Sexuality in teen lit

10 September 2010

I recently interviewed several prominent novelists about their take on the young adult genre, asking them, among other things, what elements a young adult novel should include, what teens like to read, and how they deal with an aging readership.

The answers I received were quite surprising.

During my interviews, I squeezed in a few questions about sex, hoping to gain some insight on the subject.

The question is quite an important one for me. In my latest book (no date yet, sorry folks) one of my characters is in a serious relationship. I had to decide whether or not to include an intimate scene where things got a little hot and heavy, and if I did, how far I should take it.

One author who isn’t afraid to go there is Cecily von Ziegesar, who penned the ultra-successful Gossip Girl series which has been re-invented as a popular television series.

Surprisingly, Cecily believes sex is irrelevant. “Romance is what’s most important,” she says. “When two seventeen year olds have been in love since kindergarten, sex is a natural result, and it’s very romantic when it finally happens.

She is also a firm believer in not lecturing her readers in her books. “I’m not going to lecture anyone in my fiction. My characters will make all the same mistakes real people make,” she says.

I’ve always thought of my characters as real people, so Cecily’s advice makes sense. Letting them evolve on their own is a sure-fire way of creating characters that are both believable, and most importantly, relatable to readers.

I also contacted Richelle Mead, who is closing in on Stephanie Meyer to take the crown as queen of vampire romance fiction. The highly anticipated final book in her Vampire Academy series, Last Sacrifice, is due to be released in December. No doubt it will be a quadruple best seller, just like the rest.

Richelle says the use of sex should depend on where the story is heading, and shouldn’t be included just to make the book seem flashy. “Sex may play a major part or no part at all. What’s important is that if sex is there, it’s necessary for the story,” she says.She offers similar advice for addressing teenage issues and like Cecily, believes an author shouldn’t lecture her readers. “If any issues come up as part of the story, then I address them in a realistic way that fits with the plot and the characters,” she says.

So in other words, instead of inserting a scene with the purpose of addressing issues like sex or drugs, rather let the story progress naturally. At the end of the day, teens, just like adults, want to be entertained, not preached to, which is the best advice anyone can give.

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