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FAQs: Sex in YA Novels

We’ve been getting a lot of questions recently about sex in YA novels. So, today I thought I’d drop by and see if I can help clear up some of the confusion:

Is it okay to include sex in my YA novel?

Yes. Some teenagers have sex. If your characters are in a place where it makes sense for them to have sex and it’s important to the plot or their development as characters, then you can definitely include those scenes.  

Do I have to include sex in my YA novel?

No. Despite the prevailing belief that sex is all that teens think about (because hormones!), not every teenager is ready for sex, or is in a place in their relationship where they are comfortable with having sex. If your characters have other things to worry about or their relationship is not in a place where they are ready for sex, then you don’t have to include it, or even address it.

How much sex can I include before it becomes New Adult?

While many popular New Adult books often include more sex than most YA novels, sex is NOT the overriding factor as to whether a book is YA or NA. Both YA novels and NA novels can include sex scenes, but neither must include them. For more information on the difference between YA and NA, check out this post.

How graphic can my sex scenes be? Do I have to fade to black if they go beyond kissing?

The important thing to remember here is that you aren’t writing erotica or porn. You are writing a novel, and every scene you include in your novel needs to further both the plot and the character’s emotional development. That said, there aren’t any clear-cut rules about how many details you include or when you have to “fade to black.” Instead, what you need to ask yourself is: what are you trying to accomplish with your sex scene? What is the most important thing about this scene? Hint: 99% of the time the answer is going to be “The character’s growth!” If done right, the actual mechanics of sex are always going to be less important and less interesting than the feelings of the characters and how the act of having sex changes their relationship. Is it fun? Awkward? Intense? Are they nervous or excited? Both? Are your characters experienced at having sex, or are they figuring it out for the first time? (The latter might need a bit more detail/space than the former.) How much detail you should go into depends on your characters, your comfort level and the needs of the scene.

What are some good rules of thumb here?

1. This isn’t porn or erotica. There’s no sex quota. Don’t add sex just for the sake of sex.

2. Character trumps all. If the character would choose to have sex in your novel, then feel free to include it. If not, don’t.

3. Sex is about the emotions, not the mechanics. Only include the amount of detail that you need to accomplish the goals of the scene and show your character growth.

4. Per our earlier PSA, please make sure that you are handling any sex scenes in a sensitive manner and issues of consent (and contraceptives, if in a contemporary setting) are clearly addressed.

Hopefully this helps clear things up a little.

Have more questions about what is and isn’t OK for YA? Let us know in the comments below!

Author spotlight

Holly West

Senior Editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel & Friends. Giant geek. Dedicated fangirl. Half-Elven Rogue Cleric. Also answers to That-Girl-Who-Reads-A-Lot.

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