February 1, 2011

Let's Talk About Teen Sex, Baby

So I wrote this post a few months ago but I never posted it for some reason! I think it's an interesting topic though so I decided to pluck it out of my Drafts folder.

According to the Kinsey Institute, about 65% of teens have sex by the time they are 18.

Whoa. Sixty-five percent? That's nearly two thirds! (I wonder what percentage of my high school class was sexually active? Perhaps higher than people were letting on.)

I've been thinking about teen sex today because I just finished Kody Keplinger's THE DUFF. If you haven't heard about this snarky/engaging/thought-provoking novel, then you might want to check it out.

THE DUFF follows seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper as her life goes down the crapper. Her parents are splitting up. Her dad is drinking again. And Bianca just needs an escape. So she starts a fling with her school's resident man-whore, Wesley, to forget about her troubles. (Even though Wesley initially dubs Bianca "The Duff": The Designated Ugly Fat Friend.)

And, yes indeed, there are quite a few sex scenes in this book. The novel doesn't get too graphic in its details (disclaimer: I've read numerous trashy romance novels so it takes a lot for me to blush!) but it still deals with the topic of sex very openly.

For Bianca, sex is complicated.
Sometimes it makes her feel dirty.
Sometimes it makes her feel free and alive.
And sometimes it makes her feel all of these things--free and wonderful and dirty--all at the same time.

Now that I've finished the book, I give big props to Keplinger for weaving sex into her story yet refraining from attaching an overt message to it. There's no "Sex is SO empowering!" or "Sex is SO bad!" stuff. Which I found really refreshing. Sex is a part of Bianca's life--just as it's a part of millions of teenagers' lives. Simple as that.

But some people disagree. After perusing the reviews on Amazon, I noticed a few readers thought that the sex was gratuitous in THE DUFF and not quite suitable for the YA audience. Certainly, this novel has stirred a lot of emotions and opinions in its readers!

So what do you guys think? 
What are the boundaries when it comes to sex in YA? 
Are there any boundaries?
Do YA authors have a responsibility over their readers in regards to sex? (For instance, Bianca and Wesley always practice safe sex in THE DUFF.)


  1. OMG, I love you. No, seriously, I already DID love you, but now I love you more.

    100% agree with this post. This is Bianca's story, and it includes sex. As you said, it's how she tries to deal with the drama in her personal life. How is that gratuitous? *scratches head*

    I'm okay with sex scenes. They have to be there for a reason, though. Anyone who's read THE DUFF should know what purposeful sex scenes are.

    Oh, and by the way, I posted on sex in YA over @ Operation Awesome. The comments were... interesting :D If you'd like, take a look here: http://operationawesome6.blogspot.com/2011/01/s-e-x-and-ya.html

    Great post!!

  2. Oh great post! You know, I tend to feel that as long as the sex isn't gratuitious and is integral to understanding the character or storyline and isn't SUPER racy, then I'm fine with it. Scary stat though! If you have time, check out my guest post today on Killer Chicks www.killerchicks.org

  3. Sex is a part of teen life; the stats prove this. And teens are smart. They are not going to find a story believable if it tip-toes around or avoids a necessary sex scene.

    Key word here: *necessary*. I think this is the deciding factor, and other commenters have harped on this already. In some cases, sex is an integral part of a story, and if it plays a role in a character's journey or growth over the course of a novel, I have absolutely no problem with it in YA novels. I haven't read THE DUFF yet (on my to-read list), but based on what I've heard, it sounds like this is a key part of the character's journey... First using sex as a distraction, and then discovering there may be something to this boy she thought she hated.

    People make the same argument over alcohol and drugs in YA books. I think it comes down to the same thing, over and over... a book doesn't have to condone certain behavior, or say it's bad or good or somewhere in the middle. A book should simply include scenes, tastefully, where they compliment and improve the arc of a story and characters within it. Teen readers will appreciate that too, because they want believable stories, about teens that could be them, or a friend, or someone they knew. Sometimes that means including a sex scene. Sometimes it doesn't. It all comes down to the story being told.

    OK. That's all from me. Sorry for writing a short novel :)

  4. Haven't read the book, but hey, you gotta write what your audience is interested in - and if you are honest, sex is a big preoccupation with your teen years.

    I'm sure the critics objecting to the way the book is now would have lambasted her teen characters as unrealistic if she had omitted all sexual desires from them.

    Caroline, I'm glad that you said she didn't overtly preach a message (I find that so tiring in a novel, even when I happen to agree with the message).

    Plus - there are boundaries in YA?

    Lastly, are the readers who are objecting to the content the target audience? I'd hazard a guess that, in the main, they probably aren't.

  5. Amparo, awesome awesome comment! I totally agree. I don't mind sex scenes but I also believe there should be some sort of reason for it. And yikes! Some of those comments on your post!

    Lindsay, I admit that I'm super nervous having kids after researching teen sex! I'll be sure to check out your guest post!

    Erin, what an insightful comment! Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I love how you point out how smart teens are. I mean, we were all teenagers at some point! We could totally sniff out if a book/movie is trying to preach a message rather than being realistic.

    Ian, I think most of the naysayers are older than the book's targeted age-group (ie, not teens). Thus, I was surprised to read a negative review from a teen reader! I guess the book didn't resonate with her for some reason.

    On another point, I'm not sure if there are boundaries in YA! It's really neat for me to see how this genre has expanded and to see the range of topics it has come to encompass.

  6. I agree 100% with Erin.

    Anyone who things The Duff's sex is gratuitous needs to visit my high school. I'd be prepared to bet that 90% of my senior class is sexually active or has been at some point. I try not to think about things I've heard about the freshmen class. It's scary to think about, but it's true.

    I strongly believe that YA authors' responsibility is to portray teen life in a realistic manner. And if that means dealing with issues related to sex than so be it. I've read THE DUFF and I don't think the sex was gratuitous at all, but I do think it was realistic.

  7. jjaden8:25 AM

    Knowing that 65% of teenagers that reached 18 are having sex is not new anymore. I know that even younger teens are having sex. The sad thing is that they might get STD.