Is There Too Much Sex in Young Adult Books?

 

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I have complex feelings about sex in Young Adult books, targeted to teens in the 14-17 range.

On one hand, teens in the 14-17 range have sex. It happens. We should definitely talk about and acknowledge teen sexuality. Teens need to be educated about sex and, more importantly, safe sex.

I’m just not convinced Young Adult books are the place for that education.

For starters, Young Adult books don’t portray the most healthy relationships. Overwhelmingly, the story involves a girl going out with an older boy/man. (In the paranormal genre, the age gap could be centuries.)

We are normalizing the “trophy wife” archetype in high school.

There’s also the recurring “first and forever love” scenario. Happily ever after is one of the most admirable things people can strive for, but odds are that your first love won’t be your last.

I have seen way too many people I know, especially women, make bad choices and stay in bad relationships because of the “first and forever love” mentality. While we’ve been getting better the past few years, it still isn’t uncommon in Young Adult books for characters to give up opportunities—studying abroad, taking a job, accepting a scholarship offer—to be with a partner.

Don’t EVER give up on your dreams to chase a high school flame.

Another problem is expectations. My own sex ed in high school wasn’t the most comprehensive. (I know I’m not the only one.) Young Adult books paint the idea that finding a romantic partner will solve everything. Falling in love will fix all your problems and make you whole. It will also cure all your mental illnesses and help you overcome every emotional trauma in your life.

Spoiler: it doesn’t.

When I got a boyfriend, I was still me.

I had the same mental illness and the same baggage. I also had the same dreams, ambitions, and values. I learned a lot from being in a relationship, but he didn’t fix me. Nor do I think it was fair to expect that of him.

Almost every YA book had me thinking my first kiss would be life-changing. I can laugh about my naiveté now, but I wonder if my high school reads should have glamorized romance less. Specifically, the physical aspect.

The biggest thing I feel Young Adult authors forget is that regardless of what kids are or should be doing at that age, they are still kids. Why are we having them casually hook up and/or date seriously in these stories?

In most states, these 14-17 year olds can’t even legally consent to sex. 

Am I calling for censorship? I am hoping that YA authors will start writing more thoughtfully without needing censorship. I don’t believe for a second anyone means harm, but intent and result are two different things.

Young Adult books aren’t the only problem. There’s blame to be shared in our general media, culture, and schools’ sex ed programs. This is a huge problem with many parts and Young Adult books are often one of those parts.

Sex sells, but I think it’s being oversold. There have to be boundaries and we’ve pushed it too far.

6 Comments

  1. I agree on everything you just said! I get it, sex is a thing that teens do, but, like. . . we all poop too. Doesn’t mean I necessarily want to read about it. 😂

  2. Love this post! Sex is definitely part of teen life… but so are teen pregnancies, awkward relationships that fizzle out, acne, and stress about homework. If “it’s realistic!” is the argument, let’s make sure it’s actually realistic. To do otherwise is to mislead readers.

  3. I’m in like…12 million percent in agreement with this! I am an adult with a young teen. I read a great deal of YA novels. I play at writing my own YA novels. My kiddo and I are SOOO tired of the oversexed YA tropes that are out there, which is why I started writing the stories I would like to read. Seriously, young teens have sooo much going on in their lives and only a short time where they can still enjoy being kids. Why do authors try to turn teens into adults so quickly? Why do they insist on putting them in situations that are more appropriate for characters at least a decade older? What’s true for a twenty-five-year-old is NOT true for a fifteen-year-old. My teen is awesome!!! There are so much life experiences to write about. I think these over-sexed YA books are a result of LAZY writing.

    1. I love your teenager! I totally agree and felt the same way at that age. Do these authors even remember high school???

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