Sex in YA: Student Opinions

Within the last month there’s been quite a few discussions and blog posts about sex in YA.  Is it okay?  Is there too much?  Are teens influenced about it?  It made me wonder what my students think about all of this.  One night, Amy Fellner Dominy (OyMG, May 2011) and I were discussing this subject on Twitter.  Amy’s interested in this as both a parent and an author.  I’m interested in this as a teacher.  So she and I put this survey together for my students to respond to.

I’m providing a sampling of responses from my students in my Young Adult Literature class.  This is a class mixed with grades 9-12.  Not all of the students chose to provide their names with their responses.

I’d love to hear from some other teachers, especially, about what they think of this topic.  Let us know what you think 🙂

1. Do you think sex should be handled differently in a teen book than in an adult book?  In what way?

“I think they shouldn’t talk about ‘what they’re doing.’  It feels awkward when it talks about it and I’d rather have the chapter end and skip it”
“Yes, it should be a little more censored in teen books because we don’t understand it the way adults do.” ~ Allison D.
“No, we all know how it is and you’re gonna find out.”
“I feel that teen books that do involve sex should maybe be more PG-13.  Teens know about sex so it’s not like books are the first time they are hearing about it.  But I do think it should be less graphic.” ~Allison C.
“Not really because teens read adult books too.  If you don’t want to read about those things, there are many books without it in them.”

2. What would you think of a rating system for books based on their sexual content?  Would you follow it?  Would it help you select books?

“I don’t usually read books for their sexual content; it doesn’t bother me.  I think if there was a system people would never read the more sexual books.”
“It wouldn’t help me select books, I’d still read the book I wanted.  But I think if books had a rating system parents would be more controversial.”
“Umm, if there was a rating system for books based on their sexual content… Well then there’s a rating system.  I’m most definitely not going to follow it because I read what I want and what I find interesting.  I don’t care what’s in a book.  As long as I enjoy it and it catches my attention, it doesn’t matter.” ~Sam L
“I think a rating system would be very helpful and not only help kids but help less books get banned possibly.  If parents know the rating of the book, they may be more comfortable with them being available.”
“I think teens are interested in sex and we don’t get very much info about it in school, so it could be another way of teaching.  Reading about things that could happen and experiences would be helpful.” ~Adam

3. When you read about teens having sex in YA books, does it change how you think about it for yourself?

“It doesn’t change how I think about it.  I don’t think sex in YA books has a huge effect on teens.  I think teens get interested in the experiences in books.  It seems like adults try to scare teens about sex rather than teaching safety.” ~Adam
“It allows me to think about what I would do in that situation but it does not change my feelings.” ~Sami
“No, it’s like everything else you see or hear.  Everyone is different and takes things differently.”
“Yeah I guess so.  Usually when you read books with teens having sex it all seems so perfect like every teen should have sex when they’re in a relationship.” ~Madaleine
“Reading things, even sex, makes me think about what I would do if I was in that position.  It doesn’t, however, change my mind or how I feel about it in general.” ~Allison C.

4. Do you feel there’s too much sex in YA books?  Not enough?  Not something you ever thought about?

“I think that there is too much sex in books.  Many YA books are pressuring teens into having sex at a young age which causes many problems in real life, but not in the books.”
“I think there’s the right amount.  Because if there was none, the book wouldn’t be realistic.”
“I’ve never thought about it, it’s just a book.” ~Jessica D.
“Books are all different.  The content changes with whatever the book is about.” ~Frank
“Different books have a different amount of everything, so I never really care about the different amounts of sex.” ~Tory

5. Have you ever read a book that changed your ideas/attitude about sex?  In a good way or a bad way?  Can you give an example?

“In the book The DUFF, the two people use each other for sex.  It makes you realize people actually do that.”
“If anything, books make me want to wait longer.” ~Jessica D.
“I haven’t read that many books that changed my thoughts about sex.  I read the books where sex causes relationship and health problems which influences me into waiting.”
“No, I have solid morals about sex, but it has changed my views about the effects of sexual assault in books like Th1rteen R3asons Why and Just Listen.” ~Rachel Y.

6. Are you parents aware of what you’re reading?  Do they ever read the same books as you?  If so, did it result in any kind of conversation between you?

“Yes, my mom and sister always ask me what I’m reading.  And yes, most of the time if I think it’s good I’ll tell them to read it.  Yes, sometimes we talk about it.”
“My parents (well actually my whole family) are aware of what I am reading.  We talk about books that I am reading or what they are reading.”
“My mother would be floored if she knew, especially about the eating disorder books.  Or the drug books.  They make me happy though, give me new ways to look at the world, so she doesn’t ask much.” ~Jessica D.
“My parents don’t usually ask me about what I’m reading, they trust me.  My mom and I have read the same book and they do strike conversation, but they don’t usually involve sex.” ~Allison C.
“A little.  My mom doesn’t, but me and my grandma share books.” ~Madaleine
“My parents are aware of what I’m reading.  My mom is into adult romance books, and my dad is into dry political books, so they have never been interested.” ~Sami
“My mother does not mind what I read because she trusts me and knows I am mature.  My mother does not truly read often and doesn’t have the time, but she would read similar books as I if she did.” ~Tory


  1. This was really interesting. I wonder how the results would be different with my seventh graders, although I’d probably get in trouble for giving the survey! I thought your students’ responses were thoughtful and insightful.

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      It must be hard with middle schoolers. You have to be extra cautious in what you use and how you approach things.

  2. How very interesting! I love how (like with everything) teens have so many very different opinions. And can I just say that I’m so impressed with your ability/desire/drive to discuss such topics with your students? I had an English teacher like you my ninth grade year in high school and again in college, and they inspired and grew my love of reading. Ultimately, I think simply having a forum to discuss books, whether they are classics, the latest bestseller, or some where in between, is a fulfillment most teens may not even realize they want/need. Kudos to you for having an open, welcoming, non-judgmental arena to discuss books of all shapes and sizes with your students.

I love comments!

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