YA novels 'help demystify sex for teens'

YA novels 'help demystify sex for teens'

Literature can help teens understand the reality of sex, although many parents are still reluctant to let their children read books with sexual content, a panel of authors said at YALC (the Young Adult Literature Convention) on Sunday (19th July).

Speaking on a panel entitled 'Bringing Sexy Back', chaired by novelist and journalist James Dawson, authors Louise O’Neill (Only Ever Yours, Quercus), Non Pratt (Remix, Walker Books) and Lucy Ivison and Tom Ellen (Lobsters, Chicken House), said YA novels help counteract the unrealistic portrayal of sex in visual mediums.

“We are becoming desensitised to sex in visual media because there’s so much access to it,” said Pratt, adding that YA was counteracting  that by “connecting emotions and sex”. Pratt said she writes sex scenes to her 14-year-old self. “I know about sex now and I want to marry that with what I wanted to know about then.”

Ellen said he and Ivison wanted to avoid “glossy, rose-tinted” sex scenes in Lobsters because they didn’t want to do teenagers a disservice by giving them unrealistic ideas. O’Neill, on the other hand, said the sex in her books is often unpleasant partly because her first few times having sex weren’t very pleasant.

Dawson said YA novels should be the “antidote” to the unrealistic portrayal of sex in pornography. “Porn is so available now that I think as YA authors we have a duty to counteract that.”

However, Ivison, who is also a school librarian, said she is constantly facing criticism from parents who don’t want their children to read books with sexual content, including one who objected to Pratt’s first book Trouble, which is about teenage pregnancy.

“I had a complaint about Trouble and now it’s not on the shelf any more,” she said. “Every day a parent complains about a book and I’m constantly having to justify why I’m giving girls books.”

When talking about whether there are any boundaries when it comes to writing about sex for teenagers, Pratt said she generally wants there to be some optimism and hope in YA, although there should be no off-topic subjects.

Dawson said asexuality should feature more prominently, as should sex between two male gay characters. O’Neill said she would like to see periods discussed more in YA novels.