Sunset without shadows


Let me start off by saying I’ve read more YA in the past three years, than I did as a young adult, or teenager, or adolescent or young person or whatever it is we’re supposed to call homo sapiens between twelve and eighteen. That said, the total number of YA books I’ve read all of is probably under twenty five.


Cory Doctorow is both right and wrong. What is he right and wrong about? Well, he states that teen sex belongs in Teen Lit, and it that he’s right. What he’s wrong about is why. He’s got a limited, and some might say prudish reason for s-e-x being in books. While it is a passable reason, my disagreement is more in the manner of scope than kind.


Sex belongs in literature[a], because art imitates life. Sex is not only the most hardwired form of human interaction it is one that occupies the attention of most humans on a pretty regular basis. Despite the best efforts of quacks who call themselves psychologists, the entire Victorian Era, various religions movements large and small, and others more motivated more by ick than facts sex is going to continue to be a part of peoples lives in ways that the small minded don’t approve of. While one can argue that teens have no business having sex, it’s really not a very good argument. It’s an activity with both social and biological pressure driving one towards it. It’s an activity that well is enjoyable and when you come right down to it is the only interaction between equals or near equals that is necessary for the continuation[b] of the species.


Further, the inclusion of sex in literature, can be used for a number of reasons. Not simply to push a characters or writers agenda or ideology, or to provide boogeyman stories about the dangers, but to present some of the reason why a teen might, or might not choose to have sex. Despite the positioning of some[c] simply because a writer chooses to have a character choose sex, or not doesn’t mean they are encouraging young adults to do the same, regardless of the consequences, assuming there are any, to their activities. It’s no more true that a writer who’s two sixteen year old characters decide to slip between the sheets is advocating that others do so than it is one they have one character kill another, consume an adult beverage, get into a fight, or take some more aggressive risk.


So in the simplest, shortest terms I can muster: Sex belongs in books for young adults because it’s a part of their lives, possibly in a way their parents would approve of, possibly not, but so are drugs, death, bad hair and early morning classes, regardless of anyone’s opinion of them, and taking that important an interaction entirely out of the landscape of human behavior is like painting pictures of sunset without shadows.






[a] (where appropriate to the story)


[b] The debate over the value of which is one which can be had later.

[c] And I don’t include anyone specifically in that statement.

  • That's a pretty good assesment of it. Do you mind if I link to this?

  • I agree with your main point, though I strongly disagree about the entire Victorian era being "against sex." Read Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, which is about the tension between society's expectation that girls be "pure" and the difficulties of attraction without knowing how to handle it.

    • Have you ever seen, "The Road to Wellsville?" 🙂 Those Victorians were N.A.S.T.Y!

      • I haven;t–but I've read a lot of letters, memoirs, as well as Victorian age fiction, finding that they had exactly as much interest in sex as anyone else, but like humans everywhere, managed to mess up their own minds in various ways.

        • It always amazes me how complicated humanity seems, yet how simple human beings really are.

  • I Agree. Problem of sex in YA, and more particularly in MG, is not whether it should be there, but how to handle it.
    My WIP is set in a Baptist boarding school with severe rules of behavior. There is interstellar intrigue going on that has nothing to do with sex. The reader can suppose stuff happens off-page, but it has nothing to do with the plot.
    But YA characters are teens, and they date. With teens, there will be banter. They tease each other about real or imaginary indiscretions. The reader needs to see this for the sake of verisimilitude. They're going to give more attention to dating than to the interstellar smuggling and slave trade going on.
    Although really, I'm more concerned about violence.

  • I agree with Cory in that it's part of a kid's life, part of the risks kids take. I do think that's over-simplifying, but that's Cory. He's got so much in his head that I don't think the subtler aspects of things make it all the way out, perhaps because it doesn't occur to him that what is plain and simple to him hasn't even been considered by someone else.
    Your points are well-considered and explained, and I agree totally. Human beings are hard-wired for sex, and a few thousand years of societal squashing of such hard-wiring isn't going to do anything to change that; all it does is cause dysfunctions, sexual hangups and a lot of frustration. We are a society. We can't go around boinking anything that comes our way when the mood strikes, but expecting a teenager NOT to have sex is like expecting the tide not to come in.
    BUT–when it comes to sex (and violence for that matter) in books, whether YA or adult, it's all about, "does it move the story along." If it's in there just because sex exists in real life, well then you have to add in your characters going to the bathroom too. (George Martin did a stellar scene with the latter example that not only did move the plot along, but had been set up almost from the beginning of the Song of Fire and Ice saga. The man is a genius, I swear.)
    Ok, I ramble. Nothing here you don't know anyway. It's Sunday, the Jets don't play and the Giants will likely lose again. I have to get my thrills somewhere!