Sex Sells, But Should Young Adults Buy Into It?

It’s everywhere we look – In magazines, television, movies, books, bedrooms, back seats of cars…you the idea.  There’s no escaping it.  I don’t care how “good” we claim to be, we’ll look.  We’re curious about the body, what it looks like (more importantly, what other bodies look like).  Let’s admit it and move on – naked bodies or scantily clad bodies – are a complete turn on.  We shamelessly flock to online sites en masse and hoot our approval.  For the males, they have the Hooter Girls, the Jaegermeister models, and a long list of others scantily clad women toting tools, beer bottles, and motorcycles.

Us women love, love, love it!  We create it!  Look at what CJ West is doing for the cause!  (By the way, comment on his challenge post and you could win a $500  Amazon gift certificate – but the biggest prize is to get CJ shirtless!)om 1953…

What about brain candy?  Look at the success of Fifty Shades of Grey Sex, sex, and more sex.  And the public is eating it up!  Then there’s Gabriel’s Inferno and the eagerly anticipated The Winemaker’s Dinner (available July 31, 2012).  It’s all about the seduction that makes us squirm (in the very pleasurable sense of the word).

Which brings me to my original topic.  How young is too young for readers to be exposed to sex in literature?  Where should we draw the line?  Should we draw the line?

I’m not advocating it one way or another, because that is a purely personal opinion for authors and the parents of young readers to deal with.  What I have observed, though, is the fact that these young adults are getting younger and are already well-schooled about the ins and outs (yes, pun intended) of sex, the very same stuff some of us try to keep out of their hands.

Let’s face it.  The act of sex is primal.  Used for procreation or not, there is, at various levels, arousal.  None of us are immune to it.

In my day job as a medical transcriptionist, I’ve lost count of how many reports I’ve typed regarding 14-year-olds who go to the emergency room due to complications from their pregnancy.  As much as I’m against babies having babies, the reality is that they know all about sex and keeping it out of books probably isn’t going to stop them from doing the wild thing.  In fact, they’ll see it, read it, and do it if they want.

A friend of mine understands that mentality, and even though her son is only 14 years old, he has a girlfriend, so she keeps a stack of Trojans within his reach.  Just in case.

When I was in seventh grade, there was a couple who spent every lunch, every recess playing throat hockey and copping feels.  Sheesh.  If they did that in public, one could only guess what they did in private.

I’ve been told by a few teens that they’ve read my novel, Again, which has a few choice sex scenes ranging from sweetly intimate to raw. (My guess is that they actually skimmed the book for the “best parts” and ignored the rest.) And they seemed rather proud of themselves for having read it.  I totally cringe at the thought, but then I remind myself of the time when I was 12 or 13 and the stuff I got my hands on. *shrugs*  Whaddya gonna do?

I’m not going to tell you if I wrote any sex into my next Young Adult novel, Souled, or not, because that would be a total spoiler, but suffice it to say, I kept it as real as possible.  I would love to hear your thoughts.  Is there a line you draw as a reader or writer?  What are your beliefs?

About Diana Murdock

California-grown, writer of contemporary and YA paranormal with enough energy to write, raise two boys, run, and dream.

Posted on May 30, 2012, in Paranormal, Reincarnation, Souled, Teenager, Uncategorized, Writing, YA Novels, Young Adult and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Nancy J Nicholson

    Diana, You bring up great points. Having just sent my teenagers into adulthood, I had a terrible time educating them appropriately. I may have had a plan, but life and outside influences have plans as well. I guess it doesn’t matter what we put in our books as long as we attempt to add the moral questions as well.

    • I’m right there with you, Nancy. I’ve got a 17-year-old and the things that come out of his mouth. Wow. Stuff I certainly never told him. At least putting realistic scenes in books could keep their minds on the right track. Or not.

  2. Jillian Dodd - Glitter, Bliss and Perfect Chaos

    Teenagers are having sex and they have been for a long time. It’s not new to this generation. I think sex has to fit the character. In my first book, the main character was a virgin until her Freshman year of college, which I honestly thought was unusual but it fit her. My new series has a seventeen year old who is sexually active. It fits who she is. I think as long as you stay true to the character and not write in sex just because it sells, then you’ve written a compelling story.
    I remember in seventh grade our library couldn’t keep in Judy Blume’s book, Forever, because there was S E X in it!!

    • I don’t think there’s any point in sugar coating anything and as writers need to do as you suggest, Jillian, include sex only if it works as part of the story. There’s just no way around it.

  3. Great post Diana and great comment Jillian. Guys aren’t known for writing great sex scenes I know. But I got some advice from Elizabeth Benedict at Crimebake a few years ago. She gave a talk on writing sex and suggested that sex like any other act in your novel should tell us something about the characters. If it is just sex, it is not carrying its weight.

    I have two daughters who are getting to *that* age. Teenage sex hits home for me right now. I know what other kids are doing. I’m not sure if it is worse than what we did as kids or not. But sex in our culture is unavoidable. I think that’s because it is one of the most powerful forces in our experience.

    • Thanks, CJ. Two daughters…yikes. But good point you have there. The sex should be like any other action scene. It should be there for a reason and that is to keep the flow moving.

      • Did I mention they were teens?

        When I consulted on the screenplay for Sin & Vengeance, there was a definite expectation that there would be sex in the movie. Some guys go to a movie to see half-naked women. I guess there probably are some readers (not mystery readers) who have that expectation too. But I really took Elizabeth’s comments to heart.

      • Teens???? I had always wanted a girl, but then when I thought back to when I was a teen… No way. Birth control at its finest. I’ll be with you in spirit, CJ, as your own girls grow older. And the way men and women see sex, Mars and Venus.

  4. Wonderful post Diane and lots to think about. I liked Jillian’s comment about how it’s about ensuring it fits the character and CJ had a great point that it should move the story forward and not be there just for wow-factor. I think it’s important to keep your target audience in mind but at the same time, you can’t let your fear of “too much or too little” cramp your creativity. I guess it always comes down to doing and writing what feels right to you…and being ok with that! 🙂

    • The “fear” you speak of got to me in my first novel, although that was for adults. I just didn’t want to offend anyone and at the same time didn’t want other readers wanting more. I finally let it go and wrote what I felt the characters would do. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Some writers (and readers) immediately shake their heads when asked about sex in the YA books, while others are either undecided or totally fine with it. So, here you have it – just like you said, “that is a purely personal opinion”.

    Last weekend I decided to finally explain the basics of sexual education to my ten-year-old son. He started to ask questions, and I didn’t want him to get “informed” by his friends. I want my kids to feel comfortable with the subject and with discussing it with me. Hopefully, when they are ready to become sexually active, they won’t hide that from me. It might seem weird now, but I firmly believe that there is time for everything in life, and some choices can be made much better and easier if a person knows what’s involved before, during and after.

    Same with sex in YA books – we have to realize that the teens actively search for information (and for those entertaining book and movie scenes), which is freely available everywhere, especially on the Internet. It depends on a book, its plot and characters – some books just read better with a bit of sex in them. And if YA genre “policy” forbids any of such content, the readers will get their hands on the adult books. Easy as one, two, three. A writer can’t police what his/her readers will read. It is their choice, no matter how much we disagree with that.

    • Awesome, Angela! You are so right. Some parents may frown on their children reading about sex, but it’s out there and they’ll get it.

      I remember my talk with my oldest. He initiated the conversation so I showed him pictures and the whole explanation and eventually his eyes just glazed over. He hasn’t asked since, but yeah, he knows and has known for a long time, and a lot more than I ever got into.

      So, let everyone have their opinion, and we’ll just write. 🙂

  6. Great post Diana. I have read several posts on this subject and have been following a dialogue about this subject on Goodreads. I agree with what Jillian and Natalie said. It has to fit the character and the story. It can’t be there simply for shock value, but must be there to reveal something about your characters. Kids are going to find sex whether it be in your book or another if that’s what they are looking for. Write your story and if the scene organically happens, let your story unfold.

    I think the important thing to remember is that in a YA book you can deliver the scene in a way that is better suited for a YA audience than if they go search it out in the adult section of the book store.

    • I agree 100% with the tone and level of the sexual encounter in a YA. The same scene can definitely be toned down for the younger adults. At least we have control over that. Thanks for your thoughts!

  7. Now this is a question. . . I’ve always been a believer in writing what needs to be written but hold oneself accountable to whether or not the racy parts are an integral part of the storytelling or if it is simply convenient.

    Watching some old movies (Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn Bringing Up Baby or Doris Day/Rock Hudson Pillow Talk or Audrey Hepburn/Humphrey Bogart Sabrina) I see a lot of smart, sexy plot lines but they are *so* cleverly done. I think this nuance is missing in many stories, and it appears some writers opt to write the sex than to create a seductive, sexy, sensual scene.

    • Hey, Bridgette. The foreplay can sometimes be way better than the act itself. I’m going to start paying closer attention to see how many novels actually use that technique. Excellent point!

  8. Very thought provoking post, Diana. You are right. Sexual interest has been around forever. What has changed, I believe, is that it’s now aimed at youth– younger than ever before. Writers must make their own choices about how or if they present sexual encounters to children. Yes, I think 16 or under are still children even if they don’t. It’s also up to the writer to use these encounters as part of the story and not just to entice. I look at the comments and it shows how our values have changed.

    Great post, Diana!

    • Hey, Dannie! It bothers me a bit that the age bar has been lowered, but it is what it is and as writers we need to be mindful of the innocence and write accordingly – as only the story allows. I wonder if the values are different in Thailand than in the States?

      • Sorry for the late reply– been busy editing. In the rural parts of Thailand it is not uncommon for a girl to marry at 12 and up. Having children at 13 and up. And the marriage if not arranged is controlled by the bride-price. It may sound terrible to a western mind but here it is a way of life and the young girls are not forced. It is still sad to me to see a young life strapped to thedrudgery of poverty.

      • Wow. A completely different mindset, isn’t it? That part of the Thailand culture is hard to comprehend. Willing or not, a 12 year old needs to be a child, I think. Thanks for sharing that with us, Dannie!

  9. Hmm? I think what you noted about sex being everywhere we turn is the heart of the matter. Now, were it up to me, my teenage boys would be out in the evenings, my wife would never be tired and I would never have to be in bed by 8:30 pm in order to get up at 3:00 am during the week. With that in mind, being that I’m only 43 and far from dead, the only way I “survive” – to put it as bluntly as I’m willing to put it – is to keep my mind clear of as much of that as I possibly can. It’s self-preservation. It simply does me no good to be constantly thinking about it when it ‘ain’t happenin’, especially when the “package” arrives on a Thursday and I know it’s going to be another week.
    Too real? Well, you asked… 😉
    If I don’t hear from you, you have a great weekend, D. *waves*


    • Jimmy! Always so exciting to have you visit! My heart goes out to you, my friend, for your plight. I’m there with you on the energy scale, and with the incredibly hot posts my friends put up every week…yeah. One day, Jimmy, your writing will allow you to stay home and write – and then some.

      Hugs headed your way!!

    • Jimmy, I feel for your plight, but OMG this comment had me in stitches. I’m sorry…it was the “package” that got me.

      • *laughs* Yeah, I figured I didn’t have to explain that one to the ladies. I probably had one glass of wine too many when I hit the post comment button that night, but what the hey! What’s a little TMI amongst pals?!?
        Since I had you laughing already I figured I would stalk you a bit. You’ll see me on your blog and Twitter now. Any friend of Diana’s is a buddy of mine! Orange County, Ca., huh? Greetings from the Fresno area. *waves*

      • I’m so happy you feel comfortable enough to give us a sneak peek inside your mind, Jimmy. And no, no explanation was necessary. 🙂

        Jenny is awesome, as I’m sure you’ll find out. Her posts are ho-larious! Just make sure you’re not drinking beverages of any kind when you read them!

  10. I entered teens in a pre to primitive Internet era, satellite channels were a new concept in part of world I was growing up & they were bombarding sexuality; suggestive & often crude. That was the time families had only one TV in home & so teens will shop around and huddle at a place where adults are absent around the most entertaining” shows. I know the prior generations heavily relied on print media. Things are much simpler for the current generation with Internet on hand (literally with smart phones & tablets). Back then & even now I think for most part sexuality begins more as a curiosity in pre-teens & teens and evolves into an interest. Some limit their interest to a experimentation level while some turn that interest into a habit at times to a level of an addiction. So whether you mention it in your work in a pure or subtle form, minds will find it’s way to some how satiate their curiosity. So I guess as an Author I’d say one shouldn’t curb their creativity & be honest to the thoughts when describing the act in the work.

    • Hi Yatin!! Good to see you again! I love your comment: “So I guess as an Author I’d say one shouldn’t curb their creativity & be honest to the thoughts when describing the act in the work.”

      Brilliantly said. Youth will find ways around everything they are forbidden from, so I agree. Write as appropriate and worthy of the story.

  11. My husband have talked about this extensively. I got into sex younger than he did (he was in college) and, although I knew all the biological data, in retrospect I wish I’d known what it *meant*.

    We plan to do all the “regular” sex education but also to pay much more attention to the emotional side of sex. We want our daughter to know what it means inside her heart and mind, as well as to her body.

    • That’s an awesome approach, Jenny. One I haven’t heard any parent take before. I learned it all from my friends who were much more experienced in that department than I. Even then, I had no clue at all. So high fives to you for taking such a proactive approach!

  12. WOW. great post, Diana. And lots of good questions. As far as letting my kids read books with sexual content, they’re only 9..BUT I remember what I was reading by grade five and six. Anyway, I’ll be taking the same approach as my mother did. If the kids are able to read it, understand it and discuss it with me, they can read it. I won’t censor their books and I won’t censor them.
    Sex is everywhere it’s a fact of life and I think to shelter them, or sweep it under the rug is only setting them up for fall out in the future.
    BUT…it’s a very personal decision.
    Great post.

    • Hi Elena! I love your attitude on this. I know when I was younger, whenever I was “protected” from something, the more curious I was. I wish my mother had the same outlook as you do.

  13. Yeah, I’m thinking I agree with all the comments here and really feeling for poor old Jimmy up there! The package. I love that.

    Sex for sex sake (Fifty Shades, anyone?) can get boring and tedious. Now, I love me a good sex scene, but I don’t read YA. Would I want my 14 year old reading a sex scene? Probably not, but if he did, I’d hope he would feel comfortable discussing it with me. There is so much more to sex than the act itself. I remember my daughter read ‘The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ around the same age as the character in the book who had sex and she asked me a ton of questions. If you’ll recall, the girl who had sex was pretty freaked out by it and went into a self loathing/goth phase. My daughter wanted to know why so we talked about all the emotions that go along with the physical act of sex. I’m totally open with my kids about everything, so it’s never been a taboo subject for us. I think that helps, too. If a child is raised in a ‘sex is bad’ atmosphere, they are going to look for those titillating books. When you demystify something, then it doesn’t look as mysterious or appealing.

  14. I caught my 14 year old looking at porn the other week, during home schooling hours!! I was not happy!!
    I don’t care if he reads a book, with sex and love and what people do with each other, that is the creation of a clever mind writing a book!! But NOT PORN!!! Grrrr… it cheapens sex!
    It is animal instinct and we all do it! I was sexually abused by several people as a child and I know this tarnishes how I view the world, and I accept that, but I still think that although there is nothing wrong with peoples own fantasies and desires, I believe that the best sex is with a person whom you love, who loves you back! I don’t like the idea of my kids learning about cheap sex first, I would rather them read a book like ‘Again’ and see how this passion builds… I want them to have healthy and fulfilling relationships and I think we need to expose them to that kind of stuff…
    I have not read, nor do I want to read fifty shades of grey… I prefer a good story that grips me and if there is sex then so be it! But I never want the cheap version that porn offers.

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