Up Close and (un)Conventional – Let’s Talk About Sex

Posted 3 June, 2016 by Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms in Discussion Posts / 45 Comments

Up Close and (un)Conventional - (un)Conventional Bookviews

Up Close and (un)Conventional – Let’s Talk About Sex

Welcome to this week’s Up Close and (un)Conventional. This is where I discuss both things that have to do with reading and blogging, and things that just have to do with life in general. This week, I’m back to talking about sex once more. My inspiration came from Kristin @ Metaphors and Moonlight’s post a couple of weeks ago, where she talks about age and when 50 Shades of Grey is appropriate. I have written about Sex in YA before, but it’s been a while, so here we go.

I think that a lot of people have things they don’t want to read about, and then, when becoming more mature, that can change. And you all know I don’t mind reading about sex in my stories, too. I really do want there to be an actual story, though, not just sex for the sake of sex, or shock value. There are many books that involve things that aren’t part of my lifestyle, but what better way to walk a few miles in someone else’s shoes than reading about things we might never experience in the real world?

When it comes to younger people and whether they should be able to read about sex, I think there’s a very big difference between Europe and the US. First of all, it’s legal to have sex at 16, so there is no problem to read about teens having sex with each other. Also, in senior high school (15-19 years), a lot of the language classes also use novels for teaching purposes. And especially in French novels, there is some talk about sex in one way or another, and the students need to analyse different parts of the text, where a metaphor for sex can be used. Or sex can be used as a metaphor for something else entirely, too. So I think that having to be observant, and read with a critical eye can be good, especially if the sex that is a part of a novel can spur discussions about what is OK and not, gender roles, the importance of communication, of practicing safe sex etc. But I’m sure you can all imagine that all this can be quite embarrassing for the kids to talk about with their teacher, right?

So, I guess, all this is to say that I think it’s important that books do talk about sex, or have characters that talk about sex, or have sex… you get my gist? However, not all books need to have anything to do with sex or romance at all – there are many other aspects of life that can be explored as well. And I really think that there isn’t a perfect age for reading about sex – we are all different, after all. However, I do think it’s great to use novels as conversation starters – so it’s important that if teen readers are uncomfortable with something they’ve read, they have someone they can talk to about it.

What do you think about sex in your books? Have you been up close with a scene that made you feel bad when you were younger? Do you think YA books should be ‘clean’ so as to not corrupt the young?

Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms

About Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms

Linda is an English as foreign language teacher and has a Master's degree in English Language and Literature. She's an avid reader, blogger, compulsive one-clicker and a genre omnivore. Ever since she learnt how to read she has been seen with a book or two in her hands everywhere she goes.

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45 responses to “Up Close and (un)Conventional – Let’s Talk About Sex

  1. I totally think that their should be sex in books, and I believe that it should talk about safe sex! I have only ever read two books that had some sort of birth control, and I have never read a book where a girl when to the gynecologist. I think that it is better to talk about sex with teens because they are going to find out about it anyway. I would rather them have sex with protection and knowledge about it, than without protection and knowledge because they were never taught. Great discussion post!

    Anna @ Adventures with a Book Nerd recently posted: May Recap & June Reading List
    • Oh, I have read some books where the girl goes to the gynaecologist, even, and that definitely does bring a realistic angle to a story.
      I agree that talking to teens about sex and protection is important, which is one of the reasons why I have done this with my children since they were quite young. Always in answer to their questions, though, not pushing them to have ‘the talk’ with me πŸ˜‰
      Thanks for stopping by, Anna.

  2. I agree with those first few lines. What you will read about changes over time as you change. I don’t have an issue with sex in books as long as it is a natural progression of the story. I don’t like the feel when it’s there just for shock value or to catch the eye of a certain audience. I read Outlander at age 12 or 13 and read all of my mom’s romance novels that same summer. I turned out just fine; my reading choices didn’t negatively influence my actions or perceptions of sex. In fact, it made me value it – and all the different types and reasons of sex – more.

    • If a story is just ‘an excuse’ to have lots and lots of sex on the pages, I usually get very bored. I think it’s great that you think your reading choices actually made you value sex and the reasons for sex more, Charlie. And it’s very interesting as well. Being able to see things from a character’s perspective is something I really love when reading, and if a well-written story with sex can make me see things differently, I’m all for it πŸ™‚

  3. Short answer. I think it is fine to have sex in books.

    Although, to be frank, I think I skim more than I read a sex scene in a romance particularly if it’s not the first one included. I find a lot of author’s write boring or repetitive sex scenes so I skip them.

    Like you, I don’t go in for straight erotica. I like there to be a story and for the sex to feel organic to the story. As far as teens reading about sex, I guess, for me, it really depends on the kid’s maturity level and by that I mean when it comes to understanding reality/fiction not just handling descriptions of sex.
    Enjoyed your sex talk! πŸ™‚

    • I sometimes really love reading a steamy sex scene, Sophia Rose, so I’m very happy I know some authors who are very good at giving me just that πŸ˜€
      And I do read erotica, but to me, even good erotica has an actual story with a real plot and characters that can make me believe in them. If it’s just sex, sex, sex, it’s really boring to read about – and a little awkward, too.
      I definitely agree about teens reading about sex, too. They mature at different ages, and some will be OK with reading about sex, while others will just be disgusted and maybe stop reading all together.
      I’m glad you enjoyed my sex talk πŸ˜‰ thanks for stopping by and sharing your opinion.

  4. Yay, you were inspired by my post πŸ˜€

    Like you, I do read books with sex in them, but I don’t read straight erotica, I do need there to be more to the story. And I like when the sex scenes actually bring something to the story, as you said, not just there for the sake of it.

    That’s interesting to learn about the differences between Europe and the US. I feel like sometimes teachers did discuss things being metaphors for sex and stuff like that in books and movies though. And obviously this isn’t books, but I took cinematography my last year of high school, and we watched movies that were R rated and sometimes had sex scenes (nothing too graphic of course, but still). But there were never any discussions really *about* sex, and I’m not sure I would have wanted there to be as yes, that probably would’ve been awkward lol.

    I don’t know how I feel about YA books. I feel like they probably shouldn’t be too explicit. But it’s not because I think anyone will be corrupted, it’s more that I think teens should be able to choose what they’re comfortable with, and it’s good if they have some way of knowing what they’re getting into. Like, they can read YA if they don’t want sex scenes, and they can read adult if they are comfortable with sex scenes. But that seems rather limiting, so I don’t know. Now that I think about it, it’s weird that movies have ratings and you have to be certain ages, but books are just a free for all with no rating systems for anyone to know what they’re getting into. Ooh, maybe I should make a post about *that*? But anyway, I agree that reading about it can be a great thing for teens because it’s a conversation starter and because it gives them a way to kind of explore it without actually going out and doing it.

    Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight recently posted: Book Review: Tainted Heart (Mi Corazon Sangrante Book 2) by Melissa Graves
    • Yeah, it’s always very interesting to me to know the cultural differences between different countries. And sex is definitely part of our cultural heritage as well as everything else. I read Dracula with my first year students this spring (they’re between 15 and 16 years old) and I wanted to watch Dracula with them as well…I ended up showing them scenes from two different movies, one being Francis Ford Coppola’s version, which has quite a bit of sex, and one version from the 70s so that we could discuss the differences, and also why there was so much sex in one version when there really wasn’t in Bram Stoker’s novel.
      You are right about the fact that sex shouldn’t be shoved at teens when they pick up a YA novel, and I think this is also why I wish there were more YA stories without any romance at all. Not all teens go all gooey inside all the time – and there is a lot more to teen years than falling in love. But for teens to read about a healthy relationship between teens (probably ‘older teens’ though) where there is love and respect, can be very important as well. I know I was extremely curious about everything that had to do with sex when I was a teen, but I wasn’t ready to actually have sex myself.
      There you go – books and what is actually going on in them doesn’t come with any warnings at all – and some really should have some kind of trigger warnings πŸ˜‰
      Thanks for chiming in, Kristen!

  5. Lekeisha

    “Let’s talk about sex baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all….” Oops, got carried away with Salt-N-Pepa. I love this topic! I have no problem with sex in NA/A, as long as there is a story. Too much sex and not enough story makes me want to throw the book across the room. Now, sex in YA is okay, as long as it’s not graphic. I love sex positive YA, but if there is very detailed sex in a book that targets tween/teens, then something is very wrong.

    • LOL Lekeisha, between Salt-N-Pepa here and Katy Perry on another blog… we have a theme πŸ˜€
      I agree, though, that too much sex in a story makes the story disappear, and I get bored if the only thing going on is sex – but when it actually has something to do with the actual story, and the way the relationship between characters develop and change, I love it πŸ™‚
      Oh, I see what you mean about very detailed sex in a book that targets young teens, that would not be a good thing – especially if there was nothing in the blurb or somewhere visible on the book that there is explicit sex happening in the story.
      Thanks for stopping by, Lekeisha πŸ™‚

    • I’m all for reading books ourselves before handing them over to our kids, SJ! And hopefully, we know our kids well enough to know what is OK and what is too much for them to read, too.
      Of course, I also agree that if sex is something that seems to be (or become) a natural part of the story, then it should happen in some way – even fading to black and maybe talking about it afterwards – so that the story doesn’t lose any of its realism.

  6. I think by now you know my feelings about sex in books. πŸ˜‰ I do agree with you about the importance of teens being able to be exposed to sex. I really like the idea of it being conversation starting – because you know there may be something they read about that they don’t understand or makes them uncomfortable. I want to be able to discuss those things. Those topics might be the sort that we wouldn’t ordinarily broach yet need to be. I also like safe sex to be shown but dealing with the repercussions of not having safe sex is also good.
    I feel like i just babbled. πŸ™‚ Happy friday, wifey! *BIG HUGS*

    • Yeah, discussing sex with our kids can be quite awkward, but also very necessary. I’ve had kids ask me questions in the car – in the dark… or in the dark in their room when I go in to say goodnight. When it’s dark, we don’t have to look at each other, and it’s easier to talk πŸ˜€
      Yes! Stories should either show us safe sex, or what could happen if the characters don’t practice safe sex πŸ˜€
      You didn’t babble at all, wifey, I got everything you wanted to say πŸ˜‰
      Happy Friday to you, too! *BIG HUGS*

  7. I don’t mind reading books with sex in them as I do like the occasional historical or paranormal romance but I can live without it being there as well. Sometimes I don’t mind the cleaner versions of romances. I am not a prude but I also just sometimes don’t want to read about it and will skip over it and have been known to roll my eyes a bit when the scene is forever long. πŸ™‚

    I do know there is a huge difference in Europe and US when it comes to sex…lol. I have seen some foreign commercials! πŸ˜‰ My only reason for not really caring about sex in YA is because I am an adult and I like reading YA but I don’t like to read about teen sex. That being said, YA is for teens and so they probably can relate with it more. ( I feel like bit uncomfortable, so I skip over those for sure.) I also just don’t read YA romances for that reason as well.

    I do think if it’s going to be in any book it should always promote safe sex! πŸ™‚

    • I can definitely live without sex in books, but sometimes, a nice, steamy scene is just want I want / need, too πŸ˜‰
      Cleaner versions of romances don’t bother me, either, I have read some that had amazing character development without sharing any of the sexy-times with me, and that was all good, too.
      LOL our commercials… especially French ones always have something sexy going on πŸ˜€
      I totally get what you mean about sex and romance in YA. I don’t mind it at all, because I usually don’t have a problem identifying with the characters if they are well written – even if I’m much older than they are πŸ˜€
      Safe sex is great! And I think it’s important that it can be showed as a normal part of a sexual and romantic relationship πŸ™‚

  8. I think that we can learn a lot about all kinds of things in books, so I’m all for books talking about sex, or showing sex….but, like you, I also want it to be in the context of a story.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  9. I’ll have to admit, in my early years of high school I read very explicit books. Now as I look back of it I realize I did it for two reasons; 1. Becasue all my friends were reading books similiar and we would talk about it, and 2. The community I lived in a lot of the elders and/or parents were working all the time so the only avenues we had to learn things like that (since parents also didn’t think we should’ve been exposed to those type of subjects) was through experience, tv, or books, and sometimes a combo of all 3.

    BUT in a time where sex is so common that it’s inflitrating kid tv and books, I don’t see a problem with sex being in books of the age group where things are alreadg physically and emotionally changing (puberty). I didn’t read my first erotic textbook until I was in my first semester of college and I hated that because I couldn’t help but think if my ignorant thinking of sex while I was in high school would’ve been more focused and real (and not laced in fairy tales and lies) by being introduced to textbookslike these from time periods long past.

    • Ah, I see what you mean – the difference between the rosy stories that can happen in novels, and the actual technicalities and dangers of sex can be quite opposite from each other, for sure! I think a lot of parents still don’t really want to discuss sex with their children – but I think that if there is open communication within the family from when children are small, then, later on it’s easier for teens to come to talk with their parents about anything that might preoccupy them.
      TV, books and experience (or hearing of others’ experiences) was definitely a part of my sex ed, too, when I was younger. But I was also able to go to my parents and ask them specific questions. So if something I had heard (or seen, or read) seemed a bit strange, or unlikely to me, I knew I could talk to them, and they’d give me an honest answer.
      Textbooks talking clinically about sex is an important part of sex-ed in my opinion, but having feelings, and reading about two people who explore their relationship is also something that is necessary, because there should – in my opinion – be some kind of feelings involved when two people decide to have sex.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Leona!

  10. This is a really hard one for me. Zane’s 13 so I’m pretty picky with what I’m good with him reading. I think it’s just a fine line right now until he is an older teen. The biggest issue is that he is an advanced reader so he wants YA instead of middle grade to hold more of his interest. And frankly there is quite a bit of sex talk in YA reads.

    • Yeah, this is exactly something that I think is important, Jaclyn. You know Zane, so you know what he’d be comfortable reading, too. If there is quite a bit of sex talk, he might actually want to not read at all anymore, and that would be really bad! Maybe some more adult reads for him, where there might be more violence, but less romance and sex? Like the Red Rising trilogy? Or even These Broken Stars, where the romance is pretty much in the background, and if characters have sex, we don’t really see that on the page.
      I think that knowing in advance if there will be a lot of romance or not is quite important, but I have to say that in some cases, I’m sometimes more worried about the violence than the romance and the sex…
      Thanks for sharing your opinion!

      • And Jaclyn, Jim Butcher’s ‘Dresden Files’ and his ‘Codex Alera’ series could work very well for Zane, too. Hardly any romance or sex in either of them, but complex fantasy world in Codex Alera, where politics is very important. In some of the later books in the Dresden Files (maybe from book 5 or something) there might be some sex, because one of the types of vampires need sex in order to survive – not blood…
        There’s also The Time Weaver Chronicles by Thomas A. Knight, where there is time travel, and a glorious, but difficult, fantasy world.

        • Thank you!! I have heard great things about Dresden Files and the first two series you’ve mentioned, but I haven’t read any of them yet. I’ll get on that. These sound like such good picks for him since he loves fantasy and he really loved the science fiction aspects in The Lunar Chronicles. I appreciate the recommendations so much!!

  11. I am okay with sex in books, just like you I read quite some books with sex in it and also enough with no sex. I think that if it feels natural to include it int he story that should be okay. I never have been shocked to read a sex scene in a book when I was younger and I think it can even serve an educational purpose at times for teens. I feel that teens can better learn about sex in books than through other mediums. Books do provide a safe environment for them to learn about the topic.

    And like Kristen said I think teens and also older people can judge what they do and don’t want to read. I mean even now that I am adult there are topics, like torture scenes for example, that I don’t want to read about and I can skim over those when a books addresses that or avoid books that i am pretty sure I won’t enjoy. So I don’t think sex corrupts teens and they know themselves best where their limits are and what they are comfortable with reading about.

    And that’s interesting to see the difference in Europe and America. I also remember we had some literature books we could read in high school that addressed sex. Most of the books on the recommended list were adult books or more classical literature type of books. And many of the books I read for that class had some hint of sex in there. There was one book that was very popular to read as it was really short that dealt with a brother and sister having sex and a relationship. I also think books like that can be a good way to spur discussion about those topics and teach teens about safe sex and such. Great post Lexxie!

    • Yes, books definitely can provide a much safer environment for teens to learn about sex than other medium. I know that even typing in something innocent in the google search bar can take me to a porn site, and it worries me that my younger kids can end up on those sites, too. This is one of the instances I’m very happy we have open communication in my family, because when my oldest son was younger, he got a text message with a short gif in it – and it was disgusting! He came and showed it to his dad, so he could deal with it for him.
      Both teens and older people usually do know what they’re comfortable with, and I think that quite often, parents who read a lot can help their kids find the right books for them as well.
      Using classic literature to spur discussions is always interesting to me – I think that’s one of the things I enjoy the most about reading, and having friends who enjoy reading, too
      Thanks for stopping by, and sharing your opinion, Lola! πŸ™‚

  12. First of all. Great post. I love everything you said. I wish that the US was more like Europe when it comes to sex (and other things to be truthful). Sex is a part of life. We are all here because of sex (or at least the vast majority of us. I know that some people are a product of in vitro). Anyway, I was raised being allowed to read anything I wanted. My mom just wanted me to read. I didn’t pick up books with sex, I went with horror. I had teachers taking away my Stephen King books at age 12 because they felt it wasn’t age appropriate. My mom would have to come in and get it back for me. There are a lot of references to sex in King’s books though.

    I think the same should be said about books with sex in them. I think kids are not reading enough and if they want to read books about sex. Let kids read about them. They have to learn about it sometime and somewhere. I would say that if you see a teenager reading a book that is very sexual, use it as a talking point. Now, that being said, I wouldn’t hand them a copy of The Story of O and say “Let me know if you have questions”.

    Melanie Simmons @mlsimmons recently posted: Audiobook Challenge 2016 (Semi-Annual update) + Giveaway
    • Sex is definitely a part of life, and I think that treating it with respect and an open mind is important. I have trouble understanding that teachers would actually take your book, and then your mom had to show up at school to get it back for you. I agree, the horror in SK is not for everyone – I can’t read him anymore, but I used to love his books! – but that’s not for the teachers to decide.
      I think that all books are important in different ways, and I love that my kids are reading – even if the boys really only rad what they have to read for school. And they often ask me for audiobooks so that they can do other stuff while listening to the story.
      Also, I think what’s important is that we don’t exactly hand them specific books, but let them read whatever they want to read πŸ™‚ And if there’s sex in those books, be ready to talk about it with them if they ask πŸ™‚
      Thanks for sharing your opinion, Melanie!

  13. We didn’t have YA as a kid and as a preteen I was reading the classics and devouring Stephen King in middle school. Eventually I dove straight into adult novels with adult situations and issues. YA books need to be realistic and grab the reader’s attention. They need to relate, and books with sex, drugs, abuse etc are perfect opportunities to discuss these with your teen. I read every book that came through the door, and it only made my children and I closer.

    • You’re right. We didn’t have YA books either, it was either MG or Adult, with maybe Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden something in between… And I definitely read adult novels when I was still very young.
      Like you, I read every book that comes through the door, and I think it’s a great way to discuss things, and to share something without necessarily having to say it out loud πŸ™‚

  14. When it comes to violence I sometimes pause at the darker YA wondering if it would influence readers. But then, violence is as powerful a theme as sex, and I am of the opinion the more open authors are the better for readers. so mostly I’m confused lol!

    • I haven’t read Clan of the Cave Bear series, so I have no idea if I’d be scandalized or not, Nicole. I think what’s important though, is that we all have different limits when it comes to reading about various themes…

  15. I have THOUGHTS on sex in books. For me personally, I don’t mind it, even enjoy it, when it’s natural to the story and the development of the relationship, characters, etc. But there are times, even in NA/A when I find that it’s a page filler and.. too much.

    I think it’s important for novels to be true to the age of the readers. I mean, drugs, sex, abuse etc are all realistic things and should be present in YA, but to a certain degree. I feel like putting too much stress on an author to “get it right” isn’t the best way to go (I’ve seen posts like this) and that we should teach our own. But, having that rep is important. I guess I’m all over the place LOL

    • Oh yes, when sex becomes a page filler, I get both bored and frustrated. And possibly, that’s the opposite of what the author wanted to do… It has to come naturally to the story, and mean something for the characters and how they continue to move forward after that point.
      Sometimes, adult authors can make YA stories ‘sound’ all wrong, and if you mix in sex / drugs / abuse with that, it can come across as either preaching or abusive itself, and I don’t think that’s a good thing at all. And I don’t think it’s literature’s ‘job’ so to speak to actually educate youth about sex, society, drug abuse etc, that is parents and the school system’s job. However, if a book tackles any of these themes, I think that it should be done realistically.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Tonyalee!

  16. I basically pretty much agree with everything you’ve said. Sex is part of life and even if adults may frown upon it sometimes – it’s also part of teenage life. So yes, I think it’s perfectly fine for some books to include it in there too, and for teenagers to be reading about it. And this is all coming from a teenager as well πŸ˜‰

    • It’s definitely a part of teenage life, Olivia! And because it is partly unknown, it is very enticing to some teens, too. I think reading about characters who have responsible sex is a good thing – because there are so many media where the sex that is shown to us is not responsible or respectful.

  17. I think many YA books have the potential to be conversation starters and because of that, they shouldn’t be clean. Sex-ed is seriously lacking in the States and I think books are one of the few ways in which they can actually learn about it without being told that abstinence is the answer. That just leads to all sorts of trouble and miseducation.

    Basically, I think books shouldn’t be ‘clean’ because that doesn’t really benefit anyone… Teens have sex and teens drink and teens do things that people just don’t want to acknowledge because they want to have to protect their own beliefs about the sanctity of childhood.

    I have a lot of feels about this πŸ˜› I am sorry for all the rambling! Thanks for writing this great conversation-starter post! πŸ™‚

    • Yes! And if those YA books live up to their potential, they can help a lot of people have some much needed conversations about stuff that is a bit uncomfortable to talk about.
      When I was a teen, one of my friends had been told that being abstinent was the way to go… and there really wasn’t much talk about sex-ed at her house (we had pretty good sex-ed in school, though). She was so curious about sex that she ended up just deciding to have sex with a guy she knew, so that she would know what it was all about. They weren’t in love with each other, they did it like a science experience. Which is fine, you know, but not how I wanted my own first time to be.
      I think it’s kind of funny that a lot of adults don’t want to acknowledge that teens do drink, have sex and take drugs – have they completely forgotten what it was like to be a teen? It’s been a while since I was one, but I certainly haven’t forgotten all about it.
      You didn’t ramble at all, Rashika!! Thanks for sharing your opinion πŸ™‚

  18. Great post and I definitely agree re: the necessity of having an honest conversation about sex in YA — it exists in real life and shouldn’t be skipped in YA. I think Liz Reinhardt and Miranda Kenneally do an excellent job in YA re: an honest portrayal of sex

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