There’s no denying that YA (Young Adult) books are popular. The genre is fairly new and ever-changing, but the demand for it is only growing. (The best explanation for what YA means as a genre can be found here on YouTube.)
The series are everywhere books are sold, reaching teens and adults alike. And one of the current Queens of the genre is Sarah J Maas, exploding onto the scene with her Throne of Glass epic fantasy series and her bestselling Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy.
A note before we begin: This is not a post bashing Sarah J Maas. Her books have legions of delighted fans. She is arguably a great author, and doesn’t deserve any hate for her fantasy worlds. She also has little to no control over how her books are marketed.
It’s in the Court of Thorns and Roses that controversy is found. The books are, in a word, sexy. Magical, thrilling, adventurous, and also full of steamy scenes. And they are definitely marketed and sold as YA. The series is currently holding the #18, #20 and #28 spots in the Books<Teens<Fantasy category on Amazon. The second book in the trilogy (A Court of Mist and Fury) won the Goodreads Choice award for Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2016.
Yet the series also contains explicit, erotic sex scenes. Scenes that include fingering, foreplay, oral sex, and penetrative sex between the main romantically stable couple are included multiple times in the second two books with enough detail that it’s plain what’s happening. (*warning for incoming content*) “His tongue swept my mouth again, in time to the finger that he slipped inside of me. My hips undulated, demanding more, craving the fullness of him, and his growl reverberated in my chest as he added another finger.” –A Court of Mist and Fury, Sarah J. Maas.
All of this has led readers to start wondering, how much sex can be in a YA series before it becomes too much? How explicit should books aimed at teenage readers be? Should there even be sex scenes in a book marketed to readers age 12-18? This topic can be a loaded one. We appreciate your patience and thorough reading of the articles on Books Rock My World more than we can say, and we feel safe putting this discussion in your hands.
Let’s look at it from the two different sides.
Yes, it’s all fine.
Young adult literature explores important themes that have real applications in teen life. Gangs, drugs, bigotry, discrimination, life, death, relationships, it’s all there. It’s disingenuous to pretend teens aren’t having sex. That’s the kind of muddle-headed prudery that makes people think abstinence-only (“Just don’t do it!”) is the perfect way to solve sexually transmitted diseases. Sex has a place in YA.
No, there’s a limit.
But there’s a difference between exploring these real-life topics for the purposes of illuminating or explaining a tough subject and . . . titillating porn. Teenagers might not be ready to discern between a loving, healthy, consensual relationship and fantasy sex with a winged Night Lord. The Hate You Give has an important, challenging message. A Court of Thorns and Roses series has sex and roofied elf wine. There is such a thing as too much sex in YA.
Keep it in.
Authors should not be censored or forced to tone down what they want to put in their story. The point of YA is that it’s about becoming an adult. Sex is one of the threshold events that can happen as a teen moves from child to becoming an adult. It’s such an important one that teens deserve the chance to engage with it in a hypothetical situation before they have to contemplate the physical situations. Literature is one good way to do that. Also, can we stop and consider the fact that extreme, gory violence gets a pass in YA books, while sex is questioned every step of the way? This seems a bit hypocritical. Just sayin’.
Have a purpose for it, or leave it out.
Teenagers need to know what a healthy relationship looks like before they engage with it in their media. Sex in a YA book should be character centered, about character growth or experience in some way. Sex for the sake of having some sexy time in the plot is not really what it’s about. It’s also not okay to catapult young readers into it with no warning. A warning sticker, like on CDs, might be a good idea for this kind of content.
There is a purpose for sex in YA
Good sex can also be a good book. Release, by Patrick Ness, is a fantastic example of an important and well-done use of sex. In Looking for Alaska, John Green explicitly says the oral sex scene was supposed to illustrate how physical intimacy can’t replace emotional intimacy, although teenagers sometimes think it can. The media young adults consume is one of the ways they learn about good, healthy sexual relationships, as well as what constitutes unhealthy relationships.
Yeah, but sex sells and it’s not usually healthy sex selling.
Media is meant to entertain. Healthy, well-adjusted relationships are just not very entertaining. Let’s face it. Would you like to read about a nice, comfortable date night where nothing special happens, or would you rather read something with a fighting, tense, hot mess of a couple who throw down on a tabletop after some juicy back-and-forth? 14-year-olds reading that are probably thinking “I need me a man who does this” but first they need to know what they really do need. How good are teens at being objective about intimate relationships? Some teens are totally ready for this, but some totally are not.
In the end, it’s a good idea for parents to know what their kids are reading and make their own call based on their own teen. There’s such a huge difference between 13, and 17, in terms of maturity and life experience. And the characters in ACOTAR are all over the age of 18 anyway. It’s a bit confusing why it was marketed as YA in the first place.