Sexual tension in YA

Sex is one of those things that borders on taboo in YA.  The problem is this:  Sexuality is universal and doesn’t discriminate against age .  As YA authors we walk a fine line.   In order to be genuine we must touch on sexual themes.  Let’s face it sex is a strong motivator. Some would say we have an ethical responsibility to be very careful about what we write and that perhaps there are legal ramifications for having sexual scenarios with underage characters.

Here is what I have to say: Just because we can’t take our readers on the slide doesn’t mean we can’t play at the park.

If you think about it, teenagers know better than anyone what sexual tension is.  As YA authors we can build the tension without being obvious about it.  (No wonder our muses hate us! lol)  We can be genuine to our readers while being true to the characters and exploring all aspects of their person.

The following is the scene I just wrote and the reason I wrote this post.  I’m sure it will go through edits, and parts of it may change but I promise to keep it genuine to Samantha as she explores another aspect of her character.

Some background to this scene:  Samantha and Keegan are pretending to date one another for mutually beneficial reasons.  They are at the movies and Samantha is questioning the “pretend” status of their relationship…

Once the movie started and they were surrounded by darkness, Samantha felt Keegan reach for her hand. Sure, they had held hands at school, surrounded by people, but there in the dark it felt less like pretending and more intimate. Samantha decided that eating popcorn would give her a good excuse to not be holding his hand any more so she let go of his hand in search of fistfuls of popcorn.

It didn’t take long for the salty popcorn to make her thirsty. She looked longingly at his cup and wished she thought to grab and extra straw. She knew that she would have to slow down on the popcorn, but when she put her hand back down on the armrest he claimed it again.

While the movie went on she slowed her breath, trying in vain, to think of anything but him. The longer the movie went on the more acutely she felt him. Aware of his every breath and movement made it impossible to concentrate on the movie.

Every time her would take a sip of their pop, he would reach across his body, bring the straw to his lips and take a lingering pull. Afterward he would shake the ice to the bottom of the cup and replace it to its intended place. Then he would lean back in his chair with a sigh, mocking her inability to quench her thirst.

Keegan laughed in all the right places, a deep chuckle in his throat that shook his shoulders making Samantha aware of just how much… and how little of them was actually touching. She was sweating from the closeness, but shivered at the thought. Reclaiming her hand, Samantha reached for the popcorn…

What are your thoughts about sex and sexual tension in YA?



6 comments on “Sexual tension in YA

  1. I think sexuality in YA should be employed when needed. Any novel which features young adult characters, should never pretend that sexual tensions don’t exist. I believe if utilized sparingly, sexual tensions can build up character relationships and strengthen the bond with the reader. Reality is key.

  2. It think it also depends hugely on the age of your characters. In my completed YA novel ‘Ankhari’ I go way beyond holding hands in a movie theatre but my characters are 17 and 19. Like Damian said, realistic is the key. I think if you try to ignore sexuality between characters it plays as false. Besides think about the reasons alot of young girls pick up a novel. They want to read about the physical aspects of love that they are not yet experiencing themselves. And don’t forget there is also a vast difference between displaying sexual tension and desire between characters and portraying full-on sex scenes.

  3. This is something I’ve struggled with recently. One of the main themes of “Enchantment” is the difference between love and lust. There’s no way to explore that without sex. I re-wrote two scenes at least half a dozen times before I found the balance between serving the story and keeping it appropriate for YA. (I’m sure there will be people that disagree on both counts, but so far the reviews have been good.)

    Anytime you ratchet up the tension in a story (whether it’s sexual or not) at some point, there needs to be a release — no pun intended. Fade to black is a cop out, but there are infinite shades of grey.

  4. Very nicely written. The anticipation and awareness of touching someone can be a strong pull for the reader. I’m reluctant to cross certain lines with YA in particular. Perhaps it’s becoming a parent that has made me more aware in this regard. Once again, I enjoyed reading the scene. Keep writing!

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