Of Course There’s Sex In YA (Sometimes)

3216912ac1d251b8f5613f42495477dd-1When we were drafting TINY PRETTY THINGS, we knew we were writing a book that would tackle a lot of issues: bullying, eating disorders, racism, homophobia, depression. And yes, there would be some romance. Which, of course, meant asking the big question. Do we want sex on the page?

Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: teens have sex. Not all of them, but a lot of them. So it’s a natural, healthy, necessary thing for them to see explored on the page, because — if you’ll recall your own early teen years — they’re learning a lot from books. Drawing a hard line here doesn’t make sense, because we want to address sex and sexuality in a comfortable, open way for this audience. Right? Right.

But there are caveats. Dhonielle is a school librarian, so she knows just what the deal breakers might be for many schools when it comes to this matter. So when the subject does come up in TINY PRETTY THINGS, we’ve decided to tread lightly.

And here’s the thing with sex scenes. They’re not really about the physical act, right? (At least not in this genre.) They’re part of the characters’ story arcs, and they have to move plot or emotional state forward, otherwise they shouldn’t be there at all. In YA, especially, sexual exploration frequently means character growth (or, annoyingly, destructiveness). But it also can be subtext for internal conflicts. Case in point: in TINY PRETTY THINGS, at the start of the book, Bette and Alec have a strong physical relationship as well as a solid mental bond. But as his emotional interest turns elsewhere, the sexual interest twists, making him uncomfortable with the situation — and making it very clear to Bette that she’s about to lose him. Meanwhile, for “good girl” Gigi, a stolen kiss with someone else’s boyfriend causes her to question her own boundaries.

This way, sexuality and physicality represents emotional connection or turmoil — with other characters and internally — moving the story forward and giving teens what they really want. Which, of course, is drama.

Author: Sona Charaipotra

An entertainment and lifestyle journalist published by The New York Times, People, ABC News, MSN, Cosmopolitan and other major national media, SONA CHARAIPOTRA currently curates a kickass column on YA books and teen culture for Parade.com. A collector of presumably useless degrees, she double-majored in journalism and American Studies at Rutgers before getting her masters in screenwriting from New York University (where her thesis project was developed for the screen by MTV Films) and her MFA from the New School. When she's not hanging out with her writer husband and two chatter-boxy kids, she can be found poking plot holes in teen shows like Twisted and Vampire Diaries. But call it research: Sona is the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book development company with a decidedly diverse bent. Her debut, the YA dance drama Tiny Pretty Things (co-written with Dhonielle Clayton), is due May 26 from HarperTeen. Find her on the web at SonaCharaipotra.com or CAKELiterary.com.