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3 Ways Sex is Portrayed in YA Books

3 Ways Sex is Portrayed in YA Books
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I recently attended a workshop on Sex in YA by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. It was my first workshop by them, and I didn’t want to go by myself. Solution? Beg the husbster.

“But it’s about sex!”

“It’ll be awkward. I don’t read YA.”

“But it’s about sex!”

“I don’t care. It’ll be awkward.”

“Why don’t you sit in the back and get some work done? Productivity.”

When we got there the seats were in a circle. Poor guy. He couldn’t hide.

The speaker was Bree Ervin, red-haired, smiley, owner of Think Banned Thoughts LLC, who had an intimidating stack of books behind her. A writing prompt later, we dove right into three ways sex is portrayed in YA books:

1. Sex-less. Some YA novels don’t mention sex at all. This is a popular trend in dystopians. In Divergent, the main character and her boy-interest will cuddle, kiss, sleep together through the night and, despite raging hormones, are content to leave it there.

2. Sex Manual. On the other extreme, some YA books act as mini sex education manuals, sometimes trying to depict what they believe is a responsible sex life, other times bringing awareness to hard-to-talk about subjects such as slut-shaming.

3. Sex in Absentia. Sex is happening, but it’s not on the page. Similar to stage performances of the past, an actor would rush onstage and tell the audience/other characters of the violence that just happened offstage.

We see this in Wither, another popular dystopian. When girls are kidnapped and forced to become brides or prostitutes, sex is happening. Although we are highly aware of it, the main character never has sex herself although she interacts with its consequences on a daily basis.

Is one type better than the others? I don’t know. The workshop leaned more toward affirming #2, especially when giving positive messages to girls.

Maybe the answer depends on the story. I enjoy reading dystopians without the sex. I think they say there are bigger things to aim for and a better way to live. But a Wither without a nod to the society’s sexual under workings would be painting a dishonest picture.

The point behind every book, including genre fiction, is to show the story of humanity, to paint a picture of humankind. Even if you don’t show it, if you don’t at least talk about our sexual struggles you cut out a bit of what makes us human. 

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