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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Sexytimes In YA Books

I was listening to SLJ’s SummerTeen, and during the Rockin’ Women of YA session Jackie Morse Kessler mentioned that she uses Jackie Kessler for her grown up books. It got me thinking of Andrea Cremer’s recent book deal to write an erotica trilogy. Sometimes authors use the same name for different genres (Ally Carter or Sophie Jordan), sometimes not (Meg Cabot, at one point).

And that got me thinking about teens reading; and how teens read what they want. (Thank you, Captain Obvious).

No, really — when I was a teen (and yes, there were teen books back then!) I read everything, adult and teen, romance, fantasy, historical fiction, etc. I wasn’t limited to the young adult section for my choices, and neither was I shamed from reading young adult because “smart teens only read adult” or some such. (That said, I certainly went through my “I’m a smart kid so I’ll read fancy pants books” period. I’m looking at my teen reading overall, not one particular time period.)

From the teens I observe in the library, they mostly approach reading the same way: they read broadly. They read a bunch of things. Some teen, some adult.

Which got me wondering about people who don’t want certain things addressed in young adult books. Pretty much, if teens want to read about certain things, they will find those books.

So, my question for you.

When you were a teen, what did you read when you wanted to read about the sexytimes or romance? I read a bunch of Harlequin and Harlequin type titles. Lace by Shirley Conran, Judith Kranz books, titles like that. I was lucky in that Norma Klein was popular, so I also had some more realistic books addressing teens and sex and romance. Forever by Judy Blume, obviously. But, definitely, not as many as today.

Teen readers may go to the adult romance section; but they also will be looking in the YA Section. Sometimes, it’s just nice to read about people your age. So, yes, teens go to the YA section. To see and find titles with characters closer to their age and their experiences; books that are more realistic. So now that I’ve asked what you read when you were a teen, what are some of the best, current, realistic views of sex in YA books?

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Oh lord, it was the opposite. I ACTIVELY AVOIDED sexytimes in books. (Actually, I still don’t care for sex scenes). I was kind of against romance in books in general, unless it was very well woven into a story that was mainly about something else. When I DID want romance, I went for polite romantic comedy, mostly Austen. Actually to this day the book I go to when I’m actually in the mood for swoony romance is Persuasion.

    And personally, I like when teen books acknowledge that we WEREN’T all dating as teens. That some of us were unpopular wallflowers who didn’t get kissed until they’d been able to legally drink for 8 months. That we had unrequited crushes. OH the unrequited crushes, that were so consuming and powerful but NEVER WENT ANYWHERE. Either because the other person was uninterested OR because we never acted in any useful way on our feelings. Or the countless gay kids whose best friends were NOT coincidentally also gay or bi or questioning (that always bugged me in books. What were the CHANCES of that. My best friend was a lesbian, and I TOTALLY would have MARRIED her except for NOT BEING ATTRACTED TO GIRLS AT ALL. How is it FAIR, books that somehow manage to pair up the two gay kids as best friends who become more?)

    I mean, sure it’s important to acknowledge that sex HAPPENS in the teenage life, and it happens among normal kids and not just the bad ones, but on the other hand it’s hardly happening for EVERYONE, either. And look, I’m 34, been married for 9 years, have two kids, but STILL I’m hurt and offended when anyone insinuates that I wasn’t interested in sex as a teen because I was IMMATURE. I was way TOO mature in a lot of ways! But I liked my romance to be ROMANTIC and integrated, not hot and steamy, and I STILL feel that way. Teens are all different from each other, as are adults, and to say that books HAVE to show one thing or another to be TRUE about teens is, well, not true.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I just put together a slideshow of almost everything our 27 participating teens read for summer reading. This is age 13 to 17, mostly on the younger side of that. I noticed that most of the adult books were read by the boys – Patterson, Steinbeck, etc. and the majority of manga (even more than actually pictured) was read by girls. There were also some children’s books read by a teen with developmental difficulties. Of course, they may have been reading romance novels and didn’t note those. I do know one of the participating teen girls reads Harlequin romances, although her mom is a little dubious and prefers that she read romance manga.

    I rarely read “teen” books when I was a teen and I wasn’t interested in romance. I read fantasy, mystery, middle grade books, picture books, nonfiction, a lot of literary criticism of children’s literature, and history, especially religious history. I do read romantic suspense and some paranormal romance now, but I’ve never liked books where the main plot centers around the romance.

    I get a lot of adults asking me to purchase the latest “hot” ya series, especially Twilight and Hunger Games read-alikes and they’ve told me that they like them because they’re fast-paced, well-written, have strong relationships, but aren’t graphically sexy.

    Slideshow! https://picasaweb.google.com/117779993579289076805/2012TeenSummerReads?authuser=0&feat=directlink

  3. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Rockinlibrarian, Such a good good point about the different things teens want from books. I want there to be all types of books for all types of teens, and aside from anything else, I dislike when there is an artificial romance thrown in “just because”. One of the reasons I love CODE NAME VERITY is its avoidance of a romance. Didn’t someone do a blog post about this sometime during the past month? And you are so, so right about how not everyone dated in high school etc. And books that acknowledge that are needed, to. But as someone who didn’t date in HS, sometimes I wanted the book-romance because it wasn’t happening in RL. And a thousand times yes that whether or not teens are interested in sex (or just reading about it!) is any indication of maturity.

  4. Maureen E says:

    I was a pretty sheltered teen, with parents who monitered what I read from the public library (oddly enough, they never thought of the school library…) so what I considered shocking at the time was actually pretty tame. However, I didn’t actively avoid it and even tried one or two of my friend’s adult romances. I found the plot way too thin and was too embarrassed to actually explore that genre. At the time and now I did like to have at least a hint of romance–it was validating for me when my favorite heroines found twoo luv. On the other hand, there are books (CNV a perfect example!) where the plot doesn’t need romance and where I would be disappointed if it were shoe-horned in.

    I do think it would be nice to see some real depictions of non-sexually active teens in YA, including those who are abstinent for religious reasons. It’s a valid choice just as much as being sexually active is, but it tends to get skipped over/turned into a stereotype.

    As far as good depictions–Jellicoe Road. Hot, but also awkward. <3

  5. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Jennifer, thanks for sharing! And funny, but yes, I agree that one of the appeals of teen fiction for adults is that it offers a different storytelling. Not so much as to whether or not its graphic (tho I’m not disagreeing that is the case for many), but that it’s not as gratuitous. Personally speaking, some adult books I read seem to include sex scenes because it’s expected and it adds nothing to the plot/story — almost like, “oh, because this is for grownups it has to have the sex and it has to be such and such.” While for teen books, well, often if its there it matters to the plot and characters in a much more significant way.

  6. Maureen E says:

    Personally speaking, some adult books I read seem to include sex scenes because it’s expected and it adds nothing to the plot/story — almost like, “oh, because this is for grownups it has to have the sex and it has to be such and such.” While for teen books, well, often if its there it matters to the plot and characters in a much more significant way.

    THIS. This is why I love YA. (Also the fact that it doesn’t have nearly as many annyoingly self-absorbed narrators/authors.)

  7. Keri says:

    Came to the comments expecting a list of books with sexytimes in them – a little disappointed ;) I’d say Going to Far by Jennifer Echols was a good one on that front.

  8. Misti says:

    I read my mom’s entire collection of gothic romances by Victoria Holt, and my grandmother was shocked that I was allowed to read them. But, looking back on it, those weren’t particularly explicit. And I read a Harlequin or two when there was nothing better around. But, like rockinlibrarian, I preferred romantic and swoony to hot and steamy — still do, really.

  9. Pam Bell says:

    Deborah Heiligman’s new y/a, INTENTIONS, contains beautifully realistic teen sex. I can’t say more because I don’t want to give the story away – this is a book not to miss!

  10. Sarah Moon says:

    I recently read Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door, and while I had some issues with the book (too many unnecessary storylines happening), she handled the teen sex brilliantly and realistically and, honestly, pretty humorously and I’d recommend that book based on that aspect alone. In general, the only American YA author I can think of who regularly deals with sex in a positive way is Jennifer Echols (in Such a Rush, for example, there is quite a bit of discussion about why the main characters makes different decisions about this topic). Australian YA tends to handle this subject a bit more frankly, I think.

  11. Pat Brisson says:

    Oh, I loved INTENTIONS! And there were sexy times in the story, but one of the things I liked most was Rachel saying no at the last minute. It’s a great vicarious experience for girls who might some day be in similar situations and will give them the strength to say no at whatever point they’re at in a sexual encounter. Sometimes the best sex in YA books is the sex that doesn’t happen.

    Heiligman also showed that even sexual encounters we’re not involved in can have an impact on us.

  12. I read so many Harlequin books as a teen, it’s not even funny. I remember thinking that outside of Judy Blume, I didn’t feel that the books that were available to me as YA books in the late 80s/90s (when I was a teen) were very realistic when addressing teen romance or sex. Now, however, I see a lot more of it and I think it’s great. From what I have read in YA recently, I find that the sexytimes are handled well, in general. By handled well, I mean I see young women deciding “yes, I want to do this” or sometimes saying “Yes, but not right now” or a simple “no”. I like that there are books that reflect the different options, so to speak. Some examples that come to mind are My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick and The Body Finder series by Kim Derting. Jennifer Echols also does a fantastic job.

  13. Lisa says:

    When I was a young reader, I looked to Piers Anthony (ergh) and VC Andrews (double ergh) and any number of other adult books for sexytimes. Aaannnd, I’m pretty sure I still bear the scars!

    As for YA books today — I remember Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause, leaving me rather hot under the collar, even as an adult. I’m not sure what else, but then I’m not really looking for sexytimes in YA books nowadays. However, I’m sure that as a relationship-starved young person I would have greedily devoured innuendo everywhere I could find it!

  14. Lisa the Second says:

    I, too, read oodles of Harlequins as a 13- & 14-year-old. The ones with the cringing 18-year-old virgins and the angry 40-year-old millionaires…sigh…. Also Barbara Michaels, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Daphne du Maurier, and Joan Aiken (her adult books, obvs). Those were for romance; for sex there was Judith Krantz, V.C. Andrews, et al.

    I read Forever in sixth grade (decades ago), and I *still* haven’t read a YA that is as matter-of-factly explicit about the details of sex. I don’t really think of Forever as a romance; I think of it as an explanation of how a relationship works. I love the fact that Katherine and Michael break up. That, to me, is so much more realistic and educational than all the YA novels whose protagonists find True Love at age 16. Maybe in a fantasy or a historical. Maybe. But a contemporary? Uh-uh. (Although, there’s a Sarah Dessen where you see a couple from a previous book, now a year or two later in college, which did work for me.) Of course, I haven’t read Jennifer Echols, or Simone Elkeles yet.

    Some of the most romantic books I’ve read this year:

    Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
    Something Like Normal by Trish Doller (male pov, no less)
    Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
    Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult

    Kody Keplinger’s Shut Out is great for discussion of abstinence vs. sexytimes and is funny to boot. I can’t wait for A Midsummer’s Nightmare!

  15. Bibliovore says:

    When I was an actual teen, I read romance novels almost exclusively, and fantasy for the other .01% of my reading. I didn’t get into kidlit until Harry Potter, when I was in college. I’ve worried about that in the past, like I was jumping into “adult” stuff too fast and then regressed or something, but now I think it’s just because I liked different things at different times. Like people do.

    That being said, I’ve realized that as a teen, I most often read historicals and Regencies which tended to have 18-21 year old heroines, just coming out of the shelter of parental supervision. Helloooo analogy. They didn’t stint on the sexytimes, either, and I didn’t mind one bit.

    These days, I’m pretty well over the 18-21 year old heroines when I read romance, and I go for the ones with a little meat on their backstory. When I read YA, I’m always happy to discover the books that treat sex honestly. Sure, there’s the teens who have sex because they’re in love, but teens have sex for all sorts of reasons, good and bad and whoaaaa hormonal. I remember a few: Pop! by Aury Wallington, Kiss It by Erin Downing, The Duff by Kody Keplinger, Getting It by Alex Sanchez, and Doing It by Melvin Burgess all have teens who want to have sex, and go about getting it with varied success, and varied emotions upon attaining it (or not).

  16. A Gerb says:

    I read a few Harlequins in high school and was bored. Any book where you can find the sex scenes by sticking your fingers in at intervals of about a third was not worth it to me. It was years before I bothered to try romance again.
    Funny, but one of the steamiest sex scenes I remember from that time were from Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series.

  17. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Maureen E, yes for Jellicoe Road! And yes for books reflecting different experiences etc for teens. And yes for one of the reasons I love YA — the narrators.

    Keri, thanks for the rec. One can never tell what will inspire people to comment! There are some more recs further down in the comment thread.

    Misti, oh, Victoria Holt! Yes!

    Pam, yes for INTENTIONS. My review just went up –

    Sarah, thanks for the suggestions. Did you read Lola and the Boy Next Door? That was pretty frank!

  18. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Pam, yes, yes, yes! I thought it was a good complex look at “what is that person thinking.” And that, well, life isn’t a slippery slope — not to be too spoilery, but its not like “oh since I did x now I may as well do y and z.”

    Kate, thanks for the recs. I have a bunch to add to my to read list.

    Lisa, I can’t believe I forgot FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC etc.

    Lisa the Second: Greek millionaries especially, right? Glad to see I’m not the only one who read those. I agree, I wouldn’t put FOREVER in a romantic category — in part because I like a HEA in my romance, and I couldn’t stand Michael. and more good recs!

    bibliovore, this: “it’s just because I liked different things at different times. Like people do”. Yes. Exactly.

    A Gerb, ha for the “third the way through.” And I forgot, also, the Earth’s Children series!

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