoyed her books. I’m in favor of whatever inspires teenagers to read.

  27. max
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 07:29:21

    As someone who was both a voracious reader and sexually active as a younger teen (I was just shy of my 15th birthday), I would have been thrilled at the time to see scenes like the one above in books targeted at my age group. Not because it’s titillating or condoning certain behavior — I was having sex because I wanted to, not as a result of my reading material — but because it would have been nice to read something that was reflective of my reality and that didn’t preach or judge, which is (I think) what so many teens look for when it comes to the books they read. It was near-impossible at the time to find YA fiction in which someone my age was having sex, particularly a female someone, without it resulting in death/pregnancy/trauma or being indicative that something was *wrong * with her. Obviously, there was plenty of sex in adult books, which I happily sought out and read as well (thank god for Jean Auel and her horny Neanderthals), and I’m sure teens today are doing the same, but there’s something to be said for acknowledging the truth of YA readers’ lives even if adults think it’s distasteful. The books are for them, after all.

  28. Deljah
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 09:19:15

    @Lia:

    Thanks for your distinction between “sex positive” and “sexually active”, Lia. That was helpful for me to see the difference between conveying a positive perspective about sex and sexuality in general vs celebrating *children* having sex. I’m not “abstinence only” and I am very well-acquainted with what goes on in real life. Still, I find it difficult to start throwing confetti when a 12 or 13 year old has sex. I feel particularly sensitive to this as a Black woman, b/c Black girls are often sexualized at a very early age, which often results in many of us becoming sexually active before we are really ready, despite physical appearance.
    Regardless of age, in my opinion, wanting to have sex does not mean that actually having sex at that moment is the best, most empowering, or safest decision to make, and sometimes we don’t make the best decisions. In my mind, “sex positive” includes awareness of and acknowledgement of the titillating and the not-so-titillating aspects.
    I read everything growing up. What I didn’t get from the library, I bought used at fleamarkets and yard sales whenever I could get a quarter or two. I was reading bodice rippers and extremely graphic contemporaries from at least 10 years old. At the end of the day, my actual behavior was more influenced by my real life environment, but I was certainly not the intended audience for those books at 10. Doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have been published, but my choices could’ve been guided more appropriately at that age.

  29. Carrie G
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 09:49:17

    @Lia: @Deljah:

    I agree with both of you. It’s not that books for teens shouldn’t include references to the teens sexual activity. I simply think it can be more fade-to-black. I know they can get adult books showing graphic sex. But the adult books are showing sex between adults. With the “over-sexualization” of children in our society, I don’t see why we need to detail sexual encounters between them. It smacks of sensationalism to me. Authors can show a sexual relationship as positive without having to describe the acts in any detail.

    Jayne asked for opinions, so I hope those of us who have a different opinion from the majority can still be respected in the comments. ;-)

  30. Gwen Hayes
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 11:01:16

    I’m pretty sure they were having this same discussion forty years ago about FOREVER by Judy Blume.

    I’m also pretty sure it’s not the responsibility of authors to send any kind of message. A storyteller is telling a story. Sometimes characters do things that are good or bad and sometimes the onus is on the reader to decide for themselves which it is.

  31. Willaful
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 11:04:29

    @max: Great post, max. It reminded me of one of my favorite blogs, The Pervocracy. http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2013/01/teenage-panic.html

    “If you tried to design a system for making sexually active kids confused and unsafe, you couldn’t do much better than the American media and school system.”

  32. Kelly
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 11:14:15

    Right now, in this moment, the absence of shame is shaped like Alex Kosta and I don’t want to let go of this feeling.

    DAMN, that’s good.

    If my newly-teenage daughter is going to read sex in books, I want it to be like that – an integral part of the character AND the story. I would much rather have her read a book with well-written, realistic, thought-provoking sexual situations than anything slut-shaming or, god help us, fetishizing virginity.

    I monitor what my daughter is reading and watching, but I also know she hears much more explicit conversations on the school bus every day. I see it as balancing her emotional intelligence and social maturity with that of the characters she’s reading about – I can’t control everything she reads, but my best hope is that I’m helping her decide for herself what’s appropriate and what isn’t.

  33. Isobel Carr
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 11:26:56

    @Gwen Hayes: Forever, Endless Love, The Grounding of Group Six, there were lots of YA books I remember people reading and giggling over as tweens.

  34. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 12:03:53

    @Gwen Hayes: What you said.

    My mother wouldn’t let me read FOREVER. That was her job, to police what I was reading. She didn’t do all that well at it, but the “should”s and “should not”s are the parents’ job. (Of course, now I’m showing my privilege that not all kids have parents who care, or any at all.)

  35. Janine
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 13:12:03

    @max:

    It was near-impossible at the time to find YA fiction in which someone my age was having sex, particularly a female someone, without it resulting in death/pregnancy/trauma or being indicative that something was *wrong * with her.

    That was my experience as a teen as well and I am so glad for today’s teens that much of today’s YA has evolved beyond that preachiness. I read much more YA nowadays than I ever did as a teenager (when I read sexually explicit romance novels for adults) for that reason.

  36. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 13:52:24

    I think the article is calling for more realistic sex and criticizing NA books for depicting the opposite. I’m not going to throw confetti over 12 and 13 year olds having sex either, but it sounds like the scenes in Uses for Boys aren’t meant to titillate. We’re supposed to sympathize with the heroine and be sad, not throw confetti.

    With Dollar’s book, a little confetti might be warranted. I’m sure many young women are too embarrassed to get oral sex–even after they give it. This inequality isn’t healthy or sex-positive. Young women get the message very early on that vaginas are inferior, unattractive, gross and smelly.

    The other day on twitter I linked to a story about porn editing and labiaplasty in Australia. Soft porn magazines aren’t allowed to show the labia minora, so they edit it out. And young women are seeking plastic surgery there in record numbers to get “the Barbie,” which is complete removal of the labia minora for a “tidy” look.

    Teenagers are getting so much information about sex from questionable sources. For me, this is a good argument for more graphic detail about the female body, even in YA novels. I write for adults, but I feel like I should start including specific descriptions of the labia minora! I hate the idea that young women are growing up thinking there’s something wrong with their natural body parts.

  37. hapax
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 14:37:48

    For what it’s worth, I showed this thread to my daughter, who is now twenty, but still prefers YA and avoids most adult fantasy and sf because she hates hates HATES explicit sex scenes.

    When she was younger, she said they made her feel embarrassed; and they still make her uncomfortable, like she is invading the character’s privacy.
    Her comments were: “You can be sex-positive without providing a detailed instruction manual” and “I have no problem with characters who have sex. But if it’s just a ‘sex scene’ for the sake of sex, I don’t think it ever adds anything to the story.”

    I don’t necessarily agree with her opinions (she isn’t terribly fond of straight-up romance anyhow), but I thought that I’d toss them into the mix, since she’s certainly closer to YA than I am!

  38. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 14:43:33

    @Jill Sorenson: “The Great Wall of Vagina”, particularly the one labeled “Official Documentary 2010/2011″ (middle, third down) This was enlightening to me.

  39. Willaful
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 15:04:11

    @hapax: That’s just what I was talking about it my first post. It felt safer to me when books were divided into the “real” “clean” books and the dirty books you giggled over with your friends; I’m not sure it was all that sane, though. (Which is not meant to reflect on your daughter, I totally get her POV — I’m talking about my own personal division between embarrassment on one side and intense curiosity on the other, which I’d guess is pretty common.)

  40. gsprendergast
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 15:24:31

    @Jill Sorenson:

    And pubic hair! For the love of God can’t we somehow let women know it’s okay to have hairy snatches? I have’t written much explicit stuff, but if and when I do my girls are going to be resplendently and unapologetically hairy.

  41. gsprendergast
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 16:21:29

    One final thing (it probably won’t be final, but whatever) – I’m DESPERATE to see some contraception options in YA. Condoms are great, don’t get me wrong. But it seems like every time the girl doesn’t use a condom she has a fucking baby. Heard of Plan B? Of abortion?

    In my WIP my protagonist takes Plan B on page five. I don’t make a big thing about it either, it’s just what it is. We have yet to see whether it will fly with my editor though!

  42. Lia
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 16:30:28

    @Deljah:

    Deljah, I’m not “abstinence only” either. I grew up in a very conservative small town where you didn’t talk about “those things” — or if sex were discussed, it was in the context of shaming young girls into remaining virgins until they married — so there were a lot of “oops” pregnancies in my high school. I very clearly remember the 15-year-old friend who got pregnant “accidentally on purpose” because category romance novels told her that the father of her child would come rushing to her side with a marriage proposal. Didn’t quite work out that way. Barring certain consequences (STDs, teen pregnancy), there are also emotional and physiological components to sexuality that tweens can’t understand because they don’t have that experience under their belts. Even when I lost my virginity at 18 to my then-fiance — a very positive experience, I might add — I didn’t fully grasp the nature of sex. That it wasn’t always “good.” That my feelings for him would intensify, that a certain “bonding” would take place. How does one possibly begin to convey that in a book? A movie? In anything? You can’t. Like motherhood and the death of a parent, it’s just one of those milestones that women must experience themselves in order to comprehend its depth.

    I don’t want to police what authors write or what publishers publish, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Part of our problem is that the media depicts tweens having sex as an aspect of normal young adulthood; send that message long enough, and they begin to believe it. I am all for acknowledging the stirrings of desire young women feel, that they might not understand or know what to do with, and I’m all for sending the message that this is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m also very pro-responsibility. There can be a balance.

  43. gsprendergast
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 16:44:29

    Maybe I’m out of touch but I can’t think of any books in which TWEENS (ages 9-12) have consensual sex together, apart from two, where it was only petting and the consequences were HORRIFIC. BOY TOY by Barry Lyga and GOING UNDERGROUND by Susan Vaught.

    I think we’re talking about TEENS aren’t we? And the sex positive books I’ve seen are almost all about 16+ kids.

  44. Carrie G
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 16:54:37

    @Lia: Good points.

    I straddle a line here and I don’t know how to express my concerns about teen sex without sounding like I’m being unrealistic or shaming. I’m not, though. I know teens had sex. I did. But just because they are having sex doesn’t mean we need to normalize it as something that’s “no big deal.” Sex is a big deal! Neuroscience is showing the crazy things adolescent brains are going through and explains why teens make snap decisions and bad choices. Their frontal cortex is growing and changing almost as fast as a two year old’s brain. This makes for confusion, changing emotions, insecurity, and even anger. I urge you all to look up the science of the teen brain. Teens DO NOT process emotions or information the way an adult brain does. ETA- There are reasons teens aren’t allowed to drive until they are 16, shouldn’t drink alcohol, etc. They are not “little adults.”

    I don’t want to shame anyone for having sex as a teen, and I don’t think it is universally unhealthy or bad. I do think that younger teens usually aren’t emotionally ready for sex, and that older teens needs lots of guidance. YA books with healthy sex might be a great help, but I can’t help but think amazing sex as a teenaged girl isn’t the norm and reading about it and thinking it should be could be one more reason for teen girls to feel bad about themselves. Plus,even more than adult books, books with teens having sex need to show good habits with birth control and STD protection.

  45. hapax
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 18:04:35

    @gsprendergast:

    Maybe I’m out of touch but I can’t think of any books in which TWEENS (ages 9-12) have consensual sex together

    Well, it certainly wasn’t explicit, and it wasn’t a romance, but it was definitely YA:

    S
    P
    O
    I
    L
    E
    R
    S
    P
    A
    C
    E

    Pullman’s AMBER SPYGLASS not only featured consensual tween sex, but it was required to save the frikkin’ universe.

    See also Stephen King’s IT, but since that’s definitely adult fiction it isn’t really pertinent to the discussion.

  46. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 18:05:30

    @Moriah Jovan: I love it! Thanks for sharing.

    @gsprendergast: Yes. I’m not a pubic hair militant, but waxing is expensive, and no one can be perfectly smooth at all times. Young women don’t need more reasons to dislike their bodies.

  47. max
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 20:12:16

    @Lia: I think you and others on this board are making a lot of assumptions about what’s universally “normal”, what kind of sex teens are and aren’t having, and what teens are and aren’t capable of dealing with, based solely on your own experiences. I also think this idea that sex scenes –> teen sex is completely backwards; if a teenage girl wants to read sex scenes, it’s because she’s already interested in the subject. And if she’s not interested in the subject, she’ll find those scenes icky or uninteresting (an attitude you can see reflected in many of the comments above.)

    As a woman in her thirties, it’s frustrating to see people talk about sexually active, responsible, well-adjusted teens (of which I was one) like they’re mythical beasts. But when I was younger, attitudes like this weren’t just frustrating; they made me feel like a freak and a deviant for wanting to have sex and enjoying it when I did. You talk about the theoretical dangers of “normalizing” certain behaviors, but refusing to acknowledge the existence of girls like me — more or less telling them, through omission, that they’re NOT normal — does actual harm.

    I’m by no means suggesting that every YA book needs to contain sex, but what possible harm can it do to give teenagers books that reflect the full range of experience — from never-been-kissed to sexually active — that they’re *already living*?

  48. cleo
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 20:37:50

    I’m enjoying this thread – it’s making me think.

    I don’t think that my 13 yo self or even my 16 yo self would have understood what’s going on in that sex scene and I certainly wouldn’t have labeled it oral sex. I completely misunderstood the maturbation reference in Judy Blum’s Deanie when I read it a million years ago. There’s discussion of someone rubbing their special spot and I swear that I thought it was the inner elbow. Which kind of highlights some of the points in Catagator’ post. We lack ya appropriate vocabulary to talk about girls’ desire and girls’ bodies.

    I agree that there’s a diiference between sexually positive and sexually active. And there’s a lot of different sexual activities besides intercourse. I was kind of shocked to read that there are so few ya books that mention girls masturbating.

  49. Trish
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 20:38:29

    I think, for me, what’s problematic about analyzing the excerpt above (which I wrote, by the way) is that there’s no context; there’s only the excerpt and the question “is this too explicit for YA?”

    By the very definition of explicit, what I’ve written is not. Is the implication clear? I’d say, yes, it is–and deliberately so because the point of the scene is that sex (and in this case, sex that focuses on female gratification) doesn’t have to be abusive or shameful (see: missing context). I didn’t write the scene to titillate or just throw in some gratuitous sex for the hell of it. The entire relationship is about sexual trust.

    For what my opinion is worth, I don’t believe anything about this scene (or the book itself) in context encourages teenage girls to have sex before they’re ready (if anything, it does the opposite. See: missing context) or gives them unrealistic standards. What I do believe is that there’s a chance for them to take away: 1. that you can say no at any point (see: missing context), 2. that condoms are important (see: missing context), and 3. the best partner respects your boundaries, feelings, and, ideally, needs.

    I think the conversation that’s happening here is an important one, so I’m okay with my excerpt being the spark for a bigger fire. (Thanks, Jane!) But from this one small piece of an unknown puzzle, we’ve somehow managed to extrapolate that 12-year-old are having explicit sex in YA novels. Which certainly isn’t the case in my book, nor do I believe is it the case in most YA novels.

    As a parent, I so get that this is a sensitive–and very subjective–issue. My 18-year-old daughter wouldn’t touch Where the Stars Still Shine with a 10-foot pole because sexual content of any kind makes her uncomfortable. And that’s fine with me. I’d never force her, or anyone else, to read the book if it makes her uncomfortable. Ever. But after an 8th grade teacher told me her students loved Something Like Normal (my first novel), it’s pretty clear there are teenagers who are already seeking out and reading about sex. It’s not a matter of giving them what they want–that’s not how I operate at all–but about offering realistic and responsible depictions. Including–and this is what Kelly’s original post was all about–healthy female sexual agency. And I’m all for that.

  50. Kaetrin
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 21:06:38

    @Lia:

    Barring certain consequences (STDs, teen pregnancy), there are also emotional and physiological components to sexuality that tweens can’t understand because they don’t have that experience under their belts. Even when I lost my virginity at 18 to my then-fiance — a very positive experience, I might add — I didn’t fully grasp the nature of sex. That it wasn’t always “good.” That my feelings for him would intensify, that a certain “bonding” would take place. How does one possibly begin to convey that in a book? A movie? In anything? You can’t.

    Um, for serious? A talented author can absolutely do this.

    In fact, I WISH I had read books like that when I was a teen. I had no meaningful advice about sex from my mother and I had no idea of (apart from potential pregnancy or disease) the consequences of sex. Reading a realistic depiction would have been helpful for me.

    Also, to clarify, the sex I’m reading in YA/NA is 17+, except for Uses for Boys and that was a completely different context and not at all titillating or in any way enticing.

  51. Kaetrin
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 21:09:31

    @max: Yes. This. Well said.

  52. Deljah
    Jun 15, 2013 @ 20:47:03

    I’d like to re-iterate that my question or concern was about reconciling “sex positivity” with sexual activity by young teens or teens below 16 years old as an example. I feel like this discussion has clarified that for me and given me a lot of other food for thought about sex positivity.

    Sometimes, in my opinion, it can seem like the underlying message of sex positivity is primarily “if you want to do (insert whatever sexual activity here), then do it”, with cursory consideration of age, readiness, consequences, motivations and other nuances. It has seemed to be a one-sided message or completely black and white conversation. Like either you’re “sex positive” or “abstinence only” with no blending between the two…as if abstaining, waiting, delaying or whatever has no relevance to sex positivity…or as if sex positivity just promotes yielding to every urge and desire. Reading these different perspectives has been helpful for me in terms of seeing a balanced or more complete approach to these issues that is reflective of real life as well as real consequences.

    I think it’s important for kids to read things that they can relate to and that illustrate the challenges they face. I also think age appropriateness, intended audience and balance (or completeness) of message are important considerations that can be brought into the mix w/o turning everything into a cliched after school special. With kids reading books that are clearly intended for adults? I just can’t get behind the “as long as they’re reading” argument. Yes, it will and does happen, and I guarantee that I would’ve read FSoG as young kid just as soon as I could’ve gotten my tiny little hands on it. But I could’ve used some more guidance, and I believe the world of books is big enough to accommodate a bit of re-direction towards more appropriate selections.

  53. Willaful
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 14:45:45

    I wanted to add this great post by Foz Meadows to the conversation: http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/why-ya-sex-scenes-matter/

  54. Kainenchen
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 12:12:27

    @John:

    This reflects my experience also.

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