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.