Writing About Sex In Teen Romance

With: Christopher Krovatin

 

            While writing Frequency, I made myself a solemn promise: I would not be scared of sex, and neither would my protagonist, Fiona Jones. For most of my youth, YA novels treated sex and sexuality as either a series of gross jokes, a dark test of impulse control similar to being a werewolf, or a precious bauble to be handled with care. None of those reflected my own journey or that of my female friends; for us, sex was something to be discovered, examined, navigated, and understood, even when it was scary.

So in my story, a dark modern fairy tale in which Fiona, an eighteen-year-old guitarist from a small town with a secret, falls for a mysterious DJ in his twenties, I decided to avoid those clichés. Fiona didn’t need to have all the answers, but she had to be aware of her own feelings and limits regarding sex. No rose petals, no coquettish gasps—time to get real.

            It sounded easy. But it turned out I had miles to go before I slept.

            First off, as a dude, I had to get in the mindset of a young woman dealing with sex. Society has applied all these ugly, stupid rules to male versus female sexuality—stud and slut, the horny beast and the precious princess, et cetera—so it was easy to decide I was just going to sweep all of those off the table in writing Fiona.

I realized how lazy this was when my editor came to me saying I needed to rewrite several scenes due to them having a male gaze. By deciding I would write Fiona as regarding sex like a dude would, I was actually playing into the hands of every horrible stereotype I was trying to avoid. Fiona hadn’t spent her whole life bombarded by the same messages piled on young men. My depictions were unfair and unrealistic, especially given that I was writing characters in their teens, who are finally entering a world where sex is all too real.

Next, there was the question of explicitness. If a character’s unafraid of sex, and if you’re trying to avoid all the tired nonsense about how the earth moved, then you should just show all the bare mechanics of sex, right? Better to teach young readers the real deal than fill their heads with atmospheric fantasy.

Here’s the thing, though: most young readers know the real deal. They’ve taken sex ed, they’ve had the talk with their parents, they’ve read a book or website about their bodies. But what you learn about sex when you get older—what I learned, certainly—is that it matters. Sex has emotional weight, even if it’s not always about love (man, sometimes especially when it’s not about love). Just because you don’t turn every aspect of sexuality into an image of a buff pirate embracing a coy heiress doesn’t mean sex can’t be important, emotional, and powerful.

Finally: the book was done. I’d edited it to a fine point, with special attention paid to the scenes about sex and sexuality. Advance reader copies were sent out. And, as an author and narcissist, I decided to read some of the early reviews. Lo and behold, more than one of them brought up the sexual content—saying it was too steamy for young readers!

My first reaction: WHAT THE HELL? I’d worked so hard at this! I’d scrutinized every detail! What more could I do?

And then I learned my most important lesson about sexuality in YA: there are no rules. There’s no standard. When it comes to sex, some people’s comfort zone will not match your own. Some people will always think you’re being too explicit or steamy, and others will think you’re not being explicit enough.

If sex is personal, the feelings about it can’t be universal. When writing young characters exploring their sexuality, you need to operate within your own standards, and be unafraid. But you also need to admit you’re wrong, do the hard work, and understand that you can’t please everyone.

 

FREQUENCY

 

Nine years ago, Fiona was just a kid. But everything changed the night the Pit Viper came to town. Sure, he rid the quiet, idyllic suburb of Hamm of its darkest problems. But Fiona witnessed something much, much worse from Hamm’s adults when they drove him away.

And now, the Pit Viper is back.

Fiona’s not just a kid anymore. She can handle the darkness she sees in the Pit Viper, a DJ whose wicked tattoos, quiet anger, and hypnotic music seem to speak to every teen in town…except her. She can handle watching as each of her friends seems to be overcome, nearly possessed by the music. She can even handle her unnerving suspicion that the DJ is hell-bent on revenge.

But she’s not sure she can handle falling in love with him.

AMAZON