A couple of weeks ago I sent off the first 5 pages of one of my YA manuscripts to a publisher to get some feedback. The editor really liked it and fast-tracked it, but before I submit the full manuscript, I need to remove the sexual references because the heroine is seventeen. This publisher doesn’t accept stories where teens have sex or where the act of sex is implied. I understand it. I get it and I applaud them. I will submit my manuscript to this publisher once I clean it up, (not that there was any sex to begin with, only references). But this requirement led me to wonder what the reasoning is behind some publishers adhering to this rule. I personally don’t write sex scenes, but I have to ask, isn’t sex a part of teen life these days? Is the reason for not going the sex route a moral issue or a legal one?
I read the Twilight series. I think most people will agree it was soft porn for teens. I read Graceling, Bitterblue and Fire by Kristin Cashore. Her female leads have sex. Though it wasn’t displayed vividly, you knew what they were doing. Maggi Stiefvater has a sex scene in Shiver. Tahereh Mafi turns up the heat in Unravel Me and John Green has a quite vivid oral sex scene in Looking for Alaska, although in his defense, it is rather ‘clinical’. So, if New York Times best-selling YA novels explore teen sexuality, why do small, indie publishers shy away from sexuality when considering taking on new works and authors?
The answer is, I don’t know. I’m hoping an editor of a small press will stop by and lend some reasoning, some explanation.
I know the YA audience falls within the 12 – 18 age group, and I understand where publishers wouldn’t want graphic sex scenes to fall into the hands of a 12 – 14 year olds. My take is, most teens already know about this sex stuff. They’ve seen it on t.v., they see it in movies. Unfortunately, many of them are having sex themselves, (I know, scary, right?) Also, if you listen to teens and read their blogs, one of the big topics is sex, and mostly by girls. Should they? Shouldn’t they? How do they know they’re in love? What if the boy doesn’t love them? Should the girl bring the condom? Should the guy? Is Prom night the “Big Night”? Taking this and the fact that the above-mentioned best-sellers hit the mark with teens and adults alike, does it make sense for indie publishers to stay away from books that explore teen sexuality?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one for gratuitous sex, especially among teens, but sex is a no brainer in teen life. Teens have sex. Not all of them, but a lot of them. Even if you (if you’re a teen reading this) or your teen isn’t having sex, teens know teens who are. If authors want to write realistic stories about teens, doesn’t it make sense that the issue of sex needs to be addressed at some point, in some fashion?
When I was a teen, I was reading adult books and most of what I read had sex scenes, especially historical romance. I stumbled upon D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover when I was 14. So not a novel for kids and let me tell you, I learned an awful lot about sex. I immersed myself in these novels for the longest time. There was something beautiful, enticing, about these love scenes to my young teen mind. Sex was raw, powerful, loving, romantic. The men were handsome and swoon-worthy. The women young, beautiful. There was a fascination, a power, a joy that came from reading these books as a teen.
I doubt much has changed since then. Teens are still reading. Teens are still looking for those stories that touch their curiosity, stories that ignite their imaginations. Stories that make them feel and swoon and speak to the parts of them that are considered ‘off limits’ or taboo.
So, why do many small publishers stray from publishing books that touch on teen sexuality? Your thoughts would be appreciated. Also, as a reader, do you stay away from YA novels that touch on teen sexuality? Inquiring minds want to know.