Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How Much Sex is Too Much?

First, read this: Sex in YA Fiction.

I have a comment on that post where I say this:

Ok - not to get too personal - but are we doing a disservice to YA readers?

I remember my first 'truly intense' sexual act with vivid clarity - and though the lead up to the act was all emotion - once the physical sensations started it was ALL about the physical. In fact, if someone had interrupted and asked my name I would have been unable to tell them. The physical was THAT powerful.

I think we sometimes color what we write or what we read with an adult sense of prudery. As older humans, we have weighed and balanced the sexual experience - we know the pluses and minuses - we understand the give and take. This was the number one problem with Twilight's "I'm waiting" philosophy - there was FAR too much consideration going on.

Currently YA sex IS less graphic - but in a way, wouldn't it be more honest if it was MORE graphic - or at least more focused on those crazy explosive physical feelings?

I realize this is a sensitive subject, so I have spent the day pondering and this is what I have come up with:

I think YA writers should try and remember the sensations of 'first love' in the physical. For example, I remember the first time someone kissed me on the neck. I felt it on my neck, but I also remember the feelings shooting down my arm; I remember the marked tingling of my fingers and a delicious tickle in the small of my back where his fingers rested. It made me giggle, and squirm and desire to be kissed there again. It created a hunger unlike anything I had previously experienced. This is the type of physical detail that can be added to YA sex, without upping the 'erotic' quotient of the writing.

I wonder at the tendency to self-censor our writing. If it was not inappropriate for me to feel those tingles at age 16, then why should it be inappropriate to write about it? And if we think it is inappropriate but we are writing about it anyway, isn't it coy to measure the language?

In the end run, I say this: If you are writing sex into your YA novel - be honest. Describe the physical sensations as well as the emotional ones. Remember what it felt like the first time you touched someone, and the first time you were touched. Do not view the scene through adult eyes, but through the eyes of your teen-aged characters.  If you do this, your 'sex scene' will come off as natural and not gratuitous.



Doug Hagler said...

I think if you aren't writing erotica, in which case the goal seems to be to titillate the reader, then the goal of a sex scene should be the goal of any scene - move the story forward, reveal interesting things about the characters, create conflict. Most stories are first person or third person limited, so you're in the sex scene from a particular character viewpoint. How would that character experience sex? Describe the sex scene in that way, whatever it happens to be. Are they visually or kinesthetically oriented? Is it emotionally charged or something they're used to? Why are they having sex - for money, for social standing, to prove their love to someone, out of peer pressure, etc. What about the sex did they want, and what about it did they not want? Surprises? Consequences?

The post you cited put this as a political question, and gave a political answer. I'd much rather give an answer rooted in the basics of good fiction. Sex scenes are for intimate characterization, in my view (and practice) and are interesting because they are vivid points in most stories and because sex has interesting consequences. And, yeah, it's still titillating.

Chip Michael said...

Eddie - I couldn't agree more

Graphic doesn't mean including sections like "his throbbing love wand," but does mean talking about those jumbled emotions AND physical feelings that happen during sex.

Many of you may not like the fact our teens are having sex. Maybe some readers as parents don't admit their teens are sexually active (or at least sexually aware), but bury your head in the sand all you want doesn't stop this from being true.

Their fiction should echo those situations with honesty. If you as a write do not, then the rest of what you write won't be considered honest either.

thebloodfiend said...

Complete agreement. Graphic /=/ honesty.

I have one character who is really shy about sex, therefor, he doesn't go into the details. But he's very emotional.

I have another who's all about the physical. You don't have to write erotica to write a decent sex scene. Personally, I could care less about throbbing members in YA and AF. All I want is a good story.

I just wish we'd stop trying to dictate what does and doesn't belong in YA. Write your story and take it from there.

Eddie Louise said...


You are so right! Just write the damn story. As far as I am concerned - if you are writing about teenagers and something belongs in the story then it BELONGS in YA by default!

Thanks for stopping by!

Carrie said...

I totally agree with the physical depiction of sex as being very important. These are just giddy romantic feelings, after all. This is a threshold you cross with your body, too, not just your mind.

I tend to think that people get too up in arms about what's in books. I mean, if your kid is reading erotica, then probably he/she is interested in it and is ready to think about it. A book isn't the same as a visual image that can somewhat assault you without you making any effort.

What I personally find offensive are YA sex scenes that seem to indicate that the first sexual experience will be seamless and perfect and fully pleasureable. Just because it's LOVE. I find that so damn false and ridiculous, especially when the scene offers zero information about what's actually physically taking place.

I'd rather see graphic stumbling and bumbling with condoms and things going wrong and hurting and being over too quick than read some wishful thinking nostalgic notion.

Thanks for this post; it and the comments are very thought-provoking.

Anonymous said...

I think the most important thing you said was to be honest. That would entail including details when necessary as well as avoiding gratuitous sex scenes. Also, if you're writing for teenagers instead of their parents you're probably a lot better off including the description of physical sensations. For some who haven't experienced it yet it could even be educational. Good thoughts Eddie.

Eddie Louise said...

@Carrie: Stumbling and bumbling indeed!

Anon: yes - I remember sneaking into the Happy Hooker book collection of a friend's mother to get my sex education! My parents would have been aghast! It might have been better to get my education from a book aimed at teenagers and the kind of sex they have!!

Great discussion!

Anonymous said...

So why can't sex scenes for teenagers be titillating? I mean, what the heck do you think teenagers read books for which got them? For philosophy?

No one is as rabidly physical as a teenager discovering sex. They want (and need) to know the hows, wheres, whats and ifs. They also desperately need to be told in a realistic manner (just read a few teen help sites and the questions there, they'll kill you!). Because they get what's lacking in YA novels from adult ones or worse yet porn flicks. As a result their expectations are so far removed from reality that sex will be a bad let-down for them!

By all means include emotions, that's superior writing, but just because adults may be prudes doesn't mean you have to teach teenagers to also be that. And while we are at it, it also would be nice to read YA novels without an agenda jumping into your face (especially related to sex!).

Eddie Louise said...

Anon said: just because adults may be prudes doesn't mean you have to teach teenagers to also be that. And while we are at it, it also would be nice to read YA novels without an agenda jumping into your face (especially related to sex!).

Wow! Do I agree with this! It is funny how we seem to forget our own teenage years and trivialize our writing for those we think of as children.

For the record: I think we talk down to teens far too much, we artificially prolong childhood, and then wonder why we can't get our 20something kids to 'grow up' and move out. We seem to feel that you are a kid until your graduate college and then *poof* you are an adult. This is harmful in real life and it is harmful in literature.

I recently read a blog post that had a panel of teens talking about censorship and banned books: http://yaconfidential.blogspot.com/2011/09/teen-roundtable-book-banning.html

I was so impressed with how these young adults handled themselves - the honesty, straight forwardness, and reminders that they are ready to make up their own minds about what to read all serve to reinforce what I said above: there is no reason for adults to be coy.

Thanks for stopping by!