No Sex Please, We’re Teenagers — WORD Christchurch

Should there be sex in young adult fiction? A resounding yes, according to panellists Karen Healey, Ted Dawe and Frances Young. Sex is a major part of many people's lives and therefore it will turn up in fiction whether or not you've identified it as an important theme in your writing. How it is portrayed, positively or negatively, is another matter — Healey emphasised her wish for sex-positive teen fiction, getting rid of the shame that settles on us in adolescence. Dawe meanwhile was concerned that Harry Potter is leading a movement away from realistic, warts-and-all depictions of young men. (He obviously hasn't read the testosterone-fueled mess that is Order of the Phoenix.)

The role of pornography in teen sexuality

Young cited various statistics linking increasingly violent pornography with sexual violence against women. If teens are discovering sex via violent porn, does this then influence their relationships and sexual experiences in the future? With pornography being increasingly accessible online, and society and media supporting the objectification of women, are we grooming our children into becoming sex offenders? Young considers this a public health crisis which needs to be addressed.

Differences between publishing in NZ/Australia vs. publishing in the US?

Healey mentions a saucy scene in While We Run which received a very positive response from her Australian editors, and some careful notes on her manuscript from her American publishers. ('Do you have to use the word "unzip"?') Her debut novel Guardian of the Dead was also initially written for an adult audience, and had to be altered to suit a teenage audience. The sex was cut but the violence was allowed to stay.

The Into the River controversy

Several panellists brought up the "dubious consent" of a particular sex scene (borderline rape) in Into the River, and the lack of any reprisals or sense of wrongdoing in the novel. Dawe said he dislikes being compelled to write a counter-argument into the text as that's "proselytising" rather than fiction writing. He suggested his books are primers for teens just beginning to have sexual relationships, an accurate reflection of first-time messy unglamorous sex. What a scary thought.

Sex is a controversial topic but makes for fascinating discussion. Were you at the session? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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