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Thinking About Sex...In My YA WIP

When it comes to sex in my young adult novels, I've come to the Decision Point.  I'm surprised, honestly that I haven't before--but none of the YA stories I've written or plotted up to this point demanded that I broach the question of what to include and how to include it.  The characters, the situations, the cultures--all of it added up to books where sex just wasn't going to be an issue.

To preface--I have no issue with sex in young adult lit.  Teens have sex.  People writing for teens include this realistic scenario in their work.  Yep.  No biggie.

Still, I do think that every author has to answer the question for herself what she's comfortable including.  I tend to believe that sex isn't always a great choice for teenagers--not in all cases, but often enough to warrant being cautious about how and when I as an author present it.  I don't want to treat it flippantly, nor do I want it to be some hulking Big Deal or Moral Issue.  Yet, regardless, it's a reality for the under 18 set, not only in the deed itself, but in the importance it has as an element to explore, discuss, and become comfortable with in the long awkward adolescent years.  In many ways, there are few stories that can avoid including sex in one form or another.

The fact is, teenagers don't have to have sex to deal with sex.  In my high school years I was a peer leader in a program that, for my abstinence-only-education state, was pretty progressive: The idea was that you can't just tell kids "Don't have sex" without equipping them with the tools they need to follow through on that decision, so we taught critical thinking and assertiveness skills along with emphasizing the point that not having sex was their choice.  (As a sidenote, it "worked" in one of the only measures you can really get on these things--teen pregnancy rates went down in the school districts in which it was employed.)

Of course, some parts were a little trite and we felt silly repeating them.  One of the taglines was "It's ok to think about sex; it's ok to talk about sex; it's only to develop feelings about sex; it's just not ok to have sex now."  Yeah, you feel like a dork stating that in front of a room of middle school students.  But--it's also true of the teenage experience.  For teens not having sex, sex is still a huge part of their world.  They're thinking about it, talking about it, forming ideas and emotions about it.  We have to acknowledge that.

And when you consider that, that even a book without sex still deals with sex (often by virtue of its absence), the cardinal rule of "what do I write" comes out loud and clear: You write what the story needs you to write. You write what's authentic for the characters.

If you're not comfortable exploring certain topics, or believe that they're not good fodder for teenage readers, that's probably not the story you were supposed to write.  I'm not going to judge anyone for that decision--we all make it, whether we think we are or not.  In fact, I respect that decision--to write realistic fiction for teens that explores negative sides of sexual experiences, or portrays sympathetic characters making the choice not to have sex.  We need those books, too--if for no other reason than that they show a very real scenario for many teenagers.

So as to my story?  I'm just going to have to see where these characters want to take things.  Because they're definitely thinking about it and developing some strong feelings whether I want them to or not!  (And, as I repeated so often--"That's ok.")

What do you think?  Is including sex in YA any different from books for adults?  What decisions have you made regarding including--or not including--sex?

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