Discussion: Where have all the virgins gone (in young adult fiction)

                       sex in ya

feat. special guest Death From Above 1979 to set the mood

This is a question that's been on my mind for a while, but it really hit me when I was reading The DUFF by Kody Keplinger (which I have mixed feelings about for various emo teenage C.J. personal reasons).  A question I'm not sure has occurred to anyone but me.  

Where are all the virgins in young adult these days? 

Don't get me wrong.  I'm all for sex positive fiction, an end to slut shaming, and a nice break from puritanical American values.  I don't think Fifty Shades is immoral, just bad writing.  I'm not a crazy prude.  

But, these days, every young adult book seems to involve teenagers having sex.  And it's not just where you'd expect it.  Sure, the rules are different in fantasy land.  When you're apt to die at 35, 14 doesn't seem so young.  

Cue the contemporary, where there's a strange divide between books where no one has sex and books where everyone is having sex.  Because apparently virgins and non-virgins can't be friends?  And if the characters are a bit older, waiting for later isn't even a flicker of an idea.   

Why not?  I have a few theories.   

The extinction of the younger teen

Take a look at the top young adult titles of the last several years.  
Everyone under 17 years old has mysteriously been Taken (where's Liam Neeson when you need him!?).  A few 16-year-olds seem to have survived the apocalypse, but 15-year-olds are rare.  Forget 14-year-olds.  Those poor saps are stuck in some literary limbo between young adult and middle grade, and no one seems to want to claim them.  End result: young adult is getting older.  

We're adults writing for teens ... ish

I wonder: is there some wish fulfillment going on?  A chance to relive those dreary high school days?  Or is it a change in genre?  So many adults are reading young adult these days because new adult is nothing but sex, and not even the good kind.  (Seriously, one more tortured bad boy and I'm gonna scream.)  Adults reading young adult want more mature stories.  

So, what happens to the actual teens reading teen fiction?  Do they see themselves in it?    

It's all how you talk about it

Clearly, you don't have to spend an hour trawling the internet to find a young adult book without sex in it.  They're there.  Maybe they're aren't as many as I'm thinking.  Maybe it's that the ones that do have it feel so noticeable because of the way it's talked about.  Because it's always semi-magical and fun for the whole family.  Er, the people involved.  Not gonna lie--I'm having a hard time reconciling scenes from The Fault in Our Stars, The DUFF, and even All the Bright Places (and I freaking love that book) with the stories I got from my high school friends.  Most of which involved minimal magic.  

On the other hand, I was pretty happy to see the early scene in More Happy Than Not involving Aaron spamming his friends for advice, or the super awkward scene in Looking for Alaska.  The characters involved 

So, what's the deal with sex in young adult fiction these days?  

Yeah, I realize that teenagers do have sex.  I do have television (Gossip Girl and The O.C., I'm looking at you).  Perhaps it's a product of wondering where the teens knew are.  I remember high school.  My friends and I weren't exactly prudes, but we weren't ready to grow up, either.  Sex was scary, something for college.  Maybe.  Or after college.  (Plus, it would have required some kind of boyfriend figure, which is a rant for another post.)  Yes, it's possible that the people I knew were weird anomalies, but recent stats put the number of 13-19 year olds who've done it at less than half.  That leaves a lot of people unaccounted for. 

So, where are the girls I knew?  Stuck back in 2005, I guess.  


  1. Interesting topic. I understand where you're coming from. It does seem like these days most YA is about older teens and handling more mature topics like sex. I wonder if it stems from the fact that the YA market is growing and not entirely for teens anymore.

    My feelings on sex in YA is similar to my feelings of romance in YA. It is not essential to the creation of a compelling story. I'm all for sex positive teens and a conversation about if and when you are ready to have sex but it needs to feel natural and organic. A random sex scene just to be provocative is going to have the opposite effect in my opinion.
    Cassi @ My Thoughts Literally

    1. I've wondered that too. And it's all fine. I'm glad that more YA stories are handling mature topics. But I can imagine 15-year-old C.J. reading some of these books thinking, "God, all these shiny pretty characters are doing this. What's wrong with me?" I'd really just love a NA revamp with books that new adults like myself actually want to read.

      So true! I agree so much with that. Another discussion brewing in my head is the disappearance of non-romantic YA. It feels sometimes like YA these days must have romance, and if there's romance then you should probably throw in a sex scene too. Being shocking isn't a good enough reason. It should make sense for the story and characters.

  2. I don't read much Contemporary YA so I don't come across this dilemma much. However, when I do read YA or even NA, I find myself having a hard time relating. I have no issue with teens having sex if it's done realistically and makes sense with the story. We all know teens are going to be doing it. But, I agree, I wasn't that type of kid and neither were my friends. Maybe I'm just a weirdo but my friends and I didn't drink, do drugs, or have sex. We skipped school, encountered bullies, and all that jazz, but we were still kids. I don't know that teens shouldn't be written to act older, but certainly it would be good to include some of the more in between kids that I imagine most people were.

    I also think that teens are having sex younger, so authors are including it. And you're right, YA books tend to focus on teens who are nearly adults, rather than young teens. It makes more sense for them to get intimate. And the fact that adults write these books and know that a good portion of their readers are also adults, probably plays a part too.

    Cayt @ Vicarious Caytastrophe

    1. I'm glad it's not just me. I'm the same way; I know that teens have sex and I don't care, but I just wasn't that person. Same--didn't drink, didn't party, was kind of shy. I'm fine with teens acting older if it fits, but I think there needs to be more variety in characters so that it show it's okay to have sex and it's ALSO okay not to.

      This is very true. I do wonder about actual teen readers and what they think of this. I know that some parents won't even let their younger teens read books with sex scenes.