Sex is a part of teen life, even for those not engaging in sexual activity. They see, hear, and read about it everywhere. We all know this (even if we’re moms, dads, or librarians), but for some reason it still creeps some of us out a little, especially when it comes to books.
Lately I’ve seen a lot of questions floating around like: Is it okay to put sex in a YA novel? Is sex a selling point in YA fiction? Is sex off limits?
To answer these questions I’m going to break down the biggest myths about sex in YA novels and give you the truth.
Myth: Agents and Editors Automatically Reject YA Novels Featuring Sex.
Truth: Agents and editors are interested in books that sell. They are not moral Nazis hoping to shelter our teens from anything society might find distasteful. Sure, there are some agents who will not consider books with sex in them. There are also agents who won’t consider fantasy novels. You can’t please everyone so don’t try.
That said, most agents will reject novels featuring explicit sex that is intended to titillate (also known as “smut”). So long as you are not attempting to arouse the reader, you should be good to go.
Myth: Sex is Only Okay if Contraceptives are Used.
Truth: Sex in YA novels should be realistic. If the kids would use contraceptives, great! If they wouldn’t, that’s okay too. So long as you aren’t advocating unprotected sex, nobody’s going to get their panties in a bunch about it.
Myth: Sex is Only Okay if it has Major Consequences.
Truth: So long as you don’t depict casual sex as the best choice your YA character ever made, you don’t need to worry about destroying their life over sexual activity. They don’t have to get pregnant, contract an STD, or get suicidally depressed.
However, if there are no consequences to the sex at all, this calls into question the purpose it serves in your novel. Why include something that doesn’t affect the story?
Myth: Titillating Sex is Acceptable Now in YA Books.
Truth: Sometimes writers’ questions about sex in YA novels swing too far the opposite direction. Even if you were able to get titillating or explicit sex published in a YA novel, you would not be able to get it into most libraries, high schools, and book stores (meaning it wouldn’t sell). Book buyers have the right to not carry books they find objectionable.
Myth: Sex is a Selling Point.
Truth: With internet access in nearly every home, teens have way easier places to find information about sex than by reading novels. A sex scene isn’t going to rally teen interest in your book, nor the interest of agents and editors. Only the story can do that.
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