Sex in YA – Appropriate?

WARNING: Before continuing, please be advised that this post shall contain certain terms that may not be appropriate for younger readers or might make some readers uncomfortable. These terms will be used for the purposes of properly defining terms such as erotica and will be centered on sexual euphemisms for genitalia. If you are uncomfortable with these terms, please read no further. If you would like to read the gist of this post, but are thoroughly offended by the terms, please leave a comment or contact me on another page/post/email and I will be happy to provide you with a summary minus the terms. Thank you.

dear-reader3

As a ghostwriter, I’m usually hired to write fiction. (I’ve written non-fiction/self-help/advice once and pretty well hated it.) Specifically, I get hired to write the serial novella romances that are so prevalent these days on Amazon for $0.99 and spread out over a three or more “book” series. These are cheap, short, and somewhat addicting, which means that the client can—theoretically—make some money off of a bunch of different titles which they can purchase cheaply through ghostwriters and produce with little legwork—and even less time. It’s a sort of fly-by-night concept that churns out a lot of crap, and every once in a blue moon, a decent novel. (There are maybe two series that I’ve written that I’m actually proud of and the rest are so terrible, I’m sort of relieved that my name isn’t on them.)

Now, as I mentioned, I’m always hired to write romance. Which means… what, exactly? Well, it means a couple of different things to different people and I’ve found through personal experience that it’s really important to clear up exactly what a client means before continuing on with the project.

First, romance can mean a bunch of different things, but there are some things that it always means. Namely, there’s a love story. It doesn’t have to be a sweet one or a “one man, one woman” story—there can be multiple partners, partners of the same sex, or “different species” (which means paranormal, not bestiality… I think). It just means that there is a love interest and it is the focus of the story. Usually, there’s some basic plot going on, but it’s mostly just there as a vehicle for the romance. Also, there’s almost always a happily ever after (HEA for the uninitiated), though in the event of a series, this is usually saved for the final book, though the romantic interest does come together—explicitly, or non-explicitly—before their happy ending.

Moving on, there are three primary terms used to describe a romance: Clean, steamy, and erotica. A romance will fall into one of these categories at least and it won’t overlap. Period. After I’ve explained what they are, I’ll dive into the “are they appropriate for YA novels” part of the post, so hang in there with me!

Clean.

This is also sometimes called “sweet” but I prefer clean just because I think that steamy and erotica can also be “sweet” even though they are more explicit. And that’s what “clean” means. Non-explicit. There might be sex involved (probably not, but it could be included in a very passing or low-key sort of way)—but you won’t hear about it. If there is a married couple, they will never be described as being in bed together, probably not even sleeping—as in catching some z’s, not dirtying the sheets—together.

The extent of physicality will be between hand-holding and kissing. Chaste kissing. I’m not kidding you. These might be religiously based—no sex before marriage type things—or they might be socially influenced—chaperones needed until the woman is married off. It might simply be a desire to explore a romantic relationship that does not revolve around physicality.

Steamy.

This one is where it starts to get a little… confusing. A “steamy” romance will include sex. The romantic story will be about someone having a romantic interest and coming together with them. They will at some point in the story have some type of sex. It is the explicitness of this sex that determines whether or not this is “steamy” or “erotica”. And it’s a fairly important distinction, but it’s also a pretty basic one.

Terminology.

The difference between erotica and steamy is the terms used. For a “steamy” romance you might use euphemisms for certain parts of the body. For example, a man’s penis would be a “member” or simply referred to as “stiffness”, “him”, or “hardness”. The words reference his genitals, but in a way that is usually considered classy or muted. A woman’s body would receive the same treatment. “Core”, “heat”, “wetness”, etc. would be used for her vagina. The same would go for other body parts. These are meant to still come off as romantic or even erotic—as penis and vagina are too clinical for such purposes—while still maintaining an air of propriety. Additionally, the act of sex itself might be described, but using these terms and in a way that doesn’t include a lot of swearing (usually) or a lot of crudeness.

Steamy means that the love interests might get hot and heavy, but they tend to err on the side of caution in the sense that the author doesn’t want to make the reader too uncomfortable.

Erotica.

Porn. Basically, erotica is porn in written form. (And let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a reason that erotica is always found in adult novels—they’re consenting adults. I’ll talk more on that later, but I wanted to mention that while I generally do not seek out such novels, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. Unless they involve unconsenting or underaged—I’ll touch more on this, too—partners for the purposes of creating sexual arousal within the reader. That’s wrong, period.)

Moving on, erotica contains explicit sex and will use terminology that is going to be more crass and crude, but also more realistic, than steamy romances will. This is where you’ll find “cock” and “dick” and even “pussy” or “cunt” (which I personally hate, but to each their own). You’ll also find that the sex itself is more explicit than steamy romance will be. This means you might find kinkier sex (bondage or a dom/sub relationship, using toys or other orifices, etc.), but also it means that even if they’re only having regular sex it’s likely to be more descriptive. These means you might get more descriptions of taste, touch, sounds, etc. The senses will become more important to the writing.

Somewhere in between.

I’m going to mention one last sort of category that doesn’t really have a term, but expresses a sort of gray area between “clean” and “steamy”. The Sex Isn’t The Point Of This Story Even Though It’s Romance category. Things like the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs fall into this category. Is there romance? Yes, and it even plays a fairly big role. Is there sex? Yes, sometimes, but it’s not specifically described and it isn’t really the point of the story. This category means that though there might be a pretty good dose of romance, that doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a lot of sexy times going on—and if there is, it’s not super explicit (probably falls in the steamy category, but only barely).

These are the novels that are more Urban Fantasy or Contemporary Suspense or whatever than they are Romance. But they’ll probably still get listed under romance with other categories tacked on. I just wanted to mention that they’re out there, even if they’re not as prevalent as the others.

Moving on.

Is steamy or erotica appropriate for YA novels?

This is going to get a lot of different responses. A lot of people are just going to flat out say no. They’ll argue that “YA novels are geared towards teens and explicit sex is not appropriate for teens”. In some respects, that’s a valid argument. In a lot of respects, it’s not.

Here’s why:

Teens have sex. Whether you like it or agree with it or whatever, they do. I hope that they’ve received enough sex ed that they know the safe ways to do it and I hope that they develop emotionally despite starting young, but whatever I feel about it, they will do it. And even if they don’t, they’re thinking about doing it.

And by that reasoning, they’ve already got sex in their heads, so why are we worrying whether or not they’re reading about it, too? Plus, are you going to keep them from getting their hands on adult books which inevitably have some sex in them (or are at least far more likely to)?

So I think it’s a little ridiculous to argue that teens aren’t ready to see characters their age having sex when it’s clearly already a part of their lives in some capacity (even if they aren’t having sex). Plus, I think shielding them too much from it puts them in a dangerously uninformed space. So maybe it’s just more important that the characters are having safe sex or sex with a long term, monogamous partner? Or that they feel as though there are people to speak to about having sex or the questions they might encounter?

That comes back to a different topic about whether or not an author has some moral responsibility when it comes to writing and I’m not going to touch on that right now. (But maybe in another, later post?)

Instead, I want to get back on topic. I want to give you my reasoning for why I think it is or is not appropriate for YA novels.

First, do I personally think it’s appropriate for YA novels to have sex in them?

Yes, and no.

I think YA novels are better when they’re a little sweeter. When the romances are about two characters struggling through hormones and drama to figure out what love really means before committing physically to one another.

That being said, I don’t think that’s an end all formula for YA. Instead, I think it depends on the story. Some stories lend themselves to darker tones and thus might be more able to deal with sexual themes. (And I don’t necessarily mean rape. Rape is rape is rape, so please stop confusing it with “sexual” things. It’s about control, not sex.) But these stories are also (hopefully) going to have older characters that are closer to adulthood and more apt to be encountering said darker things.

(I’m not really ready to talk about that weird line where there’s sexual abuse of a child, so let’s just assume that that’s a whole other animal and I’m not comfortable with it. So whenever that comes up, it needs to be non explicit. This is because, again, rape isn’t about sex, but control. Unless you’re making it utterly horrifying, then there’s no need to describe it in terms of “steamy” or “erotica”.)

Anyway.

I think erotica isn’t strictly speaking appropriate for a YA novel, even if you can get away with “steamy”. And here’s why:

An author writes erotica with a purpose in mind: to arouse the reader. If that is the ultimate goal of the author (and really, what other goal could the author have in mind? As I’ve mentioned, these sorts of sexual terms shouldn’t be used in conjunction with abuse, so what’s the point unless you’re trying to get some sort of reaction—in this case a physical reaction or arousal—from your reader?), then it shouldn’t be included in YA.

Why?

Because not all YA readers are young adults themselves.

Strangely enough, this changes the game for what is and is not appropriate for the genre (or age range, if you don’t like calling YA a genre). If the readers were all within the range of the characters themselves (under 18 and above about 13 or 14) then it wouldn’t really matter that the characters were having sex—because the arousal of the readers, although a little weird given the age of the author, wouldn’t be necessarily inappropriate. But if adults (18 and up) are reading about these characters having explicit sex and being sexually aroused by this sex, then isn’t it a little inappropriate? Because you’re being aroused by minors having sex.

And I’m just not comfortable with that.

Let me be clear, I don’t necessarily mean that this means all readers who read sex that shows up in YA novels and are aroused by it are pedophiles. The terminology—which I mentioned above—used in these types of novels is directly designed to arouse. And sometimes we forget the ages of the characters. But if this novel were to be made into a movie, following the storyline, and thus including explicit sex—wouldn’t it be child pornography? And wouldn’t that be inherently wrong to watch?

Honestly, this whole topic is getting a little helter-skelter and I’m making myself a little uncomfortable.

I guess what I’m getting at is that I’m not comfortable with YA novels that have explicit sex in them, because I am not a young adult myself. And I don’t want to see or imagine kids having sex. Because it, quite frankly, grosses me out. It’s okay if they have sex, because that’s a natural progression of the human body and most teens (though not all) will. I just don’t want to know explicitly about that sex—and I definitely don’t want to have a physical reaction to it.

So ultimately, it’s the fact that YA attracts many readers that makes me think it should be limited in its sexually explicit nature.

I don’t think everyone will agree with me—or even that everyone agrees with my reasoning, even if they agree with the end result. But I wanted to try and worm out why explicit sex in YA made me kind of uncomfortable and I think I’ve finally fettered it out.

I also wanted to say that I think this is where NA (New Adult) comes in. I’m not comfortable reading Sexy Times YA—but NA, which has the same vibe as YA, has adult characters—over 18. This means that these characters can have sex, no problem! It’s not inappropriate for the characters and it’s not inappropriate for the reader. It’s this nice middle ground between YA and Adult where someone like me can be comfortable reading about people getting jiggy with it, but still get that same emotional impact from the actual story that YA novels are so famous for.

But what do you think? What’s your opinion and reasoning? What’s your solution to this odd feeling I get from the concept of YA erotica (please let that never be a genre…)? Tell me in the comments below!

sincerely3

E.C. Orr

P.S. – There might be other reasons to have explicit sex, but not in the way that erotica, specifically, engages with it. From what I understand, and I have not read it, The Fault In Our Stars has some sexual stuff in it, but it’s meant to showcase awkwardness and how the two engaged in sexy times aren’t really focused on that at all. This, to me, is acceptable, because of the reasoning behind it.

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27 thoughts on “Sex in YA – Appropriate?

  1. I think you’ve written this out SO clearly and articulated so many things! I feel like this must have taken a really long time to write but I’m very glad you did as I do think it’s an issue that needs addressed. I despise parents who try over much to “protect” their teenage children from knowledge of sex (my own parents did it to me…I swear I was the most naive 19-year-old this side of the 21st century). I’m a firm believer than knowledge is power, but also think that moderation is key in this as well as many other areas. I pretty much agree with your conclusion, that generally speaking there are certain lines that *I* am comfortable with and think healthy for teens, but that there are exceptions to every rule and a lot depends on how the author handles the situation.

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    1. I agree. I think overprotecting from sex is detrimental. Better to teach kids about sex and all the junk that goes with it, than let them stumble through on their own… But I think there should be lines in the genre, just like their would be if it were a movie, yeah? But I know it’s not that cut and dry. Mostly, I just don’t think erotica is appropriate, because of the reasons for having it. But, yeah, a lot of it has to do with how the author handles things. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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  2. Totally agree with you. I find graphic sex scenes very uncomfortable in YA books and would rather they weren’t there. I think part of the reason I read YA is because I like the sweetness and innocence it offers. There is a role for it in informing younger readers about sex and emotional issues but when it turns to porn it seems a bit wrong somehow.

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    1. Yeah, I think in the end I just don’t like super graphic stuff in YA. It just feels really weird. I’m not necessarily opposed to sex in YA, just cause it feels too much like censorship, but I really don’t think that erotica has a place with YA. Blah. Because it creeps me out lol. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  3. I think the YA category should be put into two sub-types: teen and teen+. Its how we categories books at the libraries I work at and, generally, I think it works very well. Older teens are capable of handling much more adult themes (not just sexual content but more intense mental health discussion, for example). Trying to make every book within the YA category appropriate for ages 12-18+ just isn’t possible: there has to be some sort of divide between 12-15, say, and 15+.

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    1. I think that’s a really interesting suggestion! And it’s cool that your library does that! (Ours just lumps them all into either Childrens or Adult and it gets frustrating, because they usually end up misplacing some of them as a result…) I think that’s definitely one way to do it and would help a lot. But I think there are some issues because there’s always that fine line, sometimes between 13 and 14 and sometimes between 14 and 15 or even 15 and 16 where just because one kid is ready to deal with stuff, another isn’t. And it’s really hard to decide where that line is and I don’t even think it would end up being the same in different countries (I think primarily in terms of US, because that’s where I’m from, but I know things like legal age of consent vary in different countries – and even here from state to stat!) But I think your idea definitely helps parents and most readers, because at least you know that 15+ is going to have more adult material.

      I think mostly I’d just like some warnings on books. Like “this contains material not suitable for some younger audiences” or something like that. I’d even be down for a more specific warning like “contains graphic violence” or “sexual themes” or anything along those lines, that way both parents and general readers have a heads up about what’s in their book and they can make more informed decisions for themselves. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting!

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      1. Someone a few weeks back suggested books had warning labels like DVDs – contains graphic language, explicit etc and I think that’s ultimately the only way of categorising things appropriately… so long as they don’t spoil the plot, of course!

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      2. Yes! No plot spoiling! Just a heads up about what you might not want to find if your book – or your daughter’s. I would definitely be okay with that. 🙂

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  4. Wow! What a fantastic post. I am not really a romance reader, so I also learned a ton about the sub-genres of romance.
    I completely agree with most of your points. The biggest one being that it is impossible to shelter our youth from this sort of thing, and so we should be encouraging them to learn about what is safe, appropriate, etc. I think one of the big reasons we have such struggles culturally with rape and sex is that we don’t address them publicly. Rape is about control and consent. Sex is about mutual pleasure and consent (but opposing). If we don’t educate our youth, they might never know the differences…

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    1. I agree! Educating youth is the first step towards demystifying something that is a natural part of human biology. If we take away the stigma through education, then there’s a lot less cultural excuses for rape or shaming for those who enjoy the act of sex. I’m not saying everyone should just go and get jiggy with it, but I think information is very important. It’s the only way to make informed decisions. Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

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  5. Excellent analysis. I have to admit to being torn on the subject. I agree with most of your points. One thing I struggle with as a parent now, is how our library categorizes books. Upstairs is the children’s section, and downstairs is the adult fiction, non-fiction, and Teen/YA. My almost-9 year old is an advanced reader, and has already begun to venture downstairs to the Teen/YA section. Books 3-7 in the Harry Potter series are in YA. I almost feel that YA should be broken down into tween and teen. Middle-grade books are in there somewhere, but they seem to be most frequently marketed to the 8-10 crowd, in my experience. And I think there is a huge gap in terms of content between books such as The Hunger Games and HP read more by tweens, and some of the YA books geared towards older teens with steamy content But in our library, they are all mixed in together.

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    1. I think this is the big problem for most parents (I am not a parent myself, so that obviously colors my response). How do you filter what your kid reads, but still allow them to develop? I definitely agree that 9 is way early for a lot of the material in YA literature. So much of YA is very mature, but I think we need to keep in mind that, while a 9 year old can be an advanced reader in the sense of vocabulary and complex ideas, they might not be ready for the content. As a result, there are going to be a lot of books that aren’t appropriate for them. And that means YA, too. Yes, it’s the “step up” from Middlegrade, but that step is pretty big. Because teens are dealing with different stuff than 9-year-olds. They’re starting to deal with sex and romance and even other things like mental disorders (not to say that some younger kids don’t also, but it’s more likely to start cropping up in teens from what I understand, which is limited, lol), abuse, rape, etc. Things most littler kids are not ready to deal with.

      That being said, I don’t think limiting YA in what it can deal with – keeping it away from the darker stuff and the more mature content – is necessarily the right way to go. After all, teens are young adults. And they’re right there, starting to deal with the adult stuff. I think reading can help so much with dealing with those things, that I would hate to limit the book content for those that might benefit from it.

      That being said, I think that younger kids with higher reading levels need something, too. It’s the only way to develop, right? But I think this might do better to come by putting warnings on books. “Hey, this include sex” or “hey, this includes violence” etc. That way a parent can take a quick look at what their kid is picking up and make a more informed decision.

      Honestly, I think it would also be helpful to have a “higher reading level” category. Something for kids who are still young, but need something a little more complex than Middlegrade (because you’re right; so many Middlegrade books are for younger readers to the point where they can be boring for someone that’s advanced passed them).

      Perhaps, this is something that can come in the form of “clean” YA? Not necessarily clean in terms of romance as I’ve listed above, but rather in terms of “no swearing/excessive violence/graphic sexual content/etc.” That way there’s still the complexity of a higher level story, but without a lot of the questionable content.

      Really, I’m not sure. I think parenthood is a heck of a hard job and there’s some stuff out there that parents just have to fumble through while the rest of us stare on and root for you until the finish line (wherever that might be O.o).

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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      1. The issue I would have with “clean” YA is how do you define clean? It can be so subjective. And some people feel a book isn’t “clean” if it contains LGBT characters, or witchcraft, or bi-racial families, etc. Which by no means at all is that my idea of a “clean” book. In the end, as with many things, it really comes down to the parent to guide their child to age-appropriate books. Although I do wish there was a “tween” book category.😃Middle-grade, tween, teen/YA, and New Adult…that would be a wonderful stepping stone of books! And, I don’t have too many problems with the addition of steamy scenes in a YA or New Adult book. Unless it is sex as a substitution for an actual plot! 😊

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      2. That’s why I think warnings are a good way to go, but honestly, it may not be fair, but I don’t care if a parent feels that LGBT isn’t “clean”. That isn’t something that needs a warning or anything else – unless, again, explicit sex or violence or whatever. I think the people who have problems with that being included in their children’s literature are already teaching them worse things than any mature YA book will. That’s teaching them intolerance.

        So yes, parents should be the guide. But what’s the point if that’s their guidance?

        As for tween, I think it’s there, you just have to sift through. Making another category isn’t a bad idea, but it constitutes the same as clean ultimately. After all, why wouldn’t there be LGBT in a tween category? People realize that about themselves very young, too. So unless it’s an age of the characters thing (which it may very well be, but that is going to be middlegrade then, so you’re really talking about higher vocabulary and construction… which you can find in middlegrade if you look), having an additional category might not be as useful. It might save time for parents sifting through books, but maybe not because you’re still left with what people think belongs in that category, just like with a clean rating.

        I don’t know. Again, I don’t have a child so it’s all just thinking out loud. I just hope that finding appropriate reading material doesn’t turn too much into a lack of exposure and too much censorship.

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      3. “I just hope that finding appropriate reading material doesn’t turn too much into a lack of exposure and too much censorship.” Absolutely! And you would be amazed at some of the reasons why some parents don’t let their kids read certain books. My daughter’s favorite book in preschool was Charlotte’s Web…I had more than one parent that thought it was inappropriate for her age to read by herself at that age because a character dies. ?! And I have had heard similar type of remarks about other children’s books over the years, and about our decision to let her read a wide variety of comic books, not just the kid-centric ones (she loves the Justice League, and Sailor Moon). We have always let our daughter read whatever she wanted to, but if I see that a certain book is giving her nightmares or freaking her out, I will ask her to put it down and choose something else. And I do come along with her and take a look at what she chooses when she branches out into the YA section.

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  6. You pose a lot of interesting ethical and moral questions that really grabbed me as a sociologist who looks at gender and sexuality, as well as a writer. Sex is very complicated and our relationship to sex, society, and medical science is all very complicated. For instance if there was a book you read at 15 with very steamy scenes involving the also 15 year old protagonists that arouses you for the rest of your life are you a pedophile? If you fantasize about your first sexual encounter at age 16 are you a pedophile? A lot of arguments logically follow through to yes. And, as a sociologist, I can’t help but acknowledge that so much of this culturally informed and that setting any moral absolutes on this subject and related ones outside of legal law may be pointless. Age and sexuality are not so much regulated by logic as by emotion and morality. For good reason in many cases, but I often wonder whether this is a subject we can ever make piece with as people or as writers. If you think about brain development alone…most brains finish developing only around the age 25, so is anyone under 25 fully capable of consent? Then you think about a hundred plus years ago and…by definition many people were, under modern standards, marrying children who grew into productive members of society more or less. At the end of the day all we can do is try not to glorify harmful practices.

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    1. I think you’ve brought up a lot of interesting points! In the end, sexuality is very complicated and we as a society make it even more so. Age of consent lines are blurred across state and national lines. People’s opinions of the morality of sex vary based on religion, upbringing, and exposure. It’s all pretty crazy and confusing and it’s harder still because people get all weird when talking about it. And ultimately, all I have are opinions – but I’ve got a lot of them! 🙂

      First, as I mentioned, reading about a 15-year-old having sex explicitly doesn’t necessarily make you a pedophile. Because the author created the work using words that were specifically designed to arouse and that’s not necessarily something we have control over. HOWEVER, I think when you deliberately seek out that sexual gratification through reading about children having sex, that is different. And it can get even more complicated than that, because sometimes you push aside the idea of them being 15 (or whatever) and instead think of them as adults. Does that change things? I think, ultimately, we have to say that it doesn’t. Because what if they were 12? Suddenly, that’s pretty disturbing. (I wouldn’t be okay with that for any reader, really, but that’s besides the point here.) So, really, I think that the books have to be based on the legal age of consent, and even that’s complex, because it varies so greatly across the board.

      And I know what you’re talking about as far as the age of consent changing and kids marrying young before – but there’s a reason that practice has changed. We also used to pee in the same place we drank. Most people agree that was a pretty bad practice. So society changes, not always for the better, but with that aim at least, in an effort to implement what we learn about people, chemistry, physics, etc. Which means, yeah, people could marry at 12 before and that was fine – but that was also because people didn’t live very long and childhood survival rates were low to begin with. Does that mean it was okay? Maybe, maybe not. Does that mean it was a little more necessary? Probably. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay today, just because it was, at some point, okay. Child marriages *do* cause psychological problems – and can cause physical ones. Which is why we have things like age of consent. And maybe they are different for everyone. Maybe what I was ready for at 16 wasn’t what my best friend was ready for at 16. But it doesn’t matter, in a sense, because for the purposes of protecting people as a whole, the age of consent is set a little higher for those that might be late bloomers.

      That being said, I know it’s a little hairy because physical maturity versus psychological maturity are different. And maybe the age of consent is even a little low. Maybe it should be closer to 25. I don’t know. I think we need a clear picture of where adulthood starts and childhood ends before making that decision – and right now, society deems 18 that point where you are no longer a child in society. That doesn’t mean it’s the correct age, but it’s where we draw the line. Necessary to protect kids, I think, and thus, I feel that it’s the age we have to work with for now. Because once you start making exceptions based on “well, this 16 year old is much more mature so it’s okay to consent”, then you can’t really protect anyone, because it sets a precedent.

      Like I said, in the end, I don’t know. I just know what I am and am not comfortable with. I don’t think erotica has a place in YA, because of the wide range of readers – and our own ideas of age of consent. It makes the whole subject a little sticky. At the very least, I think I’d like some warnings, so that the individual can make judgement calls if the society as a whole cannot.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! 🙂

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      1. You make a lot of great points once again! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. I guess this is just complicated, and as writers I feel like we can only use our best judgement. Thanks for reading my comment.

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  7. I pretty much agree with you that there’s a place for sex in YA, but not extremely explicit sex. I think our society does still learn towards the fact that teens shouldn’t be having *much* sex, even if we recognize many teens do have sex. We kind of want them to have stable relationships and safe sexual encounters. We don’t like the idea of minors being sexually promiscuous, for whatever reasons. So I think parents assume YA will, in fact, not be very sexually explicit. As you mention, many people read YA–and that includes readers who are, say, twelve-years-old and have a high reading level. Most parents don’t want to censor or vet everything their kids read, so they rely on general categories like “middle grade” and “young adult” to give them some sense of what the content will be. Many parents would be shocked if their kids were reading something that amounted to “YA erotica.”

    I’ve also seen a lot of people think that sex might be *too* prevalent in YA, only because they themselves did not have sex or are not having sex as a teen. But they get the impression from many YA books that frequent sex is “normal” and there is something weird about being an abstinent teen. I think part of YA’s goal should be making everyone feel accepted and valued, so some books without sex, or without very explicit or unrealistic sex, is a good idea.

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  8. Honey, I agree with your post 100%. I think NA should be more separated from YA, for those terms get interchanged quite frequently. I think you hit the nail on the head. And, if I’m going to use a book in the classroom, I would prefer it not to have sex in it at all, because you know parents would go ape shit.
    I like Gena Showalter, but Alice in Zombieland, to me, sometimes falls into the NA category. The sex isn’t “explicit” per se, but my 12 year old niece almost received it as a gift, and she’s too young to be reading steamy scenes. That’s the problem also with a lack of distinction between middle grade and YA, too. It seems like so many people want to hop on the “YA” popularity train, and this is causing books to be grouped in there that have no place in the category.
    My thesis paper is going to be on the use of contemporary YA books in the classroom, so I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lol. 😂

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  9. Hey there, loved this post. I found myself asking the same questions recently as I got ready for my first novel to be published. It was a coming of age, girl goes away to university story… I was “thinking” it was young adult lit, but then realized it had lots of sexy stuff (graphic sex, sexual assault etc.) I was told it was “New Adult” which is, from my understanding young adult type fiction, but with more sexy content. Young adult + sex+ drug content in my book that makes it feel like I can’t slap the YA label on it.

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    1. Hi! Thanks for reading. Can I ask what novel you’ve written?

      And I think genre is something everyone gets a little mixed up on, especially when it comes to YA. I like to treat YA more as the age of the characters in your novel, but also with the understanding of who your target audience is, so I prefer to avoid sexy times in YA personally. When you say university, I automatically think NA because you’ll probably have 18+ characters who have more adult situations – but maybe stillact similar to teens. So that sounds pretty spot on to me! But again, genre and age range gets so complicated especially these days so it always feels like we’re playing by ear.

      Thanks again for reading and sharing! 🙂

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      1. Hey, sure it’s called “Dancing with Ghosts” comes out March 9th, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33948943-dancing-with-ghosts. Personally, I’m just learning more about genres as I go. In school (I have a degree in English) I don’t really remember hearing the term “New Adult,” but my degree was several years back. I think the Young Adult/ vs. New Adult distinction you highlighted is significant, but the term “New Adult” isn’t well know enough. For instance, if I told one of my friends who reads a bit, but isn’t a heavy reader that I wrote a “New Adult” book, they’d likely need an explanation. But, if I say I wrote a “Young Adult” book they’d likely have an idea of what that is. I wonder what that means for book marketing? Thanks again for the thoughtful post.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s a really good point and I agree. New Adult is a pretty new term and it’s there to cover this hazy area between Adult and YA. I don’t like marketing NA as YA though, because while I understand that it gives a slightly better idea of style – and sometimes concept – it leaves out key things about a novel, usually laced in subject matter that a lot of the readership for YA aren’t looking for. I’ve read NA marketed as YA and it made me dislike the book, even though it wasn’t bad. This is because it wasn’t at all what I was expecting and that has a lot to do with marketing, which I think is the main reason we now have NA. Anyway, I’ll add Dancing with Ghosts to my reading list and keep an eye out for it in March! Thanks 🙂

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      3. Thanks for the support! I agree, it’s unfair to the reader and is poor marketing to label a text as something it isn’t. I hope over the next few years NA becomes a well-known genre. Even goodreads doesn’t have it in the drop box for genre options.

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