September 6, 2012

guest post: writing sex in YA

Today, I welcome the lovely Rachel Desilets to talk about writing sex in YA:

There are two ways to write a Young Adult sex scene.  There is the way Tabitha Suzuma does it in Forbidden, which gets down to the nitty gritty details.  Then there is the subtle way, where your readers can make up their own mind as to whether or not your characters actually had sex.  You, as a writer, will need to make that decision.

Here are the things to consider:
  1. If you borderline erotica, your book might get challenged.  It becomes a controversy, and may turn some readers off (or on, depending).  Be wary, as a lot of parents do blog about YA books and whether the reading is deemed “safe.”
  2. If you go the subtle route, your readers might not see the characters having sex.  Which is okay, as long as the rest of the story doesn’t depend on that one, intimate moment.
You can always go somewhere in between the two, as these are the two extremes.  And since I cannot write erotica well, I’m discussing the subtle way.

Below is an excerpt.  All you need to know is that there’s a history between the two:
His lips traveled down towards my shirt collar before he took my shirt off.

“So that’s a ‘yes’?”  He asked, his real question that had been straining our whole relationship... or whatever this was.  Not relationship, no.  Not until I say yes.

I shuddered as he reached towards my belt.  “Of course it’s a yes.”   Now it was a relationship.  There was no saying no, not with how turned on I was.  Not with my pants feeling as tight as they were.

He smirked.  He had won, and he knew it.  He owned me in a way no one else ever had, and part of me was okay with that.  The other part of me became okay with that as he kissed my stomach, moving himself ever so slowly down.  I never thought I would have a favorite chair, but apparently, his computer chair is it.  It’s my favoritist chair in the whole freaking world.  I grasped the sides of the chair, digging in so hard that the skin under my nails turned white.

He kissed my stomach on the way back up to my lips.  When his lips found mine, there was an explosion I wasn’t expecting, my whole body amped up on overdrive.  I shed my pants and crushed my lips against his.  It wasn’t close enough.  We toppled onto his bed, and I tore his pants off without unzipping them, meeting his eyes only briefly to laugh at his blue polka-dotted boxers.  I gasped as if I was going home for the first time in years.  That boy can move his body in the strangest ways, but that’s probably because he knew he had me.  Me, the untamable guy, had just been tamed by a blonde scrawny kid from Central Square.

Yes, my characters are gay which is beside the point.  Did you miss it?  A lot of people do.  There is one line open to interpretation.  “I gasped as if I was going home for the first time in years.”  There’s numerous ways you can see this line.  You can read it as “foreplay with an orgasm” or “intense naked kissing.”  Or as I read it, and as I wrote it:  They have sex.

Penetration occurred within one line and a lot of people miss it - or choose not to see it.

I chose to write this sex scene ambiguously for numerous reasons, but mostly because this story is about growing up, not about sex.  While the chair sequence is not so subtle, it never mentions anything other than a stomach, lips, fingernails... and of course the “favoritist” chair.  It diverts your attention at the last second.  You know what’s happening, but your attention is elsewhere.

Young Adult literature has a lot to do with relationships, and usually has a significant amount of sexual tension.  It is my personal opinion that writing should be open to some interpretation.  Writing scenes like this allows your reader to see what they want to see.  They choose their own comfort level.

Though, now that I’ve told you all of this - I’m sure you will never read that scene the same way again.

Next time you start to write a sex scene, tap into your inner Hemingway.  Write the words between the lines, and see what you come up with.  If subtle doesn’t work for you, take a page from Tabitha Suzuma and try describing it all.  Figure out what feels natural to you, but remember your audience.


Rachel Desilets blogs at There, you can find some of her excerpts, YA book recommendations, ramblings, and flash fiction.  The excerpt above is from her work in progress, Good Criminal Heart.

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