Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On YA and Teen Sexuality

No, I'm not going to debate sex in teen novels.  It exists, and you either read it/write it/like it or you don't.

I don't write it, and I have no plans to.  That's just me.  That doesn't have to be you.  My novels do have teen sexuality in them, though, because it's impossible to be a teen and not experience your burgeoning sexual self.  I choose to be subtle instead of overt about this in my stories.  Again, that doesn't have to be you.

Just thought I'd clear up what my own approach is.  (As if this surprises you!)

So here's the thing.  I've been ramping up my YA reading lately, so naturally I'm reading things with sex in them.  Because, yeah.  There's a lot of it out there.  Also almost-sex, which is pretty much the same, so long as we're talking non-explicit.

And here's my observation:  I'm seeing teen protagonists having sexual responses and behaviors that are too adult.  This is particularly noticeable when the character in question has never had sex before--and, in some cases, hasn't had a boyfriend/girlfriend before.  Or even a first kiss.

So when it comes to Very Sexy Behavior on the part of the main character, I find that I'm thrown out of the story.  For instance (and no, I'm not going to be explicit on my decidedly PG-13 blog), if the protagonist-who-has-never-been-kissed is fantasizing about doing Something Very Provocative to the resident Cute Boy's lips, it makes me think--whoa.  That's an AWFULLY aggressive/sexual/intimate thing to think about in light of the fact that you've never been kissed/never had a boyfriend/never had almost-sex/etc.

Yes, I know there are movies and books and sexually active best friends and all sorts of ways teenagers get information.  But to extrapolate that information into a highly focused desire or fantasy is, for me, outside of realistic.  Maybe to wonder tentatively what it would be like to.... Or to blush while remembering what so-and-so told you about the time when... Or to be a little confused/blown away by the way you're feeling about...  That sort of stuff.

You may disagree.  And that's okay.

(Naturally, if you've written a sexually experienced character, the above doesn't apply.)

Here comes the Angst-ridden Tale From the Annals of Authoress's Teen History (brace yourself):

I was 15 when I got my First Kiss.  I was head-over-heels, and I'm not sure what he was, other than messing with my ditzy little head.  For me, it was probably a classic theatre romance.  We were in GODSPELL together; he was Jesus.

Yanno?  Who can resist a cute Jesus with brown, curly hair?

So we went to see a play.  Afterward, he kissed me in the front seat of his car.  It wasn't a tiny kiss, either.  It was way more than I could handle.

In fact, after the giddiness wore off, all I could do was to long for an opportunity to try again, so I could show him I could, yanno, kiss him back.  Or something.

I felt completely inept at kissing.  Because, well, I was.

Most people are, the first time.  Right?

I'm not saying that every teen protagonist needs to be all squirrelly and unsure and I-grew-up-in-a-closet backwards.  I mean, who would want to read about teens like THAT?  What I AM saying is that, as you infuse sexuality into your teen characters, make sure you step back and ask yourself, "Is this something my 15- or 16- or 17-year-old character would actually think/feel/do?  Or is this something I might think/feel/do?"

Know what I mean?

It's about authenticity.  And I don't feel like it's authentic for an inexperienced teen to have thoughts and behaviors that seem more appropriate (and believable) for someone who's been married for ten years.

I'm not picking on any particular book, by the way.  It's just an overall trend I'm seeing.

There you have it!  And now back to infusing-my-lame-teen-self-into-amazingly-self-assured-main-characters.  Erm, I mean, reading.

48 comments:

matril said...

I agree! I don't doubt that there are experienced teens out there, but when portraying inexperienced teens, they really ought to seem...well, inexperienced. Of course, I may be biased because I kind of love awkward kissing scenes. They're just so..endearing, somehow. And yes, my first kiss was very awkward. I'm sure that has something to do with it. ;) But I can acknowledge that other people enjoy the steamy, non-awkward stuff. The important thing, above all, is that it's in character.

Kristal Shaff said...

I agree as well. And I'm glad that you are striving to write non sexy teen fiction. There is a need for more of that type of book in the marketplace.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I agree too. When you are writing ya, you really have to get in the right mindset to do it well. It has to be real and it a teens voice. Great post!

Myrna Foster said...

I'm with you on this one.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Brilliant observations. There are plenty of teens with experience and there are just as many without. I'm always glad to find books that honestly reflect the newness/innocence of first time teen romance as well.

Jonathan 3d said...

Great post! Your observations are consistent with the huge YA sellers. This week's #1, Michael Vey, treats the topic exactly as you describe, as well.

Eliza Tilton said...

I agree.

And my first kiss was so unromantic. We met by the bathrooms, had a terrible kiss and then he told everyone I had dog breath...yea, lol

Anonymous said...

I'm just wondering -- if you're equating the responses in these YA books with being "too adult" despite a lack of experience, would you apply these same observations to, say, a 26-year-old who has never been kissed?

Honestly, I think experience and sexual response are two different things. Some people can have previous sexual experience and are still giddy and nervous with a new lover. Some people can be inexperienced and get that first kiss and go for it. It all depends on the situation, the person, and their partner.

My first kiss was with a guy more experienced than I. It was wondrous and heated and my response was probably very "adult" for sixteen.

I think the "authentic teen" nervousness over sex and kissing is great in some fiction, but I ALSO think that assuming all teens will respond that way is a generalization. And saying that a certain response is "too adult," might make some teens ashamed of their own sexual behavior.

I'd prefer people focus on the characters, their relationship, and progress with the feelings of intimacy from there. There is no right way a teen should feel about sex or kissing. There is no wrong way. There should be no "too adult" way.

I love your blog, I think you're awesome, but on this I respectfully disagree.

Brooklyn Ann said...

I completely agree with this, however I have to mention the opposite side of the spectrum in which there's a suspicious lack of sexual feeling, those platonic cuddling scenes being the worst offender. When I was a teen and found myself next to a guy I liked, I couldn't sleep. My nerve endings were going to crazy at his proximity...and of course, the guy was affected in a more direct manner.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

I like this train of thought. And to take it to another level, is it just me or are sexually active teens NOT reading? SO, while authors are putting those scenes in there because teens at least hear about it regularly in their lives, are we not relating to the teens that are actually reading these books?

Personally, I write to the shy, non-sexual teen. Because that is how I was. Of course I thought about kissing guys. ALL. THE. TIME. But to go beyond that was out of the question. (How embarrassing is it to go to school pregnant???) And I know for a fact that most teen readers feel the same way. The teens who don't, don't read as much. (Point out if I am wrong here)

And not to be rude, but I'd rather make some teens 'ashamed of their own sexual behavior' by not putting it in, rather than having teens that don't want it in their lives yet, uncomfortable. (Why is it that people get offended when others want to be chaste? There's name-calling and all that even. Not everyone is sexually active!).

Cheyenne Hill said...

Amen to that! Thanks for not being afraid to speak up on the subject. I've read a good handful of YA books that sometimes conjure an image of a middle-aged female writer trying to be a YA voice. Rather than the YA voice. (ouch). Still enjoyable books, but I'm completely with you on the call for authenticity. Not that it's easy by *any* means...

(and I didn't have my first kiss until the summer I graduated from high school, so I was 16-17. And it was horrible. So when I read about 14 year olds kissing I just think, man... that's what books are for. Experiencing things I'd never have a shot at experiencing in real life ;)

Authoress said...

Eliza -- Oh, HORRIBLE!! That's a scene straight from a novel, you poor thing.

Anon -- Thing is, ANYTHING can be "too adult" in a teen novel; voice, dialogue, response to a crisis, friendship interaction, etc. It has nothing to do with teens feeling "ashamed" (as there is no moral attachment to whether or not something is "too adult" for a teen voice). Regardless of experience level, well-adjusted adults will respond to new situations on an adult level, regardless of age. Like I said, it's about authenticity.

Perhaps you responded confidently to your first kiss, but I'm betting that, if you could peek through a time portal and watch yourself (even get inside your own, teenaged head), you would see that your response wasn't "adult." Confidence does not equal "adult", as teens can certainly be confident (and, yes, aggressive).

This is, in my opinion, one of the supreme challenges of writing for teens. We literally have to stop "being adults" in our heads, and it's not easy!

Anonymous said...

And to take it to another level, is it just me or are sexually active teens NOT reading?

*jawdrop* Yeah. Yeah, it IS just you. Wow. I don't even...

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you responded confidently to your first kiss, but I'm betting that, if you could peek through a time portal and watch yourself (even get inside your own, teenaged head), you would see that your response wasn't "adult." Confidence does not equal "adult", as teens can certainly be confident (and, yes, aggressive).

Certainly not, but I have difficulty appropriating what is "too adult" from what is "teen appropriate." Mostly because I think some teens are more mature than others and respond accordingly. Just like some teens giggle at the Anatomy of a Penis in health class and some don't.

And unfortunately, I'm not sure I can truly get a sense of what your argument is getting at because I don't know the specific examples of books you're referring to. Who knows? I might think the responses are inauthentic in them, too. :)

Bittersweet Fountain said...

I completely agree, Authoress. I was eighteen (in college and nearly nineteen) when I got my first kiss and it was, in fact, accidental. My boyfriend was leaning in to kiss me on the cheek, I turned my head to say something, and BAM. First kiss, right there. It was unexpected and a little awkward. Not that I didn't want to kiss, it was just that honestly, kissing was so out of my frame of reference. I had spent all of high school daydreaming about holding a boy's hand. Kissing was the big leagues I was never going to get to. (Hard to kiss a boy when you, you know, don't have a boyfriend ever).

To take it even farther, I would like to see MC's who don't date. Not that they don't want to necessarily, but they're not that intoxicating girl/guy that everyone wants to ask out. Because of media and literature, I seriously thought there was something wrong with me in high school. I mean what kind of girl is eighteen and never been kissed? And this led directly to me dating a guy I probably shouldn't have, just because I wanted to experience something.

And don't think I was living in the dark ages or something. I'm 24. High school wasn't that long ago.

Mystery Robin said...

Amen!!

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Great post. I don't think the issue could be better addressed. All of your points well made.

Brooklyn Ann said...

"Kathryn Packer Roberts said...:
I like this train of thought. And to take it to another level, is it just me or are sexually active teens NOT reading?"

Wow, that's the most offensive thing I've read today. What does one's sex life have to do with one's literacy? I was sexually active at 14 but was still an avid reader...AND on the honor roll.

shielacblank said...

Well said! I agree completely. Thanks for saying it :)

sally apokedak said...

Oh I have to agree. I think many teens are very sophisticated sexually, but I have never met a teen that approaches sex like an adult. It's not the sex that I find hard to believe, it's the manner in which it occurs. I read a novel in which the boy is in a hotel room and the girl comes to the door and he takes her in and puts on his cool music mix CD and they make love.

The scene wasn't graphic. But it was the fact that I've never known a teen guy who would care about the music and make sure the girl had a comfortable bed before he made love to her. Most teen guys don't think about making love to a girl, as far as I know. They are thinking on a much baser level about how to have their sexual desires met. I thought that this boy's attitude toward sex was very mature and hard to believe.

Lo said...

I was a pretty experienced teenager. They do exist, healthily, happily, good-kissingly. I like to see experienced girls represented, too, because we're out there and doin just fine. But, I agree, a first kiss rarely should get a girl thinking too creatively. Having said that, awkwardness fades. It's easy to get the hang of it. Kissing (and more) doesn't always have to be so mysterious and scary.

Holly Bodger said...

I think this all depends on the character (which is Authoress's point). A confident, sexually-active, mature character might think one way, while a shy, inexperienced, sheltered character might think another. As long as you're consistent, it's fine but don't give us a girl who has never left her house and have her walk the streets of LA like she grew up there.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

Brooklyn Ann:

I wasn't meaning to be offensive. Actually I was looking for an answer. Are there teens that are sexually active and reading a lot of literature? The ones I know personally, don't. That's not me saying that I don't think they can read, or want to...it's just that maybe they are more active in their social lives and less likely to be 'into' reading.

(PS. Don't get offended so easily. Just because my opinion differs from yours doesn't mean that I'm a bad person or hate people who do things differently than I do. Not trying to offend people. Just showing there are other opinions out there.)

Taryn said...

Okay, so! I'm 18. First kiss when I was 17, mostly because I had no time for anything before then. My boyfriend did not believe I had never kissed anyone before. I assume this was because I knew all the "technical" things to do because of, guess what, reading. As a swimmer, I've been put into very sexually charged situations for years, and because of this I'm very comfortable with sexuality.

As a teen, I am of the opinion that teens can be sexually experienced and have just as sexually experimental minds as adults. But, obviously, this differs from person to person and should differ from character to character.

Let's phrase it this way: I haven't read a YA where the characters have made me go "uhh that's not a teen reaction." Not my reaction, maybe, but not "that's not a teen reaction."

Hmmm. Thanks for the food for the thought, Authoress :)

DJ said...

THANK YOU! I hate YA (books and movies) that portray teenage girls dressing and acting like XXX Pornstars! One book that particularly offended me was written by a man, who obviously thought all high school girls dressed and acted like they were on their way to being Hugh Hefner's next child bride & centerfold. I couldn't believe this poorly-written garbage got published! All the good YA writers out there (like on this site) and that's what got picked?

I'm not saying teenagers can't be sexual, or sexy, because I once was a teenager and I know what it is like to want to attract the opposite sex. Looking back, self-confidence is the #1 key, although if the Wonder Bra had been around I certainly would have used it! (Not that my mother would have let me wear it.I would have had to do the mature thing and snuck it out of the house.)

Girls these days are bombarded with so many mature and overly sexual images of what they "should" be, yet underneath it all, they are still young girls in the confusing process of growing. Their bodies may be adult, but their brains won't be done until they're 25. Having sex does not make you mature (but it can make you pregnant!) The friends I had in HS who were sexually "advanced" didn't fare as well as others, because they thought their bodies were all they had to offer. If they had learned they had more to offer than a nice rack, their lives might have turned out much different.

And maybe, just maybe, the right book could have helped them realize that.

Authoress said...

And in your favor, Taryn, you are truly one of the most mature teens I have ever met! :)

Of course, you don't yet have the experience of being an adult (I don't mean legally). So you don't have that perspective, and may not see the nuances that are more "adult" than "teen" in any given work or character. Especially since you ARE mature.

Also? You're right that a teen can be as sexually experienced as an adult, but that doesn't mean the teen has an adult PERSPECTIVE on that experience. Big difference, that.

There's nothing like a decade or more of life experience to show you that difference. And I look forward to knowing you THEN, Taryn dear, because you're off to SUCH AN AMAZING START!

Amethyst Greye Alexander said...

I'm laughing because just today I asked my local librarian to check the category of a book I'd checked out from the teen section but found to be very adult in the sexual situations, particularly because the main character was a late-twenty-something/early-thirty-something, and had a very blase view of bed-hopping. My librarian checked the digital catalog and, oh, look, I'm right. She moved it to the Adult shelf.

I'm also realistic about teen sexual encounters, but I'm very serious about wanting there to be forethought and consideration of all the possible emotional and physical consequences. Otherwise, it's just gratuitous, with which I am not cool.

Ames

Anonymous said...

I don't quite understand. Some of the comments on here are dismissed because they say 'you weren't an adult when you had your kiss without freaking out, so you can't say if you were behaving with or without adult sensibilities'. Others are being dismissed because they are adults now and can't be trusted to tell what is teen appropriate behaviour. So how come Authoress can have a valid opinion as an adult and others can't?

Did no one here ever practice on a pillow? I know I did. Endlessly. My first kiss was at 17. I rocked, if I do say so myself. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, I knew how I was going to do it, and no, it didn't get rid of the butterflies in my stomach, but I sure as hell wasn't thinking about how shy I was while it was happening. And no one else can tell me that wasn't the way it was. No one.

I saw a movie called 'Trust' recently, with Clive Owen. It's not the greatest movie ever, but it certainly dealt with teen sexuality in a modern and eye-opening manner. I know teens like that girl. Some of you might want to watch it. It might explain where some of those YA writers--and Taryn--are coming from.

Danielle La Paglia said...

Thanks for this great post, Authoress, and the fantastic discussion being had here in the comments.

Okay, I think I'm in the minority here, but I got my first kiss (yes, "real" kiss) at 12. Even with that, as I got older and more experienced I did not have sexual thoughts of the same nature as I do now as an adult. Everyone gets turned on and even teens have imaginations, but there is a maturity level that's different between a 16-18 year old and a 26-28 year old, regardless of experience.

Personally, I don't mind sex in YA as long as it doesn't read like erotica. In my opinion, that's too much for a YA audience. Not all teenaged characters need to be bumbling fools, but they shouldn't read like sex gods(esses) either.

Authoress said...

Anon -- No one's comments are being "dismissed." Offering a different viewpoint is not the same as "dismissing."

Please.

Danielle -- Exactly my point. And it doesn't just apply to sexuality -- it applies to EVERYTHING in life! Which, again, is what makes YA so challenging to write well.

Anonymous said...

I agree, 12 year olds will not have the same reaction as a 26 year old. However, I don't agree that all teens are incapable of having adult responses because they aren't the right age yet. IMHO maturity and the ability to think like an adult does not necessarily spring itself on you when you reach a magic number. My differing viewpoint is that I think experience and age are two different things. Maturity can come with one or the other, or both. I've met enough adults who think like a child to believe that's possible.

As for my comments on 'dismissal', I apologize if I offended anyone. But the different viewpoints here are being offered by a few who keep getting told 'yeah, but...' when they were simply presenting their experience, not just opining on a general statement. I don't think personal experiences have a 'yeah, but...'. They just are. I thought it was a little ridiculous to try to tell someone else how they think or thought from your own viewpoint.

I'm not saying that YA novels should be written with obviously out of whack characters. I'm saying that one person's 'out of whack' is possibly another's personal experience and we might want to make room for that when interpreting a work. Writing is very personal after all.

Authoress said...

Anon --

You're absolutely right when you say that experience and age are two different things. And yes, there's no "magic number". True, true.

But in the end, a teen is incapable of having an "adult response" simply because he/she is not an adult yet. And the experience that comes with living life cannot be replicated in someone who hasn't lived that long.

A teen may be MATURE. A teen may have an adult-like response, or a response that is more mature than his peers. A teen's life experiences may have forced him to "grow up fast." (My own grandmother got pregnant at 15 and got married --bang.) But the experience of life LIVED will always make a difference -- and always change a person.

Isn't it interesting, for interest, how, when we reconnect with old high school acquaintances on FB, how different they are?

Of course, there are those who seem not to have matured past 16 or so. And, psychologically speaking, we tend to get "stuck" at the age at which we suffered emotional wounding. Hence those adults we run into who seem more like 12-year-olds than grown-ups.

Emotionally, that's how old they might be. 12.

But I think it's important for a YA author to be able to differentiate between an "emotionally mature teen" and an "emotionally mature adult." Because it's the years of life experience that make the difference. And no teen, regardless of how mature, is capable of looking at/experiencing/understanding life on the same level as a (mature) adult who is 10 or 20 or 30 years his/her senior.

It's just not possible.

And that's the subtle difference in YA characters who are truly authentic.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to life and understanding it, I totally agree with you. But I do think that in terms of sexuality in teens today, the point may be more invalid than it was 15 years ago.

I also think about how just a few centuries ago (as with your grandmother and mine) adults were teenagers. Our physicality hasn't changed so I wonder if, in terms of their sexuality, teens now are so incapable of having sexually adult responses as we think. I submit our discomfort with certain ideas about maturity and sexuality might have more to do with society than actual science.

But that's beside the point. I'm not here to be rude or dismissive. In fact, I might simply be playing devil's advocate. I agree with you totally--for authentic YA characters to be written, writers must know the difference between mature adults and mature teens, or inexperienced teens. But there's a world of difference between sexual behaviour and life as a whole.

Teens today are not who we were back then. I think of 'Twilight' and how many teenagers connected to the idea of knowing exactly what (or who) you would want or need for the rest of your life at 17 and I want to cry. But guess what--millions of adults and teens disagreed with me.

Are they wrong? Am I? I submit authenticity will be judged by each reader's personal experience. Or fantasy. It's a rare an admirable talent that can find the ring of truth in either and then make it accessible to all.

As one writer to another, I salute the search for authenticity and hope that all of us find success. Our readers will be the real winners and there's no argument in that.

Heather said...

i totally agree w/you, Authoress, and it seems to me that the sex/profanity is largely gratuitous in much of teen fiction. sure, there are some very experienced people out there, but is it even something we want to promote? regardless, being awkward w/your body/sexuality/looks is par for the course for MOST teens, experienced or no. "princess diaries" didn't achieve success b/c she was already confident/beautiful/had the perfect boyfriend. it was interesting b/c she was not any of those things.

Christina said...

I feel like there's a lot of generalizing going on here. Most first kisses are awkward and fumbly, yes, but some aren’t–some are sweet and comfortable, or unexpected and exciting.

I get what you’re saying, that reading something that sounds *too adult* for inexperienced characters throws you out of the story, but is it because it’s not what you consider realistic, or because it doesn’t reflect how you experienced it? The majority of teens are driven by hormones, and that can quickly over-shadow everything else, including anxiety or expectations.

Amanda the Aspiring said...

I like this blog post. =) Like Taryn, I'm also 18, but unlike Taryn, I have not had my first kiss/any significant physical contact with the opposite sex. I admit I'm fairly sheltered when it comes to all "that," and I definitely am one of those people who either puts the book down or skips the sexual/almost-sex parts if they appear--unless they sneak up on me and I don't know what I'm reading until it's too late, which has happened. I just don't want that stuff in my head before I've experienced it myself/don't want to build up any expectations based in fiction, and that's just my view on it. Obviously it's not that the thoughts never enter my head, but as an inexperienced teenager, they're not very explicit or detailed. It's more like you said, Authoress--wondering what it would be like.

Given that, like DJ said, the brain does not stop developing until around the age of 25. Experienced or inexperienced, everyone is still developing in that way past their teen years and well into young adulthood. This brings me to the conclusion that all experiences, or lack thereof, will be viewed in different ways, depending upon the stage of brain development. I don't read much YA heavy in romance, which is just my preference, but some of what I have read has definitely come off a little old in terms of how the character viewed things of a sexual nature, regardless of experience.

It's subtle, but it takes away from the realism, for me. I can understand differences in a character from myself in age, gender, experience, personality, maturity, ect., while the character is still believable. But some things just don't read authentic, no matter how you spin it, and an adult perspective on sexual experiences in a teen is one of them. And that is just my opinion as a teen heading into adulthood. =)

JeffO said...

I think a lot of this ends up coming down to 'everyone is different.'

Yes, I would imagine that *most* first kisses are awkward and clumsy, and can be fraught with emotional (and physical) distress, but some are not. I think, when writing these scenes, it's not so much a question of 'what would my 15/16/17 year old character think/feel/do', it's 'what would my *character* think/feel/do?'

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

Great comments Amanda and Heather! I was the same way, Heather, as a teen. I didn't want to read that kind of stuff as a teen, and I knew a lot of other teens who didn't either. I don't think it should be encouraged, whether teens experience it or not. Too much can be careless and encourage teens to try things they aren't ready for/shouldn't be doing at all.

Susabelle said...

I am not a huge fan of YA, but mostly because those years growing up for me were horrifying. Who wants to relive that? Not fun. I was fat, gawky, nerdy, and completely a late bloomer sexually. Not physically, part of my gawkiness is that I had my periods and giant boobs before my friends did. This just made me awkward and embarrassed. I didn't kiss a boy until I was 17 and didn't have my first sexual encounter until I was 25. I used to think I was kind of unique in that regard, but actually, I'm not.

I agree that too much sexuality, especially with great specifics or pinpointed desires, is really unrealistic. I read a lot of romance novels (and write them too) and one thing I absolutely HAVE to have is some realism. If the characters and what they do don't ring true, then I can't keep reading. Even as a teen, when I was reading steamy novels, I don't remember having specific desires. That came much much later, as a result of experience and maturity.

Nice commentary. I'm glad I found your blog!

DJ said...

This has been a great discussion! Way to pick a subject, Oh Mighty Authoress!

I would just like to add that I too, had my first kiss at 12ish! It was so sweet- I was taller than him and his voice was probably higher than mine, but he was so cute, who cared!

Then we moved. So much for that budding romance! But we didn't have the pressure placed on kids today to "hook-up", so it would have stayed sweet and simple for years to come, had it lasted that long, until our hormones and curiosity got the best of us (I think curiosity is just as strong of a drive as hormones).

Super interesting comments today. Love it!

Jen said...

Brilliant post, and I couldn't agree more. Former awkward teens unite! I seem to remember I spent a whole lot of my teenage years wishing that I didn't have to grow up, and hating that suddenly you weren't allowed to be friend with boys anymore, it had to be about something else...

Mindy McGinnis said...

As a YA librarian, and someone who spends 40/wk around teenagers, I feel downright awkward when I'm reading an explicit sex scene involving teeangers. I'm thinking, Uh, if they filmed this it would technically be illegal.

However, I do think sex for / with teens can be written tactfully and be perfectly acceptable.

As far as being inept at kissing, I'm 32 and I still think I'm not that great at it.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Good words, Authoress. I think I completely agree with you. It really boils down to keeping your characters real.

Amy

erica and christy said...

I recently read a published book that explained - in detail - how gratifying the girl's first time was. And totally unbelievable. (It was written by a male, although I KNOW that could be a coincidence)
erica

Jolene Perry said...

I write for teens. I teach high school (and have for some time) and there are a lot of teen novels out there that I feel like are written about teens, but are geared for an adult audience who won't see inconsistencies.

I've written some characters who are very self-assured, and some who aren't so much. The key is making them authentic - no matter their maturity level, or their experience level - which will obviously differ greatly from character to character.

Just make your people believable :D

Awesome post, and great discussion.

lindapepstein said...

As always, great post, Authoress! This conversation is so interesting to me because people are conflating two things: real life and fiction. We have our experiences, first kisses, first sexual encounter, etc... at 12, 18, 25 whatever. Some are awkward, some are practiced and great, some are horrible, some are unexpected. That's just what happens. My first kiss was when I was 14 and it was pretty bad. I said to myself, "Ugh, this guy really can't kiss. It's GOT to get better than this!" But I still had butterflies in my stomach beforehand and a sense of some kind of milestone achieved afterwards. I may have been a "mature" 14 but I'd still never kissed a boy yet. And I think that's what Authoress is pointing at. When WRITING characters, be authentic. Also, today's teens (even those who read a lot) have a wide range of attitudes about what's normal, appropriate, wanted, when it comes to sex. And THAT is worth capturing in our YA characters. There's no one right way to represent all teens but recreating them in fiction authentically is what we should be shooting for.

Authoress said...

Anon: You said: "As one writer to another, I salute the search for authenticity and hope that all of us find success. Our readers will be the real winners and there's no argument in that."

Bravo! And thank you for ending on such a positive note.

Everyone: AWESOME DISCUSSION! Thank you all for your honesty and sensitivity. :)

Laura Barnes said...

This is embarrassing to say but my first kiss wasn't until I was almost 19. And I had wicked, sexy, horribly inappropriate fantasies for years before that. Hmm...now I'm an adult with 3 kids and feel more chaste then I was then. LOL! Great discussion.