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Ask an Editor: Sex in YA Novels

We’ve had a few questions lately about sex in YA novels. Is it okay to have sex scenes? How much is too much?

The short answer is: Yes.

You can totally include sex scenes in your young adult novel. I know that the idea can often make people uncomfortable, but you are writing stories about teenagers, and you want those stories to feel realistic, and despite the best effort of well-meaning adults everywhere, many teens have sex. It’s a thing. And it’s something that can (and often—though not always!—should) be addressed in books written about and for teenagers – especially when you are writing a love story.

That said, remember that you aren’t writing erotica. Your YA novel shouldn’t remind people of 50 Shades of Grey and you should never include sex scenes just for the sake of having them. You don’t need graphic descriptions or any kind of shock value. The point of a sex scene in a YA novel (or in any love story really) is the emotional effect on the characters. How does having sex change their relationship? If it was their first time having sex, do they have regrets the next day for their lost virginity? Was it a wonderful experience that brings them closer or was it kind of terrible and something that they have to get past?

So, the long answer is: Yes, you can have sex in YA novels, but sadly, there’s no formula, no hard and fast rules or numbers. Just really think about why you are including the sex scene. Is it natural for your characters to have sex at that point in their relationship? And if so, are the details that you are putting on the page necessary for the development of their relationship? What is the sex scene telling the readers about your characters and their relationship, how is it helping them grow and change?

Remember, in YA, sex scenes are NEVER about the sex and are ALWAYS about the characters.

Have a question for our editors? 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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