Sunday, January 13, 2013

So, speaking of sex and YA...

I was travelling the interwebs this evening as my alter ego, and I happened to find this post on a review site called Reviews by Jessewave. (Warning: probably NSFW as the site reviews male/male romance. Sometimes with pictures!) And it raises a very valid argument: why is violence okay in YA fiction but not sex? 

Source
The post is specifically about YA Romance, a genre I don't read, but I think it applies to all YA. And I actually think that most of the comments answered the question. It's not that authors are overlooking the fact that kids are having sex, it's because if they write a scene where they show underage characters having sex, are they in fact committing a crime? It's something that I wouldn't like to risk, and a publisher sure as hell wouldn't. 

Violence, you can do. You can push that envelope as far as you like. Sex, no. And maybe that's a double standard, and maybe it's even hypocritical, but I think we have to draw the line somewhere, and I think it's safer that it's drawn where it is right now: at eighteen, when you magically realise you have tingly feelings, right? 

Right? 

The poster at Jessewave raises the very valid point that sex shouldn't be hidden away like something shameful, and that is so, so true. But make no mistake: you can write a story where kids have sex. Because -- shock, horror -- kids are doing that in real life, and it's stupid to pretend that it doesn't happen. In fact, I'm planning a book at the moment where sex is a central theme. But there will not be any actual sex scenes. You'll see my characters talk about, think about, lie about it and brag about it, but you won't see it. 

And I think that's the difference. That's where we drawn the line. And that's where it needs to be drawn, not to prevent the exploitation of fictional child characters, but to prevent the titillation of predators. 

Where do you guys stand on this? 

10 comments:

  1. Write it. Like you said, it's hardly realistic to pretend teenagers don't have a clue what sex is. And the way they learn more about it is by talking to their friends about it.

    ...Or having a teacher write SEX on the board in huge letters when they're 11, but who knows, maybe that was just my weird Catholic school teachers working out some issues...

    I always feel a healthy discussion about sex should also include a "don't worry if you don't want it yet" message too. They might have that friend who's been active since 14, but that doesn't mean they have to be too.

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    1. That is a great point, Miss Cole. "Don't worry if you won't want it yet." It should be on the front cover of every sex ed pamphlet produced. And on the inside it should say, "But if you do, here's what you need to know."

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  2. I guess you could say that any book with a sex scene in it (i.e. an adult book) is potential titillation for rapists. So I don't know that that argument is a good reason for avoiding sex scenes in YA. However, I don't write detailed sex scenes anyway, so it's not like I'm here trying to defend my right to write that sort of thing. Just looking at it logically.

    If I was going to write a YA story involving sex, I'd be doing it the way you say you are - not actually showing sex scenes.

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    1. That's a good point, Trisha, and another double standard. Yeah, I just wouldn't feel comfortable showing actual sex scenes with underage characters.

      I think that sex is still a very important topic and in now way should it be glossed over, but there are ways of writing it without being explicit. Perhaps one case where "showing, not telling" is a bad thing! :)

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  3. I think it's more fun to leave "the rest" to the reader's imagination anyway... although the things the kids do in real life (sexting, racy FB pics etc) does make me glad what happened in *my* teenage years will always remain there :)

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    1. Oh, me too, Mark! I did a lot of dumb stuff, but fortunately none of it is recorded forever!

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  4. I think you have a really great way of handling it. every teen thinks about, talks about, lies about it - even if they're not doing it. It's also something I've heard talked about at conferences. Yeah, there's sex in YA but it mainly stops at the door - or has some pretty long-lens (as opposed to close up) descriptions of feelings and emotions rather than explicit physical descriptions. And I do think that's appropriate. I don't know why there's squeamishness and double standards with violence and sex but there is - in every age bracket, not just YA.

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    1. Yes, I think that you can write a YA sex scene concentrating on the emotions and the awkwardness without being explicit. And you need to show consequences as well, because those are much bigger in the teen world than the adult. Like what happens when the whole school finds out you had sex... Nobody cares if you're an adult, but it's a whole different kettle of fish for kids.

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  5. Hmmm. I haven't actually put a sex scene in a YA book yet. But I agree with Alex - if I did I'd be more inclined to be explicit about what's going on in the characters' heads rather than precisely what they're doing with their bodies.

    However, I think there are some interesting examples of sex in YA. In Jim Grimsley's Dream Boy, which is usually marketed as YA, though if I'd read it as a teen I'd probably have had nightmares for years, the sexual molestation isn't described in detail, but when the MC finally has consensual sex, Grimsley uses the word "cock" and gets a little more explicit. I like that contrast.

    In general, from what I've read, it seems like gay male YA tends to get more explicit than hetero or lesbian YA. Which is interesting. Do we have more of a problem with the idea of young women having detailed on-page sex?

    But then there's also the "asexual gay side character" phenomenon that often occurs when the MCs are straight--not just in YA but in lots of genres. Where the LGBT sidekicks are never allowed to be as explicitly sexual as the straight heroes are.

    I'll stop now. I just really love this topic.

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    1. So true about the asexual gay side character in YA. Not only does the gay kid have to be the quirky sidekick, they also don't get a sex life. Let's smash that stereotype!

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