Going All The Way in YA

Sex. I love sex. As Rick Reynolds says in Only the Truth is Funny, “I know you love sex, but trust me, I love it more.” So much so that I made a career out of studying and talking about sex, and not just to see the expressions on peoples’ faces!* Sex, gender, sexual orientation, sex in literature, sex in myth, sex in history, sexual politics, women’s studies, sociology, psychology, GLBTQ studies, sexual equality, sex in education, the sexual revolution, sex and gender as compared cross-culturally, sex ed, STD prevention, pregnancy education, sexual advocacy, and inherited or acquired interpretations of our own sexual self-esteem. I figured if sex takes up that much head-space, it probably has some sort of affect on self-image and how we relate to one another in the real world.

I remember someone in high school quoting that guys think about sex every 7 seconds. I thought about it, and said, "Yeah, I'm right there with 'em." Some of my friends blamed this on the fact that nearly all my friends were a bunch of older guys or that I was a Scorpio (followed by the phrase, "It figures.") or that I was raised by two pre-high school 60’s lovebirds who I don't recall ever giving me or my siblings "the talk" because we all just knew. I was always comfortable talking about sex and sexuality and was frankly surprised at how prudish everyone else seemed to be by comparison. This was a wonderful weapon in my arsenal for the Shock Value parade that masqueraded as high school.**

Yet for all that, I find that in reading or writing for teens, I prefer not to have sex scenes, which seems slightly contradictory. Tension, yes; sensuality, yes; "What if?" and "Maybe?", yes yes yes! But sex? The whole enchilada? Meh.

I won't go into whether this is a part of the real teen experience (to me, whether experiencing sex or the questions/obsessions surrounding the act or meaning or consequences of sex; it's tough to deny that it isn't on the minds of, well, anyone that has active hormones!) but what I find is that however it's described is somewhat strange because it is, by definition, someone else's experience while the author is trying to allow us to imagine our own. Now, this is a good thing as I am a firm believer that if you're going to live vicariously through others, the safest place to do it is with a really good book, but as a person with a creative and actively naughty imagination, I find I might do better if I were left to dream this stuff up myself rather than endure a (pardon the pun) blow by blow account. This could be the benefit of hindsight or fifteen years of couplehood, but I don't think so. Writing something sexy or intimate is almost as hard as writing something funny because it is a very subjective thing and tough to do well.

There are certainly exceptions. From Anne Rice's vampire classics to Judy Blume's Forever, Ann Brashares' realistic The Last Summer (of You and Me) to Melissa Marr's fantastic Seth in Wicked Lovely or the entire world of Jacqueline Carey's Terre d'Ange, I can't imagine these books being as powerful as they are *without* sex, explicit, implicit, or otherwise noteworthy. I most appreciate this when it's the experience of the 1st person narrative which gives me a glimpse into how this character interprets what is happening, (strangely it's books with the opposite-gender perspective I find most fascinating like Never Never, Boy Toy & Looking for Alaska), but rarely do I get swept up in any romance that the words seem to imply. It becomes a sort of nature film in my head. Clinical and awkward (which, in some cases, is the very point the author's making). If that's the endpoint, then kudos! Otherwise, I'd much rather have the build-up than the payoff; I find much more fun to mess with than the the Laws of Attraction than the Laws of Physics. But then again, I was never much one for romantic books, films, TV or otherwise. (Les Liaisons Dangereuses/Dangerous Liaisons being a notable exception, now coupled [again, pardon the pun] with Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series.)

So while wiser folks than I debate about the new, separate section of Barnes & Noble and whether or not it's healthy or responsible to put sex scenes in Young Adult Literature (which is still, technically, part of Children's Literature), I find my comfort level is in hiking up the sensual, the intensity, the sensory overload, and piling on the personal like dark sipping chocolate by the overflowing glass and let the readers hang on the aching precipice of "almost" and cackle to myself behind the keys.

Call me a sadist, but I cannot provide the most appropriate coup de grâce. That's best done by you.


* Although, I'll admit, that's fun!
** This has only gotten better with time. Shock, like fine wine or cheese, gets better with age.


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