This topic has come up many, many times on many, many blogs. It has also come up on Twitter and Facebook and Goodreads and who knows what other social networking sites. And every time, I give my opinion.
Frankly, it's getting to the point where I just need a blog post that I can link to and say, "Here. This is what I think about this subject."
Here. This is what I think about this subject:
I feel that sex in YA books is pretty much the same as it is in adult books. That is, I feel like it belongs there so long as it is an actual, functioning part of the story.
I assume that pretty much everybody is having sex. And remember, I'm writing stories for the LDS (clean-cut Christian) romance market. If my characters aren't having sex, they will. Eventually. I also know that this whole no-sex-before-marriage thing is pretty unique and the majority of people over the age of seventeen are having sex, at least intermittently.
I also assume that pretty much everybody ate dinner last night.
I also assume that pretty much everybody cleans their bathroom, at least intermittently.
But I don't need to read about it. If it isn't moving the story forward, I don't need to read about it. Period.
I've never read a book in which a good bathroom-cleaning scene was laid out in excruciating detail. And dinner is rarely discussed for its own sake, it's usually the conversation being had over dinner that takes center stage. Why, then, do authors put so much sex in their books, even when it doesn't move the story forward?
Because it's exciting. Duh.
It piques a reader's interest. It gets a sixteen year old to feel like she's reading something "naughty" and keeps her turning the pages. It lets bored housewives explore a taboo that they wouldn't have otherwise tapped into (I'm looking at you, 50 Shades of Grey) (clarification: I'm talking about you, 50 Shades of Grey. Not looking. Not reading. Not ever.)
It's a cheap way of keeping the pages turning without actually doing a whole lot of work to create good characters, stories or worlds.
There are times when sex (or violence, or language, or substance use/abuse) actually does matter to the story. A girl gets pregnant... there was obviously a preceding act. We need to know about it. Consensual? Not? Safe? Not? Committed, loving partner? Not? Now, that doesn't mean that I need to read all the gritty details. Knowing what order she touched what body parts and how it made him feel at the time makes NO difference to the story (that's the cheap ploy rearing its ugly head again). However, knowing why the sex happened, how it makes her feel afterward and what it means to both partners? THAT MATTERS.
I also think it needs to make sense for the characters. To use a ridiculous, well-known hypothetical, let's look at Hermione Granger. She didn't have sex with Viktor Krum. Even if no sex was detailed on the pages of Harry Potter (and we assume that at least a good percentage of the over-seventeen-crowd was having sex), we would know that Hermione did not have sex with Krum. It just doesn't make sense- it would be at odds with her character. She's careful, deliberate and level-headed. She's dating Krum for two reasons: 90% to make Ron jealous, and 10% because it's a little exciting to be the object of a superstar's affections, regardless of how fleeting she knows it is. Neither of those purposes are served by her having sex with him.
The reasons for sex need to make sense for the characters, regardless of age. The type of sex- consensual, protected, etc- needs to make sense (if Hermione and Ron start going at it, they are going to be safe about it, because that's who Hermione is: she isn't an unnecessary risk-taker. Pansy Parkinson might let Malfoy get away with not putting on a condom because she is obsessed with him in an unhealthy way.).
The consequences- for good or for bad- need to make sense for the characters. And the way they deal with those consequences needs to make sense. It needs to be true to the characters, the situation, the time, the world, everything. Yes, that means that sometimes there will be negative consequences. Sex results in babies and STDs (despite protection, often), regardless of age, race or anything else. Sex also results in EMOTIONS. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but almost always complicated. If these aren't addressed, it's obvious. And I'm a little flabbergasted by the number of characters in books who are having sex and aren't having ANY consequences of any kind, honestly.
Again, this applies to YA and adult books, and can be applied just as broadly to violence and substance use/abuse, too. I am not one for pretending that the world is all squeaky-clean sunshine and rainbows, but I do firmly believe that these things need to have a reason to be in your story.
Other wise it's just another cheap trick.
What do you think?