Sex in YA

The other day, whilst browsing, I came across a new line of YA books by Noble Romance Publishing. I was quite surprised by this because they mostly do erotic romances, although the YA market is growing exponentially and that is probably the reason why they have jumped on the bandwagon. However looking closer at their imprint, I was quite surprised by what was on offer and in some cases, kind of uncomfortable because it felt like it was more aimed at adults than Young Adults.

However, I did check them out and read In the Bad Boy’s Bed, and it confirmed my suspicions. I will be reviewing this title at a later date via Book Lovers Inc. Now I knew it was going to be a sexy read, just by that title alone,  and I was curious and intrigued by it which was the reason why I picked it up. But I never actually thought it would be that explicit, and it was. I rarely feel shocked at sex scenes but in this case I was because of the target audience. I actually felt that Noble Romance Publishing was capitalizing on the the growth of the YA genre, and looking at the rest of their books in their imprint, it didn’t really feel there was a lot of thought into the marketing or packaging  to YA readers. In fact I felt like this was a cheap way to cash in and with some of the titles on offer, sex is being used as a basis.

Whilst reading this book, I do have to say that I wouldn’t really consider this book a YA, in fact I think this was aimed at adults, although it has characters who are in their late teens.  I really felt that the sex scenes especially, and there were quite a few of them, throughout the novella went into graphic territory. The opening especially was uncomfortable to read because the heroine experiences an attempted rape, and goes on to sleep with the hero (who she hardly knows but has lusted after for a long time) on the same night and that transition didn’t work for me. When I read a YA, I do expect darker issues to be explored but not to the extent where I was feeling uncomfortable because I wasn’t pre-warned on how explicit it would be. I have expectations when I read a genre, and breaking them without warning is where it can get problematic.

The graphic nature of the sex scenes made this especially awkward and dare I say it icky for me to read and I am actually disappointed with Noble for not laying out that this is a sexualised book for YAs. I don’t think they are even aware of or care that the YA genre is primarily aimed at younger teens. And yes, although adults do read the books, that is not the primary aim or audience of YA books and I think this is where they have gotten wrong with their editorial decisions and with their marketing.

With the recent melee over the WSJ article over YA, and how YA books are getting too dark and serious for teens, I felt awkward writing this post because I am complaining about a YA that does deal with serious issues. But in this case I feel it highlighted the issues very lightly, and can be used by detractors and critics of YA books who feel they are dealing with subjects that kids shouldn’t read.  However,  I honestly feel that serious issues like sex should be explored in this genre as it’s realistic and honest. But how it is dealt with is my concern because this is aimed at a YA audience which has to be relatable and connects to the reader. The book I read didn’t have this element, and I have read LOTS of YA books. It really felt this was written in a voice of an adult, and was aimed for adults. I didn’t get the sense it was aimed for a YA audience even in the first pages, and that it’s all about the smex.

This Noble line is supposedly targeted at a teen audience, and what I read makes me wary and quite uncomfortable. Yes, there are teens who read adult books too, just like adults who also read YAs. But there’s a huge distinction between books aimed at adults and at teens, especially younger teens. And I am definitely not saying that YA shouldn’t deal with adult issues. Some of my favourite YA authors do explore sex/violence and other darker issues and its important to highlight. Definitely check out authors such as Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely books or Forever by Judy Blume which covers first-time sex or Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series, which focuses realistically on the growing pains of a girl who has to hide her gender in a male dominated world.

For me, YA has to explore realistic issues that teens go through, but when a publisher releases books that seems to concentrates on one aspect like sex, I don’t know what to make of it.  Noble  primarily publishes erotic romances, and I believe they have cynically carried this theme onto their YA, and is underplaying how explicit the books are, if this book is an example. I think it becomes a disservice to the genre and its readers. When I read a book that’s in a specific genre, I have expectations, and this is most especially true for YA books, and when sex is used as a way to sell books in a profitable genre, I think its a cynical ploy to cash in. If an erotic book has warnings there is an orgy/menage or back-door action, then a publisher like Noble has to warn their readers if they are going to push and crack open the envelope for YA to do the same.

I really had a difficult time writing this post because I don’t want to sensationalise or go all ‘clutches at pearls’ mode because this harks on censorship, AND I AM FIRMLY against this. But when I see books that push the genre’s boundaries and its expectations especially for a YA audience, I do have to question the motives of the publisher on whether they really understand the ramifications. The ironic thing, I would be open to a story that concentrated on the sexual awakening of a heroine, even if it is a YA romance, but I would like to expect there is a clear emphasis that it would be targeted at older YA readers and with a clear warning. For instance Noble’s warning for In the Bad Boy’s Bed is a tad misleading.

Here I quote is what the page warning says:


  • Sexual situations
  • mild violence

The fact that this book has a warning for sexual situations is disingenuous,  because that warning  doesn’t convey how very explicit they were. For example:

‘His mouth taking care of my breasts, his hands moved to my skirt. With barely a flick of his thumb, it was unbuttoned and sliding down my legs. He slipped his hand inside my panties and slid a finger along my wet seam. I was so ready for him, for his touch, that he was able to easily slide one, long finger inside me. At the rush of it, I grabbed hold of him inside his underwear.
The feeling of him beating in my hands, of his fingers inside me melted the bones in my body, but I managed to raise one leg and wrap it around him, giving him all the room he needed. As his finger slid in and out of me, and his knuckle rubbed my button into a frenzy of white-hot desire, his mouth consumed mine. We would burn up if we didn’t find a way to extinguish this inferno soon.’

This excerpt  shows its  a very sexualised book, and there’s actually nothing wrong with that, but for a YA, I really think its pushing past the boundaries and expectations of some readers who are not expecting this. And especially since the sex feels like the main basis of the book and romance, although the emotional arc was explored much later and even then that felt light. I also have issues with other aspects of the book such as the characterisation, and plot, but my real gripe is the fact this book is not really for young teens, and Noble should at least post an age range guide on their site to guide readers/parents.

Maybe the real issue is that YA books tend to focus on the earlier age end of the teenage spectrum and that’s the focus most major publishers are targeting at their audiences. The fact is that most YAs concentrate on characters from ages of 12-17, and rarely on late teens or early 20s. And from what I can gather, this is the audience Noble is targeting.

If there is a publisher out there who is going to enter the YA market, then clearly market and aim the book to your target audience. Using explicit sex as the basis of a story and disguising it as a YA is a dangerous thing to do, because its not so much about the content, it’s about who you are targeting the book for and how you are conveying those scenes to the reader. Right now YA is a huge genre, and there is a lot of cross-over in readership with adults, but there is a reason why there’s a distinction between these two audiences.  I actually welcome more darker or sexy elements in YA stories if done well. But if there is a book that focuses on edgier aspects of life, I hope publishers and authors will take a serious approach to warning their prospective readers and to tackle those issues with care and thought.

Update: I found their submissions guidelines for Noble Romance YA – and that was the only info on the target audience for this line was ages between 16 – 21. This isn’t posted in their main site or in the book warnings, or vendors such as Amazon etc… YA books encompass ages that are earlier and  I find that this is misleading.

25 thoughts on “Sex in YA”

  1. There were other issues with the book too, but my gripe is how Noble is approaching the genre and marketing it. They seem to focus on older readers but its YA and for me thats focusing on younger ones and there is no clear warning or age guidance – other than submissions. And searching for the YA page is difficult and their YA books is listed with the main romance books.

    Another note and to be fair to the author – the characters were 18 years old but then who has read historicals about 16/18 year olds who get jiggy with their heroes. But those books are aimed at adults and I dont have an issue because its reflective of the time and its realistic. But explicit sex and it does read like erotica in a YA. :S Feels very uncomfortable.

  2. @KB/KT Grant

    I agree! When a sweet romance is less explicit than that it does throw you off . And in the first half of the book, it was mostly all sex or leading up to it, I didn’t get a real emotional arc or even tension which is my issue with the story and adding the fact that this was a YA – this book didn’t really work for me.

  3. How about sliding down a pole 😉 – I don’t blame the author actually – its the freaking marketing and the approach this pub has towards YA genre.

    And to navigate their site is very difficult too.

  4. Based on the excerpt, it sounds like it’s an erotic romance w/ a teenage heroine. Regardless, it really doesn’t read like YA.

  5. I find it kind of sad, but what do you expect from a publishing house who publishes books titled Beautiful Cocksucker I and II.

  6. @Nadia
    I totally agree and I think this would have worked better as an adult book instead of a YA – even if the other issues I had with the plot/characters wasn’t a factor.

    I think that sums it up! The publisher doesn’t care, and that is sad and disappointing. Although I do have to say I like the title of their new YA release (not sure if there’s sex LOL) But Becca Bloom and the Drumsticks of Doom is pretty catchier than those titles 😀

  7. I do agree that sex is way to glamorized these days. Mind you a big part of teen life is finding out about sex. I think it’s best to introduce scenes like that in teen books because obviously thats what teens think about. But they should also emphasize the consequences alot more like pregnancy, rape, HIV, and bad reputations more in the books. Sex maybe a big part of growing up but it’s not a game so while we cannot ignore it we should pretend it is either.

  8. @LA Jones
    While I agree with you in theory, I was always more concerned with the amount of sex in a YA book for my daughters than other ‘darker’ themes. Things like drug and alcohol use, cutting, eating disorders are nearly always treated in an almost PC fashion. A whole lot of sex in YA often means an almost careless attitude toward sex that I wouldn’t care to see my daughters emulate.

  9. This line is actually for 18 and older… I don’t think they are trying to sell it to or market it to 13 year olds.

  10. Drug use, alcohol abuse, cutting, eating disorders, mutilation, bullying to suicide, killing for the thrill of it. Of all the things “out there” vying for the attention of our young adults, I’d be thrilled if the only thing my girls chose was to participate in was a loving, protected, sexual relationship. I did read the book being commented on. Yes, it was sexy, but it wasn’t erotica. By the second half of the book, the sex is nonexistent, but the love the two characters share is still there. They become less impulsive and more contemplative about themselves, each other, their relationship, their world. It was a good ending.

  11. Wow, that excerpt is quite a bit more detailed than what I would expect from a YA book. Nothing wrong with writing a book that you hope will appeal more to late teens/early 20s readers but labeling it YA seems dishonest as most publishers use the ya label for books written primarily for 12-18 year olds rather than books foe 18+. With the popularity of ya books even among older readers it makes me suspect they are using the ya label to sell books most people wouldn’t consider ya. I’ve read ya books where characters had sex and none came anywhere close to that much detail.

  12. This is erotica about YA rather than being for YA.

    It’s just a publisher trying to cash in on the YA surge that’s happening. They should have just left it as a category in their adult line rather than attempt to market it to 16-21. That’s just ridiculous and misleading.

  13. @Sherri you know if the author swapped the sex to the second half with the detail she went into the first half and just implied it in the beginning. I would rate this a higher mark than I currently have with this book. I can totally get that teenagers have sex but the real issue for me with the romance was the lack of tension, and lack of an emotional arc especially in the beginning.

    And when the author did broach that emotional arc – it was by page 80 of a 119 book and it didn’t really go into real detail. If the focus on the romance and the sex was in this part – I think it would have been a stronger story but that’s my own feeling about the book. I’ve already stated my feelings about the explicitness of the sex scenes and the ones which led up to the fade to black was detailed and erotic. I have read lots of erotic books and this was definitely in that territory. When a ‘sweet romance’ which does go into detail with a love scene looks tame compared to this book, I think there is issues, right?

    @Rebecca – Exactly and I asked several of my friends with that excerpt if they felt the same and we are pretty openminded about things and they were shocked too. That for me says it all.

    @Heller Exactly! 😛

  14. When your title said Sex in YA – I thought: revolting. Like everybody else has said: this is problematic. I agree if there is SEX to be found in a YA novel let it subtle or implied. I read YA more for complex, meaty social/familial dynamics and cultural differences/appreciation and fostering new relationships (romantic or otherwise). I don’t read it for sex. Great post, Has.

  15. @ Keishon
    I agree, and those are the reasons why I read YA too. I’d actually wouldn’t have an issue if its aimed at a older teen audience or in early 20s but YA is targeting a younger audience and the books that I read that in the 80s/90s were aimed at older teen/early 20s audience and was def not as explicit as this although they do cover sex and dark issues.

    I do know that St Martins is going to start a new imprint called New Adults which will focus on that market – whether it will be explicit – who knows but at least its marketed at the right audience.

  16. @Has – this actually made me think back to Judy Blume’s FOREVER. It has explicit sex in it. It was about that “first time.” I read that in my teens. *g*

  17. I remember reading that too! And that was the first real YA that had sex, but the love scenes felt realistic and the voice was real. There was another one – which I can’t remember much but it had a humourous take on it and again that was real. I also read Liz Berry and her books were pretty controversial because her Easy books dealt with rape. The hero raped the heroine but she ended up with him, although the sex/rape didn’t go into detail – but those books were clearly aimed at older teens. it feels now that YA label is targeted much lower.

    I just found that this book felt like it was 30 year old narrating instead of an 18 year old and the emphasis was on the sexual aspect instead of emotional. I can understand that discovering sex first time and enjoying it can be liberating but for the target audience and YA encompasses a wide age group. Younger teens will read about older characters and darker issues but the expectations is that it will be implied. Books like Forever has a rep and is known to cover this issue in-depth.

  18. I found this post whilst trying to find exactly what age publishers aim the YA genre at. Fantastic post and I agree with everything that you’ve said (i need to look for your review).

    All the answers are exactly the same to my question; 12-18 years old. It’s such a broad age range that I think its really difficult to cater to for all kids in this bracket. I have no problem with that kind of sex featuring in a book for a 16 year old, but a 12 year old? I was accused of promoting censorship because I didn’t agree with letting younger kids get their hands on some of the top end YA books. Believe me, with the stuff I read, censorship is the last thing I’m promoting! To me, YA is just too broad a term; 12 year olds and 18 year olds are miles apart in terms of emotional maturity so books need to cater as such.

  19. That is really sad that they would try to pass this off as a YA book… I read Y and this is DEFINITELY not YA.. I skipped over the excerpt.

  20. Pingback: Teenage Nick & Sex in YA - Nick & Nereyda's Infinite Book List

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