Wednesday, September 19, 2018


What is the top grossing genre in fiction? The answer might surprise you. Romance/erotica rakes in a whopping $1.44 billion in sales each year and is the most read genre of books among women. Adult women. But what about teen girls? They like romance, too, and while girls will read what they want to read, as a writer of teen fiction, where do I draw the line between romance and sex?

Not long ago, I got hooked into a best-selling YA series. And I loved it—until the protagonists had sex. Then I hated the books and wished I hadn’t wasted my time on them. I love a good, steamy romance scene, but when it comes to underage characters, going all the way is going too far.
Some might accuse me of being unrealistic, that most teens today are sexually active, and so the books they read ought to reflect that. But is it really necessary to encourage promiscuous behavior and use it to entertain young readers—because entertainment is the primary purpose of fiction, isn’t it? I claim the answer is no.

Maybe the part of me talking about this is the mother of five children, including two former and two current teens. I don’t want my kids sleeping around, so why would I create characters who do? Maybe it’s the part of me who adheres to a strict Christian moral code and tries to pass that code down to my children. Either way, there is a definite “sex” line in YA books that I, as an author, will not cross.

So, how can authors of teen fiction satisfy the “sex” itch without going too far? Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series captured the throbbing hearts of millions of adolescent readers with nothing more than occasional, wholesome kisses. (Granted, her fourth book include non-graphic sex, but by then the characters were married.) Another author whose books make readers swoon yet keeps her characters’ hormones at bay is Marissa Meyer, author of The Lunar Chronicles. How do they do it (without actually doing it)?

SEXUAL TENSION is the anticipation of a romance between characters. It’s the “will they, won’t they?” tug and pull throughout a plot. Imagine two people each grasping opposite ends of the rope. There is tension only as long as the opponents are pulling in opposite directions. The moment the romance actually happens, the tension is gone. Game over. Keep that tension going as long as possible, and when it does end, remember the reader just wants the characters to end up together. Sex isn’t necessary.

LESS IS MORE is true for so many things, especially when it comes to literary romance. Think of Kathy and Heathcliff, Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy? The most memorable romance novels in history actually have very little romance. That is to say, there is little physical contact between the characters. Instead, romance is expressed in the way the characters feel about each other and how their relationship develops and evolves over time.

BE REAL. One problem with teen sex in novels is that these books tend to avoid the very real complications and consequences of physical intimacy. Rarely do these fictional characters feel shame or guilt, fear getting pregnant (or actually get pregnant), stress over STDs, or nurse heartbreaks from getting dumped afterwards, or worse having their “experience” publicized on social media. In the real world, sex between minors is rarely the perfect lovefest depicted in so many books. If an author feels he/she MUST put sex in a book for teens, at least be honest about it.

THERE’S NOTHING SEXY ABOUT ABUSE. Some writers like to create “bad boy” love interests for female protagonists: Boys who brood and are emotionally distant. Boys who are borderline abusive and controlling. Boys who convince their female counterparts that sex is an appropriate way to express love. What a bunch of baloney! I, for one, would not want my daughters coming home with a guy like that. Nor would I want my characters to be manipulated by self-indulgent creeps with a handsome face and sexy haircut. Blech! Instead, girls want guys they can count on and trust, boys who are intelligent and strong, yet kind and caring.

If you write for teens, consider the implications of your characters’ choices on your readers. Sadly, it is true sex sells. But it doesn’t have to sell to teenagers.

If you’re looking for clean romance novels, check out Clean Teen Publishing.

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