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.
BOOKS I’VE READ WITH IMPLIED SEXUAL CONTENT IN THE PAST 5 MONTHS:
- Hero at the Fall, by Alwyn Hamilton;
- The Wicked Deep, by Shea Earnshaw;
- Running With Lions, by Julian Winters;
- The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland, by Rebekah Crane;
- Queens of Geek, by Jen Wilde;
- A List of Cages, by Robin Roe;
- Odd One Out, by Nic Stone;
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.
BOOKS I’VE READ WITH ROMANCE BUT NO SEXUAL CONTENT IN THE PAST 5 MONTHS:
- American Panda, by Gloria Chao;
- The Way You Make Me Feel, by Maurene Goo;
- Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz;
- Let’s Talk About Love, by Claire Kann; (featuring an ace MC, btw.)
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.
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.
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?