Kissing, Sex, Fading to Black

Last week I saw a link for this article (“How to Relationship” by Corey Anne Haydu) on Katy Upperman’s What’s Up Wednesday post. The TL;DR version: Haydu thinks much of YA uses intercourse as a relationship endgame instead of exploring the deeper complexities of teen relationships and sexuality, because those complexities make society as a whole kind of squicky. At least that’s how I read it.

I think Haydu makes an excellent point, but I wonder to what degree that situation can be rectified? If this is a call to portray sexual situations in a more honest manner, without fading to black, then I am all for it. If it’s a call to portray sexual experiences as more varied than just kissing and sex, again, all for it. However, there is a line that exists. Haydu acknowledges that, saying she’s “not comfortable with the line between realistic/honest and graphic or too erotic.” And I think that’s exactly why we have the narrative we have. It’s safe. It easily stays within the bounds of propriety.

So while I agree that more honesty is needed, I struggle with how to implement it. How much is too much?

YA has come a long way and does not typically shy from heavy topics–drug use, suicide, rape, incest, etc. I haven’t read all the books dealing with all of these topics, but I wager that, despite the material, many of them probably also did a degree of fading to black when describing sexual situations. If even the authors who are willing to explore taboo topics get antsy about including too much detail or straying too far from the fade to black, then what hope do the rest of us have?

Are there any types of situations you think are too taboo for YA lit? Do you agree that we need to expand our perspectives within YA sexual relationships? Have you read any YA lately that really explores the relationship stages between the first kiss and intercourse?

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4 comments

  1. Katy Upperman says:

    I struggle with the same thing, Crystal. While I agree that it’s important to explore intimacy and romance in YA relationships at all levels, I am just not comfortable writing in detail about the sexcapades of teenagers. Yes, I know teenagers are having sex and I’ve included instances of it in my MSs, but I shy away from getting too graphic. Maybe this is my own issue? I don’t know… It’s such a fine line. Let me know when you figure out the perfect balance. 🙂

    • Crystal says:

      Ha, I wish I could perfect the balance! I think my own discomfort stems from the fact that they are teenagers. They may be consenting and they may be really doing these things IRL, but they are still teenagers. Since I’m not a teenager myself, it just feels kind of icky to get down into the gritty parts of these scenes. In most of my stories, the endgame is so chaste–the first real kiss, which is hilarious considering how un-chaste my own teen years were.

  2. Kris Atkins says:

    I agree. Too often books make it seem like teenagers view sex as no big deal, but that is so far from the truth. Most of them think it’s a very, very big deal, but then they read these books and think they’re not normal. I would love to see a book that showed the reality of it, all of the thoughts the character’s going through, and the aftermath. I didn’t have sex in high school, but my friends who did often tried to act like it wasn’t a big deal, but I could always tell it was to them. If books showed more detail, then they would include that.

    • Crystal says:

      That’s a really good point. My thoughts went more to the physical developments in between kissing and sex, but you are so right, I think media does tend to de-emphasize a lot of those feelings in between. They harp a lot on the should-we-shouldn’t-we discussion, but not how to get to that point or thoughts about emotional consequences and how it truly feels once it happens. I did have sex in high school with a long-term bf, but we both put a lot of thought into the decision and as a result, I have no regrets. That being said, it’s rarely all rainbows and flowers and it does have a pretty huge impact which is hard to predict before you make that jump.

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