On Sex In Young Adult Literature

The Notebook

Kissing In The Rain, Just Kissing In The Rain

Does sex have a place in YA? I’d say it does. According to this article in the NY Times, 47.8% of all high school students have had sex. Therefore, it makes sense for books aimed at teens to be realistic in the portrayl of teens. Now, I’m not saying every YA book needs a sex scene, not by a long shot. I will never set aside a young adult book, just because of a sex scene.

I think those scenes can be positive as they provide an opportunity to educate. Now, let me say not all sex ends in a baby or a disease (THANK GOD). Granted, sometimes if there isn’t a physical consequence, there’s emotional consequences or social consequences. I’m not sure I would find it very realistic if all young adult books treated sex as an “issue.” Of course, when I say sex in literature can be a teachable moment, I mean name-drop a Trojan or lifestyles, put safe sex in a positive light. Now, I’m not recommending writers go around and say hay kidz u can has secks, it rocks! No, not at all.

This request may be odd, but I wish that when I was a teen, authors of my era would have put in some awkward sex scenes in the YA books I read, instead of crap like oh they did it and it was so amazing and she was so pleasured, since that definitely does not ring true to me, but back then I had just assumed everyone knew what to do and was an expert except for me. I think maybe a book should portray that pivotal loss of innocence scene as being awkward and painful, since that’s probably more representative of real life.

Perhaps my overall message here is a wish for authors to keep it real. Please don’t be cowed by some book-banner into deleting the chapter where your characters do it, you’ve got an amazing opportunity to educate and possibly answer questions no teen is going to feel comfortable asking their parents about. So to those authors who have the balls to include sexytime, I applaud you.

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. A Bookshelf Monstrosity says

    Agreed, agreed, 100 percent! I'm always frustrated by book challengers who single out YA books because of a sex scene or profanity. My question to these people is, "Do you actually know any teenagers?" Many teens curse, have oral sex, and have regular sex. I know it's not pleasant for parents of teens to think about, but it's true. YA readers don't want to read books that are devoid of anything realistic and relevant to them! One of my favorite YA books in high school was Perks of being a wallflower which certainly had its share of so-called risky behaviors. But it was relevant to me, so I loved it!

  2. I agree. If it fits in the story and isn't just added for the sake of being there than I have no problem reading about anything. It's reality anyways whether people want to accept it or not. I don't believe that by reading something, that a teen will go out and do what is being portrayed. Teens are a lot smarter than people given them credit for.

    I like the point you made about including awkward sex scenes. A lot of the ones portrayed are perfect and a little cliche which is pretty most almost never the case.

  3. robby (once upon a book blog/fourteen years) says

    Reading this post reminded me of Banned Books, things like that. If there's a sex scene, a parent complains and the book gets taken off the shelves. I'm fourteen, a freshman in high school. I've never had sex. A lot of my friends have, and it's just something that happens all of the time. It's unrealistic to say that teenagers don't have sex. Most teenagers want to read something they can relate to, or at least I do. So there should be something, even if it's only a paragraph or two. It means more than you'd think.

  4. iluvhersheys_andbooks says

    Very very well said. I agree with you 100%. I agree with books labeled Young Adult, it is only right that they potray the characters and story line as true to the real thing as possible!!!

  5. I hate it when sex is either an Issue, or Nonexistant. Or Badly Written (which is quite a lot). I was reading this really good book where it basically had the main character lose her virginity and when it was done she texted her friend in the bathroom and said, "that was worse then going to the dentist". I kind of laughed my pants off at that one…

  6. I also have no problems with sex in YA books and I also think sex can and should be portrayed in a positive realistic way.
    I have a small pet peeve – I've read a bunch of books lately where the MC herself (or himself) isn't sexually active but everyone around them seems to be. I almost feel like it's a cop out. Like the author didn't quite know how to write a sex seance but they also couldn't ignore the fact that teenagers have sex so it's presented as a 'something everyone else but me does' type of thing.

  7. I feel that in Young Adult books, it is important to differentiate between the Twilight beatdown lovetime and consensual lovemaking of adults in love.

    I love you more than you love all the books in your library. Happy Valentine's Day!

  8. @ A Bookshelf Monstrosity: OMG I loved Perks, it's totally due for a re-read!

    @Michelle: Teens are definitely way smarter than adults estimate them to be, I saw that on a daily basis while student teaching.

    @Robby: I can totally relate to being like that as a high schooler, all of my friends were doing it, and well, I was the token virgin. I think books teens can relate to definitely are more appealing, I mean look at how many teens love Ellen Hopkins books, she certainly doesn't shy away from reality.

    @Iluvhersheys – First – I'm eating Hersheys Kisses right now, Second, reality is incredibly important.

    @Dannie thanks so much for sharing that line about it being worse than going to the dentist, I totally laughed. 😛 CUZ IT'S TRUE!

    @WillowRaven what a copout, then again I do know lots of teens who can relate to that, I think there's a fine balance for the author to walk between being realistic and including something for the sake of including it.

    @Grimey – What? I missed the part where I said something about Twilight…. I love you too though 🙂

  9. Yes! I think realism and variety are the key things writers need to aim for. So sometimes it's bad, or painful, sometimes it's awesome, sometimes there are Consequences and sometimes it works out. There are a variety of sex scenarios for adults, but still a very limited range for teens I think.

  10. Christina T says

    Good post. I think it is important to have books that portray realistic situations and characters for teens. When I was a very young teen I read Forever by Judy Blume and I also remember reading unrealistic portrayals of sex in romance novels for adults. Most books with sex in them back then were to show that you shouldn't have sex as teens or the dangers of teen pregnancy. Later on they had books involving the risks of HIV. It was always about "issues".

    I think if sex is portrayed realistically in fiction for teens and they have access to good information from nonfiction resources to help them make informed decisions that is a positive thing.

    I used to watch this TV show, Secret Life of the American Teenager which primarily deals with teenage sexuality but I got so annoyed with the dumb portrayal of the characters that I quit watching.

    What are some YA authors/books that you feel did a good job with portraying teen sexuality? I've heard that Carolyn Mackler's books handle this very well.

  11. Good pick for linking up. I read it in Google Reader when it was first posted, but was too lazy to comment, apparently. I think, even beyond whether all the kids are doing it (<– ha!), a writer needs to stay true to their story. They need to pretend that the critics and the banners don't exist and write what is supposed to happen.

  12. Great post April! As a parent of an almost 13 year old girl, I must admit that I cringe sometimes at the all of the sex in the books she will be reading very soon, but I know that is my own issue! You are very right that in order to be relevant to teens, authors need to write about what real teens are doing. And on that note, I agree with you 100%–how about some more awkward scenes?? THAT is the teen reality more often than not!!!

  13. i got here searching for sex in teen books. last summer i decided to step out of my box and try my hand at ya fiction. i’m so alive here! but i’ve never been able to write sex scenes worth a damn and when it came time for that scene in my current project, i wrote everything except that scene! i agree with eden above – awkward sex scenes, awkward make out scenes *rock* 🙂