Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Guest blogger Diane J. Reed on Teen Sex and YA Fiction

Teen Sex

by Diane J. Reed

Sex sells! We all know this. How can we not in a post-50 Shades of Grey world where suddenly the cat is out of the bag and marketers know full well that even middle-class mommies like their book club selections to serve up hefty helpings of hot & steamy erotica? This recent phenomenon has sent the publishing world ablaze, and now graphic sex scenes are cropping up everywhere. But what happens when the sex starts to trickle down to mainstream novels about teenagers?


This is precisely the issue that’s been keeping me awake at night lately. Even when it’s handled “responsibly” in fiction (i.e., teens use condoms), I still find myself cringing a little every time a 16 or 17 year old gets it going on between the sheets. Do teenagers ever have sex that is glowingly beautiful & mind-blowingly transcendent? Or is the truth more like an awkward tangle of moist lips & body parts as they try to figure out how to get things right? Part of me is concerned that writers are creating a fantasy realm that has never existed for any teenager—and on the top of that, are promoting risky behavior that might be emotionally scarring for more vulnerable adolescents. 

For this reason, I felt like I was walking a tightrope of sexual tension with my first YA novel Robin in the Hood. My main character Robin McArthur is only 15 years old when the novel begins, and she’s as obsessed about sex as most girls her age. When she discovers her formerly wealthy family is now broke, and out of desperation starts robbing banks to make ends meet, she stumbles upon super hot Creek—a 17-year-old guy who has a thing or two to teach her about crime. They soon become partners and the passion and sparks fly. After they hone their skills by robbing a local ATM machine and get separated, the following is their sexy reunion scene at a nearby lake:

“Take off your clothes,” a voice whispered at the edge of the lake like a ghost.

It was still a bit misty out, and I thought I felt a warm breath against the back of my neck—

I whipped around. There he was!

Creek, stripped to his torn jeans with his blonde hair dangling against his shoulders again, as if the powers that be had somehow beamed him right in front of me.

And he was grinning from ear to ear.

“You were a very bad girl today,” he remarked.

Unable to control myself, I hugged him with all my might, elated that he’d made it out of Bob’s convenience store okay through God knows what kind of messy miracle. And Lord, how I wanted to kiss him again! But I felt like a fool with a bag of money and a t-shirt still bulging over my belly, because I’d been too preoccupied to remove them till I’d succeeded in hiding the motorcycle.

Creek broke away from me and gazed at my tummy with a laugh.

“You rocked it!” he said, patting my stomach.

“B-But how’d you get here so fast?" I gasped.

Creek’s lips slinked into a smile. He shook his head. “Sweetheart, it ain’t hard to get a lift in these parts when you’re not wearing a t-shirt. Now we gotta move—”

He slipped both his hands under my camisole, removing the money bag and t-shirt and letting them fall with a thump to the sand. To my surprise, he threw off my blonde wig and traced his fingers beneath my camisole straps, tenderly lifting them over my head.

My heart ricocheted inside my chest. Oh my God—is this the part where we have Post-Heist Sex?

Creek’s eyes arrested mine. They were still that hard blue, broken by shards of glass in the middle like a guy totally focused on his mission. But there was a softness at the edges as well, as if maybe he wanted to . . .

Protect me?

And kiss me at the same time—

Both urges warring inside him.

Well, I decided, no time like the present to test that theory!

I rushed my hands up his firm chest and clutched his face, pulling his lips to mine for as much Heaven as I’d ever been allowed on this silly, spinning planet.

And spin I did! Inside, I felt as if I my whole being had gotten lost in a dreamy whirl. All traces of thought evaporated, only the smell and feel of his hard skin and soft hair overwhelming my senses. I was tumbling end over end, because no one had ever informed me that . . .

When you touch someone this beautiful—

It’s like falling into a pool of light.

And all of a sudden,

You’re that beautiful, too . . .

Creek’s hands surged up my bare back, and I couldn’t stop from pressing my breasts against his chest—my scratchy, Pinnacle-issue bra be damned—as my fingers nimbly undid the button and zipper on his jeans. I pulled them down his legs like they were as easy to rip from his body as saran wrap, and then I kicked off my shoes to do the same with my jeans.

Who was this girl??

I’d become a mighty blur—all animal on instinct and overdrive—who was determined to make both our bodies sing in the sunshine and sand that seemed to cry out for us to become one creature—

But then I felt Creek hoist my nearly naked body in his arms, hugging me tightly to his chest.

He kissed me uncontrollably for a few seconds, when all at once his lips broke free, and he rested his forehead against mine.

And he began to walk into the lake, gently carrying me, as though we were heading for some strange, a spur-of-the-moment . . . baptism?

“Bloodhounds,” he said breathlessly, his gaze full of alarm. “Bob’s got bloodhounds—”

From out of nowhere, I heard the echo of a chorus of dogs, their deep resounding barks growing closer by the second.

With one last kiss, Creek released me to the water, sailing me forward. The cold shock rushed to my neck, constricting my lungs and leaving me heaving for air.

“Swim, Robin!” He ordered, pointing to an inlet of the lake covered in shadows. “Swim with everything you’ve got!!”

As you can see, there’s a lot of sexual tension here but also so much action that the characters don’t actually have time to sexually “connect”. Yes, this is on purpose, because Robin is only 15, and I felt it would be irresponsible to write casually about sex with a character who’s an underage minor. 

But what about the sequel?  Yikes!

Robin will be 16 years old in the sequel to Robin in the Hood, where she goes on a journey to a foreign country with Creek to find her long lost mother. Hello! They will be totally unsupervised by adults in this story, and you KNOW they are going to have sex! To pretend otherwise would be to commit one of the greatest crimes in fiction: avoiding the truth. As much as I don’t want to promote irresponsible teen sex, I also don’t want to be branded a downright liar . . .

So what to do?

Well, I could keep them running with lots of bristling action and plot twists, to the total exhaustion of my poor readers.

Or, I could take a cue from Simone Elkeles’ novel Perfect Chemistry and Colleen Hoover’s novel Hopeless—two well-written books for young adults who go the “responsible” sex route. Yes, in these novels 16 & 17 year olds do have sex—but only once in the entire story (although there are lots of passionate kissing & detailed caressing scenes to fill up their 300+ pages). But in following their lead, am I contributing to the moral demise of our country and/or over-sexification of our youth?

God only knows. Let’s face it—teens have sex, pretty much no matter what moment in time or society you put them in, and I just can’t bring myself to be pollyanna about that. So I’m waiting until my female heroine Robin is at least 16 in the sequel to allow my characters to fully embrace their natural sex drives so I can sleep peacefully at night. And of course, I will want Robin’s first experience to be downright heavenly—the kind of thing you only see in the movies! Why? Because I don’t want to read about fumbling teens grunting and grinding in the backseat of some car, and neither do you. Does this mean I’m leading teens on just like other contemporary authors?

Well, there’s the rub. Perhaps if enough teens read these kinds of books, they will insist that their earliest sexual encounters have some quality and depth of meaning. Or maybe I’m just fooling myself? Since this is such new territory, I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts on the matter, good or bad. And until then, here is some food for thought: when I spoke to my local librarian about the subject, she stated that if there is graphic sex in a novel—regardless of whether it’s involving teenagers—the book gets shelved in the “adult” fiction section of the library, period. The trendy publishing labels of “New Adult” or “Mature Young Adult” simply don’t apply. Detailed sexual encounters = Adult fiction, so in the end, it’s up to the parents to decide if their teens can read such a book. Perhaps that’s where the final word on the matter really lies . . .


Get updates from Diane by following her on Twitter @DianeJReed and check out her website 


  1. Society does not allow nude public photos for indviduals under the age of majority of 18.

    There are criminal issues with regard to sex between older persons and teenagers. In the scenes set out if the boy had been more than 5 years older than the girl he could be charged under the Criminal Codefor the sexual contact.

    Any author writing about teenage sex could be writing about criminal acts unless they have a fair knowledge of the Criminal Code.

    1. Very good points—thank you for bringing these issues up : )

  2. I personally think that sex should not be idealized for teens. They already have a barrage of hormones pressuring them to do what they shouldn't yet be doing. And saying that all teens have sex is generalizing. I never had sex as a teen. I'm a bit old-fashioned, I'll say, but I was a teen only three years ago, and I had friends who also didn't have sex as teens. I'm an avid reader, and if I had read a young adult novel that had teens doing it that made it seem like a fantasy, I'd hate to say it would have made me want to try it. So, I guess I'm saying I agree with the librarian's rule. Sex should be in the adult section, and if teens want to read about it, they know where it is. I'm not saying I never read a sex scene, because I did read smutty romances when I was 15-17, but the characters were adults and usually married... I'm not saying it's wrong either to write about teens having sex, because a lot of them do do it. I just don't think it should be portrayed as something it's not, because that may encourage something that's more harmful than it is pleasurable at such a young age. You know what I mean?

    1. Thank you for your comments! All the issues you've raised are exactly what concern me and what I want to see addressed at some point. I've also noticed that the teen novels that appear to obsess the most about sex portray teens who don't have much going on in their lives—no after-school jobs or aspirations for college or commitment to sports. The kids aren't very well-rounded in these books, and maybe that says something?

  3. I truly appreciate this post! So happy to hear that you are so thoughtful in your writing. I agree there is a fine line between the simple fact that teenagers are instinctually sex-obsessed and the overt sexualizing of children/teens in our society. You are so right that teen sex has been going on since... well, forever, but I appreciate that you don't want to idealize it. It is different from adult sex. The risks of pregnancy and disease are the same, but the repercussions are so much greater. I think that YA is an onerous job, finding that perfect space between telling a good and believable story and possibly championing destructive sexual behaviors. I only hope others are wrangling with the same issues. Our teens will be the better for it.

  4. Thank you for stopping by and for your thoughtful comments! I agree with you that the repercussions for teens with sex is so much greater. One thing that bothers me most is that often the teenage boys in these novels are given the emotional maturity of 40-years-olds, which I fear just isn't realistic. To many adolescent boys sex is just a game, but in YA novels they are almost always portrayed as infinitely sensitive, caring, responsible and eternally devoted to this ONE girl for the rest of their lives. Have you ever met a 16-year-old boy like that? I haven't! They're still figuring out who they are too, so how can we expect them to be so vastly mature about sex? It certainly is a conundrum in YA literature.