You wrote WHAT? Sex scenes in GLBTQ YA Literature

The headline above was the title of the panel I had the pleasure of moderating at the Loft Literary Center’s Children’s & YA writing conference last weekend (April 25-27). The other panel members were: Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Molly Beth Griffin, Dawn Klehr, Juliann Rich and Elizabeth Wheeler. Between the six of us, we read scenes about sex, sexual identity, and gender identity and covered a pretty broad spectrum of  GLBT (though we may have been a little short on the Q).

Below are the stats that I cited at the start of the panel, plus some bonus stats:

Teens Kissing

From the Teen Lit Lab studies — 250 teens surveyed n 2009 (read the whole Sex in Young Adult Literature paper here):

  • 13.4% of girls said that the general level of sexual content in teen novels underestimates their level of sexual activity
  • 32% of male respondents suggested that sex in YA Lit was most often tamer than what they personally experience
  • 46% say that, in general, YA books overestimate the level of sexual activity they engage in

When teens were asked to rank (in order of importance) the reasons they read YA fiction with explicit sexual content:

  • ‘‘To be entertained’’ was the number one reason across all age groups (14-18)
  • Exploring situations they’ve not yet encountered was most often listed as the second most important reason
  • 20-25% of all teens responded that they read YA literature with sexual content to ‘‘get frank information about topics they might feel uncomfortable asking a friend or adult about.’’
  • Teens were similarly unanimous in selecting the least important reason——‘‘to become sexually aroused’’

Does explicit/graphic sexual content in teen fiction ever make you uncomfortable?

  • 35%-45% said “yes” or “sometimes” — mostly ages 14-16

From the book Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers:

In one 1998 study, 72% of mothers “strongly agreed” that they’d talked to their teen children about sex but only 45% of the youth agreed that they had.

1/3 to 1/2 of all young Americans have sex for the first time between 16 & 18.

Percent of teens who are non-virgins by age group:

  • Age 13 — 9.8%
  • Age 15 — 32.6%
  • Age 17 — 57.4%
  • Age 18 — 65.8%

Many teens who do not intend to have sex do anyway — a 2002 longitudinal study found that 37% who’d never had sex and said they planned not to when asked, did have sex (when followed up with a year later).

Context and setting of first intercourse — it was common to be fairly spontaneous and often at someone’s parents’ house after the parents were asleep. One common answer is “it just happened” and yet other teens plan it very consciously. Girls tend toward planning more than boys.

Wait, you read what?

Molly Beth Griffin read a scene between two girls from her historical novel Silhouette of a Sparrow.

Dawn Klehr read a scene between two girls from her mystery/thriller Cutting Room Floor.

Juliann Rich read a scene between two boys who meet at a Christian camp from Caught in the Crossfire.

Elizabeth Wheeler read a scene between two boys, plus a short and very funny scene between the male main character and a girl (by way of comparison) from Asher’s Fault.

Kirstin Cronn-Mills read a scene in which a young trans man tries to choose between two girls in his life from Beautiful Music for Ugly Children.

And I read from Just Girls because it actually has a sex scene featuring the trans girl main character in it!