Let me start by saying I don’t have kids—not the two-legged kind, anyway—so I’m by no means an expert on the subject of teenagers. I am, however, realistic. I have eyes and ears. I pay attention. I’m also not that far removed from my youth that I live in a rose-colored fantasy.
I wasn’t what you’d consider a wild child in my teen years, but I wasn’t an angel either. Judge if you must, but I snuck out and got in fights. I lied. I—get ready for it—drank alcohol.
The majority of YA authors gloss over certain aspects of the normal teenage existence, and for some characters and stories, it works. For my books, that kind of hazy, filmy glimpse of the world wouldn’t fly. My characters would never tolerate anything less than the whole, gritty picture. I know there’s a big debate on whether sex should be included in young adult novels, and personally, I find the entire issue ridiculous.
As a YA author, I want to connect with teenagers in a real way. I feel this includes respecting them enough to avoid fading to black when it comes to real issues. Guess what? Sex is a real issue for teens. We may not like it, but the truth is, sweeping it under the rug is irresponsible.
About a month after Touch came out, I received an email from a family friend. The entire letter was an enraged tirade berating me for being so careless. Why? Because close to the end of my book, there’s a sex scene. Yes. A real honest-to-God sex scene.
It’s okay. You can gasp now.
The scene isn’t graphic or remotely pornographic by any definition, nor does it go on for pages and pages. It doesn’t scream of depravity, promote goat sex, or subliminally suggest going out and getting down and dirty with every Edward, Jacob, or Jace, but apparently the subject matter is offensive to some. This woman closed her email stating I should be ashamed of myself, and that her daughter would never be allowed to read or watch anything containing sex. The same daughter—fourteen years old as of a week ago, by the way—recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
Scenarios like this are why I find the debate ridiculous. This woman tried to shelter her daughter, and what good did it do? The girl still ended up pregnant at fourteen. What are we trying to shield our children from? Reality? We’re turning sex into a dirty little secret.
There are exceptions to the rule—there always are—but if you think teenagers never have sex, then I want whatever’s in your water. The truth is, they do have sex. In my opinion—and remember, that’s all this post is—I feel shielding teens from reality harms, rather than protects. We’re making it seem like having sex is something they need to hide, and by feeling that way, they won’t come to us for advice. And if they don’t come to us for advice, we can’t guide them. They’re going to make their own mistakes—and that’s a good thing. Growing up is all about making bad choices and learning from them.
I’m not an advocate for gratuitous violence, sex, and drugs in books, but I do advocate reality. If it fits the character and isn’t thrown in simply for shock value, then I see nothing wrong with these “taboos”. The reality is, they’re a part of life.
Equally disturbing as the handful of emails I’ve received about that one sex scene, are the ones I’ve gotten over simply the mention of drugs, alcohol, and cigarette smoking. Seriously? You don’t think teens are doing these things, either?
While I write fiction, I do live in reality. And the reality of it is, teenagers do have sex. They drink. They experiment with drugs. They smoke. They make bad choices. They’re also smarter than most give them credit for.