In all the contemporary YA I've written, sex comes up. It's actually a major premise and a theme in MS1 and MS5. (Oh my gosh, I sound so cool with 5 WIPs! WOOT!) Why do I make sex take a front seat in my YA, especially when it's such a hot topic, and often controversial for conservative watchdogs?
Because I think in our Western society, sex is ALWAYS an issue.
Even where it's not overt- think about how many things tie in sexiness when that really has nothing to do with it. How many times have you seen cars, beers, food, etc advertised using beautiful women in suggestive clothing?
Alright then, let's talk about sex, baby. Here are some reasons I think sex is always relevant in YA.
(Listen to what the say at the beginning. So appropriate for the sex in YA discussion. And there's the rap in the middle about STDs. Maybe they should make all parents and teens watch this vid! lol)
Some adults file their sexuality away in a closet. But that's so much harder to do as a teen with hormones spilling out your eyeballs. (Seriously glad I wasn't a boy, so I never had to deal with inappropriate rushes of blood to inappropriate areas of my body.) With the raging hormones, situations escalate quickly. A simple brush of fingers and your blood temperature is through the roof.
Everybody's talking the talk. Even if their friends are all virgins, they're theorising about it. And sex makes its way into even casual conversation. People are boasting about all sorts of things.
All this talk (and the fact that sex is all over the other entertainment media) naturally leads to sex taking up space in your imagination. What's it really like?
A signficant other or close friend might actively put pressure on a teen. And even if noone purposely tries to convince them, the pressure of just knowing that all their friends have "crossed that finish line", can make a teen feel like they should too.
Whether or not to have sex is probably one of the biggest, most agonising decision a lot of teens face. If you choose not to have sex, then that's something that defines you and plays a role in your life.
And of course, there's the Judy Bloom-esque concept of two teens deeply in love and just wanting to take their relationship to another level.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
At the end of mandatory schooling (16 in Bim), I was a virgin. I can't say if that's rare for Barbados or not. I think we're a little freer with our sexual ideals, living somewhere at the intersection of African culture, remnants of slave days, and Christianty. Among my friends, however, it wasn't the norm.
Despite the fact that I was a virgin, I had a HORRIBLE reputation. It's all very explainable. When I was 13, I had a completely innocent non-sexual relationship with an older teenager. One day we were walking somewhere and a classmate saw us. Out of nowhere, I'm the subject of all these rumours. The weird thing is that I was just walking down a road, not even holding hands, with this guy and 2 of his friends and 1 of mine. And somehow, people got images of inappropriacy from it. It was like a scene straight out of the 16th century. (Good thing we didn't do SCARLET LETTER in English Lit!)
For the rest of my school life, and even after, these sexual rumours coloured my life. It went through a few stages. First there was rampant denial. Then there was amusement at seeing what rumours people could come up with. Eventually, I got jaded enough that I stopped caring about my reputation at all. If people are going to say you did something, why bother to SEEM like you're not doing it? And furthermore, why bother NOT doing it?
WRAP IT UP
From my experience, whatever a teen's stance on sex, they come into contact with it. In my personal life, sex haunted me for YEARS before I even went near it. YEARS! Sex shaped my teenage years. Having to live through that reputation and still hold my head high, give me a strength I still need in the face of detractors sometimes.
Still, it's important to consider how you represent sex in YA. As a teen, there's so much misinformation. If you're writing YA, you have an opportunity to show sex in a beautiful pure light, as the dark issue that it can be, or just matter-of-factly. The only thing you need to be careful about is not to be preachy.
I won't support any argument that says universally that sex is not a concern and shouldn't be in YA. If it's an issue you find even moderately common in secondary and high schools around the world, then it's an issue that belongs in our books.
(Just in case you wondered, this concern doesn't seem to exist in Japan. Sex outside of marriage/as a teen isn't really frowned upon. I wonder if sex isn't something that Buddhism and Shinto speak to. Even if it is, Japanese people are a lot more lax in practising religion. Children outside of marriage are really frowned upon though, so in the event of unplanned pregnancy, people either get married, or abort. And when you couple that with how uncommon oral contraceptives are the abortion rates are higher. There's no shame or moral dilemma to abortion either. It's just a fact of life.
Needless to say, sex is pretty much a given in Japanese high school romances, and possible in real ife Japanese high school.)