in which i discuss sexual content in YA books


Hello, fellow bloggers!

Today, I’m bringing a very lengthy discussion on a matter that I’ve been thinking a lot about. This post was inspired by two other discussions I saw in the bookish community: ‘Do Books Give False Expectations for Relationships?’ by Clo @ Book Dragons and ‘Teens Are Losing YA‘, by Francina Simone.

Now, before I get into my thoughts, I just want to clarify that all the “sexual content” I refer here is the implied sex scenes. Obviously, YA won’t have any type of explicit sexual content, so I’ll be discussing here the implicit ones.


Why is there so much sex in YA?

I know some may disagree with me on this and say that, actually, they haven’t seen enough of sex in YA these days. I feel like it has a lot to do with genres. Because I read mostly contemporary, and these focus a lot on romance, you are more likely to see all the steps of their romantic relationship – thus the sex. As for fantasy/sci-fi, there’s typically way too much happening and the characters don’t have enough time to worry about it.


Now, even as a contemporary and romance lover, I still do not understand the inability to discuss relationships without mentioning sex. As I recognize that these two are intertwined, they are not co-dependent. As the asexual community tries to install: to have romantic feelings & sexual feelings are completely different. For some people, they come as a package deal; but not for everyone. Therefore, I don’t think it’s “unnatural” to follow a romantic relationship with no sex in them.


I am not 100% opposed to sexual content in YA books, though. I just wonder why do we have so much of it. And watching Francina Simone’s discussions kinda light up some of the few answers for that questioning.

The new-adult genre is pretty much populated by romance with a lot of explicit sex in them. And for authors that want to write about anything *else* than that – like desert-based fantasies or fluffy contemporaries with non-binary main characters -, new adult ends up not being the fitting space to do so. Therefore, they end up in YA.

But these characters are still sometimes thought to be slightly older than they actually are. I think we can all name a few books where our 16-year-old protagonists act like 25, and that’s probably because they should’ve been written like 25 year olds, but wouldn’t fit there either.

There are a lot of other reasons why the new-adult niche needs change ASAP and I won’t be discussing all of them now. But I do feel like there’s a lack of place for some stories now, and the consequences of that affect on the amount of sexual content in YA books.


The sexualization of underage characters

One of the main issues I find when we’re discussing sexual content on YA is that, at the end of the day, we are talking about underage people. I do understand that people do take part in sexual activity way before they’re legal, and pretending that they don’t is just fake, but sometimes, it can just rub me the wrong way.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed it in books, but rather more in shows. Take Riverdale, for example. I am aware that this show has more problems than I could count in one hand, but I feel like one people brush upon is the sexualization of their characters, who are supposed to be teenagers.

Like how Archie or Reggie are constantly seen shirtless, showing off their abs. Or Betty, exploring some borderline kinky sex. I feel like the show sometimes forgets that these characters are supposed to be 15~16.

Resultado de imagem para shirtless archie gif
let’s have shirtless archie because at least this is less cringe-y than “dark betty”

And even though I’ve never seen this come up explicitly in books, it doesn’t mean that the YA book fandom isn’t sexualizing the heck out of some characters. I know: they’re fictional, but it still makes me uncomfortable sometimes. I feel like YA needs to be a safe place for teenagers – including the fandom portion of it -, and the idea of characters your age being sexualized by other adult fans doesn’t really sound comfortable.


How is sex being represented on page

I think my main issue with the sexual content in YA lately is the way it’s represented. Sex is not a life-changing event. It doesn’t determine your worth as a person: whether you’ve had sex with 500 people or just one, it doesn’t say anything about who you are as a person.

One of the main reasons why I’ve refrained from discussions like this for so long is because sex has always made me super uncomfortable. (And I guess I still am – but for other reasons, mostly to due with my sexuality lol.) It’s always seemed like sex had to be this *big deal*, this turning point for all relationships. And I get it: it’s not like you can really get back your first time. But you can’t really get back the first time you listen to a song, or have ice-cream, and you don’t see no one is writing sonets about that.

My point is: YA needs to stop making sex sound like such a big deal. It’s time for us to discuss it naturally, and sometimes even awkwardly. Mostly, I think we need to stop to add sex right at the turning point of the story, because it just sustains the idea that it is a life-changing event when is not.

Books like All The Bright Places or When Dimple Met Rishi are perfect examples of that. Right before the story we know changes or we reach the climax and plot-twist, the protagonists have sex. It’s kinda like a weird premonition, and it’s more common in YA books than ever.

I do understand that almost all of the books I mentioned are ones with straight relationships. And I’m completely on board with defending more sexual content in queer books as well. My point is not banning sexual content from YA books forever, but just questioning the why’s and how’s this is taking place.

However, when it comes to queer books, I am also a fan of the idea of not including sex whatsoever. And this is not coming from a place of “I don’t want to read about gay sex”, but rather from a place of “why do I feel like most queer content is already oversexualized?

If you think about the queer characters you know from movies or shows, you’re most likely to remember them involved in a sex scene. Just think about movies like Call Me By Your Name or Carol. They all have explicit sexual content in them. And it’s somewhat refreshing sometimes to read about a queer love story that it’s still PG-13.

Again, I do still understand why queer sexual content is ground-breaking. This was a taboo concept for a really long time, and the fact we’re able to even see two men kissing on a screen is something to be celebrated. But there are pros and cons to everything.

Resultado de imagem para love simon gif

One of the main reasons why I adored Love Simon so much is because it was a gay rom-com that I could literally show to my whole family, with no fear of “looking obscene.” And I’ll never stop craving more stories like that.


Let’s discuss! Do you also feel like there’s way too much sex in YA? Or you’re okay about it? And how do you think this matter is being represented on page?


20 comentários sobre “in which i discuss sexual content in YA books

  1. I totally agree! Like I understand that sex is a turning point in a lot of people’s relationships, especially teenagers’, but we should see a lot more of unidealised relationships, like there are so many cute things that couples can do that are so underrated in books!

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  2. I actually watched Francine’s video before I read this post, since I erm can mostly remember what my post was about (also I’m so happy my post inspired this one eeeek)

    Honestly…my two pence on sex in YA is this.

    We don’t talk about it all the time, it’s not life changing BUT we are also teens and I think it’s important for YA books to include teens discussing sex. Not like they’re gonna do it right then and there, but more friends awkwardly bringing up the topic unsure if another will find it too awkward or uncomfortable.

    Give me the awkward, unsure couples (gxg/bxb/bxg etc) who maybe bring up the topic and they talk about it but don’t actually do it. Why? Well hey, it’s not like we talk about it and then the next minute we actually are doing it.

    Although I would love to see New Adult reappear more, honestly I mostly don’t much attention to whether it’s YA/NA/Adult I’m reading if the story sounds interesting i’ll give it a go. However I feel there’s not too much sex in YA, more like there’s too much “glamourised/perfect sex” in YA. Where it’s smoothed over and basically two teens know what they’re doing even if it’s their first time. I don’t think so…I’m sorry if I rambled? I kinda just typed my train of thought, anyway I loved this discussion post Lais!

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    • Thanks for the comment, Clo!
      I completely agree: I think we have way too much of the glamourised sex, and not enough of the awkwardness.
      I do wish we’d have more conversations about sex than anything too! I have yet to read books that feature it in a healthy manner, because I definitely agree it’s an important subject to be discussed. As a teenager, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something like that, and I don’t know why, truly. I think, perhaps seeing it in fiction will make it a more normalized topic of conversation?
      Thank you, once again, for the comment and for the amazing post that inspired this in the first place! 💛

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  3. I don’t think that there is too much sex in YA because I think that sex is a very pivotal in many teen’s lives. In a world where teens are often told to “wait until marriage” and are taught abstinence only education, I think it’s important for them to learn that safe sex is normal. Now on the same hand, I can understand how too much sex in YA can be uncomfortable, especially with aro/ace folks. Also, as someone who did not have sex in their teen years, I myself often felt that I wasn’t a “normal teen” because all the teens in my books would have sex. I think YA requires sex positivity, but also with a balance of books that don’t contain sex. Because some teens simply do not want to engage in sex! Either way, this was a great discussion, Lais!

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    • I’m so thankful for your comment, Emily, because I didn’t address or even fully thought about the situation of teenagers who are taught abstinence only education. This is quite far out of my reality – I don’t know a lot of teenagers who were taught that -, and I can definitely see why having a positive representation of sex in fiction is important for those people! So, definitely, thanks for reminding me of this. It’s another thing to take into consideration for this discussion! And thanks for the amazing comment! ❣️


  4. I was about to say that there are quite a few YA novels with explicit sex scenes, but now that you mentioned new adult, I’m not sure whether the novels I’m thinking of are YA or NA. In any case, coming from a fairly puritanical culture, I’ve always felt like sex scenes are very awkward to read, especially those that go into details. There’s even a Bad Sex in Fiction Award for ones that are particularly cringey. I greatly prefer the “fade-to-black” style.
    I definitely agree that a lot of books tend to portray that love = sex. It almost feel like they are making sex out to be the ultimate goal in a relationship, which is a rather unhealthy view of it. Huh, your point two has never crossed my mind before, but it’s true isn’t it? Even though the actors and actresses are of age, the characters they portray might not be.

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    • I think that as soon as a book has explicit sex, it’s sorted in new-adult. But the themes end up being so similar that it’s pretty tricky to tell them apart!
      And about the sexualization thing: I think people believe it’s not a big deal exactly because the actors are older, so technically they’re not sexualizing underage people. But their *characters* are still 15~16, so I still think it’s pretty weird.
      Thanks for the comment, Jamie! 😌

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  5. This is such an interesting discussion, Lais! I have to say that I agree with Emily’s comment, I feel like there should be the right balance between sex positivity in young adult books, which is something that really, really is important to show, but also romance without sex, no romance and no sex and so on. There are so many different ways to tackle this topic and, for every teen to see themselves represented and to see themselves able to relate to these kind of situations, it’s important to have books with and without, for me :)
    Great post!! :)

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  6. This is a really interesting discussion post!! I definitely agree with you about Riverdale– how are those characters 16?!?!? And I feel like that can be an issue in books (we definitely need the NA revolution)
    I get want you mean about sex being seen as too big of a plot point and life-changing event because for some people that isn’t the case and I do feel like we should see more about that in books. I think in general that needs to be more diversity around ‘sex’ itself because I feel like we all have different experiences with it and the time we choose to have it/ or choose to not have it. I also feel like that there can be pressure to have sex when your a teen because everyone is doing it so books should show that you shouldn’t ever feel pressured to either. Which is why increased diversity would be great to read about to accommodate everyone’s experience.
    And I agree with how it is written on the page is important because for YA readers sex is still a new thing for them so could be quite influential especially since not everyone talks about it in real life.
    Great post!!
    Also what did you think to the book ‘running with lions’???

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    • Hahah, I love how you put it: a NA revolution! Honestly, we do need one! Even if I’m not the target audience for that genre, I still feel like a lot can be changed to make that genre more appealing to other people as well.
      I completely agree with how you put it! Diversity around sex is super important, and sadly something we don’t see enough of, but it’s so meaningful to represent the various different experiences people have with sex growing up.
      I really liked Running with Lions! I think my only problem with the book was the fact that some of the characters were just mean for no reason and we didn’t have enough of a backstory for everyone. But, nonetheless, it was a super queer positive book, which I really appreciated!
      Thanks for the comment! 😊

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      • Haha yes that is a phrase I got of twitter from another blogger but I really like it!! Yes absolutely!!
        Yes it is great to give everyone a voice and books provide an amazing opportunity for that!!
        Aww… I am glad you enjoyed it– I was thinking of getting it at one point so you have definitely helped me to decide. I think I will check it out!!
        You’re welcome!! <3

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  7. Great post, Lais! I agree with you on so many points. I think someone should ask ‘why’ are they adding sex scenes on the book, is it because it adds value to the book or just because for the sake of it? I’m all for sex positivity, but there should be a healthy balance.
    Also, Riverdale made me very, very uncomfortable too, and I gave up on it after a couple of episodes. I couldn’t understand how my friends loved it so much!

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    • Riverdale has a looooot of issues as a show, and even though I find it entertaining, I still think it’s a bit problematic. I think it’s a show meant for teenagers, but that clearly was not written by someone who fully understands teenagers.
      Thank you so much for stopping by, Marta! 😌

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  8. Oh no! I came back to see if you had replied to my comment, but it looks like it never went through :(
    It was a long one, but essentially I love that you posted about this, it’s an important issue to me, and I like a lot of the points you discussed.

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    • I’m so sorry that it didn’t went through, Shayna! I would have loved to read your comment, I’m sure! Nonetheless, I’m so thankful that you enjoyed my post! 💛 It was very nice writing it, so I really appreciate that you went back to it and read it through!


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