Monday, February 18, 2013

Sexual Content in YA - Too Hot to Handle by Frankie Rose

Too Hot To Handle

Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be. Let’s talk about sex.

Let’s talk about sex.

But if we do, remember… you’re probably gonna cop a rough deal from it. Parents are likely going to write you strongly-worded letters about the fact that you’re corrupting their babies’ minds. Critics will say that you have cheapened your craft and devalued the impact of your characters by making them irresponsible role models. You will, essentially, become the devil incarnate.

Good luck with that.

When I wrote my second novel, Eternal Hope, the second in my YA series, I hit the same brick wall that many authors have to face, and that, of course, was the potential for the relationship between my protagonist and her love interest to go beyond the hand-holding stage. Knowing my characters and having so carefully imagined their world, their adventure together and the hardships they faced alongside one another, it was a very natural progression in my mind that they would want to share something special. Farley, the eighteen-year-old protagonist, loves Daniel, and while it would have been possible to fudge over their experiences with one another and keep things well above the waistline, that certainly wouldn’t have been realistic. More than that, however, it would have been dishonest.

There are so many young adult series out there that never hint at sexually active teenage characters, yet it’s no secret that kids today are curious about sex and want to learn more. I believe it would be remiss of us to try handling the delicate subject of first love and the life-changing experiences that occur in our youth, forming who we will later become as adults, without broaching the most crucial aspect of teen love. Sex is important. It’s important to talk about it, to help teenagers understand what it’s worth and what it really means, and in doing so hopefully we can instil a healthy amount of respect into our reader’s minds. Respect for themselves and for their own self-worth.

My own teen years weren’t exactly textbook. But then again, what is textbook these days? Do most young women get to experience falling in love and sharing their virginity with the boy they’re going to spend the rest of their lives with? It happens, sure, but the truth is that people who get to have that are about as rare as lottery winners, scoring big.  More kids might win that lottery if they valued themselves enough to wait for that perfect guy, the one who will respect them and always honour them. In the end, that’s what I feel most young adult novels are promoting. I’ve read an awful lot of these books for my own pleasure as well as research, and the point is that the kids in these books aren’t out having promiscuous sex. They’re committing to someone for the rest of their lives, and while there may be a whole lot of teen angst thrown in there for good measure, the novels aren’t sensationalising sex as a bit of fun. They’re showing it to be something valuable and precious, and in most cases a very big deal.

Parents may get upset when writers talk to their children about sex. The key thing to understand here is that these parents are making a mistake in thinking that their precious gems are children anymore. They’re growing into young adults, as the genre name would suggest, and they have hormones coming out of their ears. I am not one to argue the idea that it’s a parent’s responsibility to educate their sons and daughters, but if they want to do that then I encourage them to do it! More often than not, a brief, embarrassing conversation about the birds and the bees is enough to turn most parents green around the gills. Teens might be out experimenting less if the topic weren’t still such a taboo in most households.

In saying this, however, there are many books out there that can no-longer be called Young Adult, and it’s important that we’re careful when we categorise our work. The genre, New Adult, is a necessary addition to the YA market. While the level of reading is often very similar to young adult (uncomplicated, easy to read works), the content of these novels is not. With an inundation of books containing graphic, intense sexual situations, following the success of the Fifty Shades series, it’s our responsibility as writers to make sure our work is very clearly defined. Personally, I have written my New Adult works under a pseudonym to avoid confusion with my already established readers. A lot of authors have gone down the same path, and that in itself is a responsible way to ensure teens aren’t reading something inappropriate. Labelling fiction for over eighteens is important, too, alongside making sure graphic content is indicated from the outset.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to walk the fine line between being realistic and helpful to teenagers, and going too far. It’s a great honour that young readers want to read our works, and we are playing a small but important part in the way they grow up. Sex should be handled with the appropriate level of respect, but it should be handled. That way, kids aren’t liable to go out unprepared into the world and dive feet first into something they’re ill-equipped to understand.  As writers, our job is also to remember that despite the cross-over appeal of most young adult books- the fact that the readership more often than not is comprised largely of adults as well as teenagers- we have a duty to be good role models and uphold kids safety while keeping them informed.

In then end, after a long internal debate when writing my book, I decided that my main characters wouldn’t ‘go all the way’ in that particular novel.  Yes, that is certainly something that will happen in their future, but I wanted to demonstrate that it wasn’t a casual act. And despite how much my guys want it, sometimes that wait can be just as sweet…

You can find out more about Frankie and her awesome books at

No comments:

Post a Comment