Even though sex is a part of life, especially the life of a young adult I rarely see it portrayed in young adult fiction. Let’s talk about this shall we?
NA vs. YA
When I look at my bookshelf I see a pretty big divide, almost a chasm really, between YA books and NA books, young-adult and new adult, in case you’re not down with the lingo, which seems strange to me considering they’re not necessarily worlds apart. Maybe, this is just me, and I’m not looking at the right books but NA has become a stand in for books with sex in them, and as a result are contemporary romances, like Christina Lauren and (some) Colleen Hoover books. There is a lot that I could say about NA, but in the interest of being concise I just wanted to clarify that I do see these as two very different genres and I want to focus the discussion on YA in particular. Who knows maybe we’ll save the NA discussion of another day.
Sexy Times in YA
Sex does happen in YA, but it’s rarely ever the focus point of the story, at least not int he books that I have read. So lets talk about some different examples, and what they imply to me regarding this topic.
One of my first experiences, or at least the one that springs to mind is Clockwork Princess by Cassie Clare. I’m sure everyone has read this book, but I wont say who just in case, and that goes for all of the books I’m going to be talking about. The couple who have sex in this book, and this goes for City of Heavenly Fire too, only do this in the final book in the series. What does this say about sex? To me this implies that it is something you should wait to do. In both cases there is the distinct possibility of sudden death, so sex comes across almost as a ‘it’s now or never’ sort of situation.
Lady Midnight, also by Cassie Clare is different to her previous books, in that to characters have sex in the first book of the series. I really liked the fact that this happened, because it seemed very real, and a very teenage thing to do. It’s easy to forget that these characters are 17, and even though they might have special abilities they are still teenagers.
The next one I’m putting in with a pinch of salt because I have to admit that I haven’t read If I Stay myself, so if what I say is completely wrong, feel free to correct me. Two characters have sex, but it’s told in such a poetical way, almost too poetical that you don’t really realise what is happening. This can be said for some other books, where it just dawns on me halfway through what is actually going on. However, does this set up some unrealistic expectations maybe? Sure, playing the cello, across your boyfriends skin is poetic and beautiful in that way but is it a good idea to suggest that your first time is going to be romantic and poetical. I feel like I’m sounding very unromantic here, but I’m just making some suggestions.
Finally, I couldn’t talk about sex without talking about the gorgeous male fae in both ACOMAF and Empire of Storms both by Sarah J. Maas. This is the more graphic side, if graphic is even the right word. It’s interesting to me that because of the sex in these books, I hear people calling them NA books, but like I said I’m not quite ready for that discussion at the moment. All I want to say is that I like the way in which sex is portrayed in these ones especially, because it’s done so unashamedly. That’s not to say there aren’t problems, but, personally, I like the way in which it is incorporated into he story, both as an important part but at the same time not a pivotal plot point.
Problems with YA sex
There are some reoccurring tropes that seem to always see when sex is in Ya and they annoy the heck out of me. The first one is the virgin, wherein one party, usually the female, is this innocent angel, who is almost too perfect, which I really hate. When I see this trope my heart just sinks a little, not only can it be boring and repetitive but I think it leaves a damaging impression that girls should be pure, and virginal. As I briefly mentioned earlier, waiting is something we see a lot when it comes to sex in YA, but I don’t really see why. don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly okay to wait, for whatever reasons you have, but I thinker’s equally important to say that you also shouldn’t feel like you have to wait. It’s not a reward, it’s not a last resort, but should, at least in my eyes, simply be portrayed as something that happens.
You know me, I love my ships, so understandably I also love to see them get it on, but I think it would be nice to see that just because you have sex with one person doesn’t mean you have to be together forever. It’s not a promise, it’s not a handcuff, but a character should be able to sleep with multiple people if they want to do so.
Finally, and this one is a little bit more understandable because it really depend on what end of the YA age range your going for, but it’s the ‘fade to black sort of situation’. I think you know what I mean, when it all go, and then the chapter ends, and next think you know it’s the next morning. There’s no need to shy way from the ins and outs of things, and there is a way of doing it that’s not full on Fifty Shades.
Why is this important
Yes, it may cause a few blushes but representation of sex in YA is incredibly important for a number of reasons. Sex is a part of a healthy relationship and I think that is a good enough reason to paint it into YA depictions. With so many harmful media tropes around the ‘slut’ or the ‘virgin’, YA has the ability to change the way that younger people see sex. It’s not a bad thing, but like kissing it is something that happens, so why not include it.
*Disclaimer: Maybe I’m reading way too much into these examples, but I am and English Lit student to over analysis is kind of my speciality. Also, everything I say is my opinion only, it’s not gospel, and your opinion is your privilege.
What do you think? How do you feel about sex in YA? Do you want to see more or less? What are some good representation? What are some bad ones? Do you agree with me? Or do you disagree? Either way I’d love to get your opinions!
Thanks for reading!