Friday, 6 May 2011

Sex on the Edge by Keren David

It doesn't always have to be this way
There are all sorts of ways that sex can make a teen book edgy.
There’s rape, and sexual assault. There’s gay sex between boys, lesbianism, bi-sexuality. There are teenage pregnancies - from the boy or girl’s perspective. There’s harassment,  phone sex and prostitution.
There’s underage sex, sexting, porn and stalking. All important topics, all ways in which a dash of sex might get you banned by anxious parents and librarians, talked about by teens.
But funnily enough, these aren’t necessarily the most controversial books, nor the hardest to get published.
No, one of the edgiest ways of putting sex into a novel for teens is to write about a girl who has sex, enjoys it and doesn’t get pregnant, humiliated, diseased or married.
Funny, that.

Keren David's first book for teens When I Was Joe won the North East Teen Book Award 2011. Her next book, Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery is out in August. Find out more here


  1. Perhaps the edgiest of all is to write about a girl who isn't a fanatical American Christian but nevertheless chooses not to have sex because she hasn't fallen in love yet. We (I'm 28 now, at which point this character gets even rarer) do exist, but apparently if we're not saving ourselves for marriage (just a nice guy) no one wants to write about us.

  2. Very thought provoking, Keren.

    I personally don't put sex in my books, not because it's too controversial, but because I think writing a sex scene, let alone one with teenage protagonists, is a skill that I very much lack.

    A passionate kiss is about as far as I can write!

    But then I always loved those old movies where the film ends with the kiss - where the whole thing builds up to a single kiss. Some of those are the most passionate film moments I've seen and that's what I'd love to capture in my books.

    When my daughter is older I hope she does read about sex in her literature, partly because I hope it sparks discussions about these issues. They're hard to broach otherwise!

  3. Pithy post, Keren.
    I recall a bookish conversation with a friend a while back - she has two teen daughters, one had asked her, "Mom, why don't authors write about sex? It's not like we don't know about it or even do it, so do they think they're protecting us from something or what? They really need to get real."
    Nuf zed.

  4. Great blog title - 'Sex on the Edge' sounds rather dangerous, like some sort of precarious balancing act, which I suppose it is - in more ways than one!

    Hm, it's a prickly subject, isn't it? And isn't it interesting that it's all the negative aspects of sex that are more 'acceptable' to the gatekeepers of teen fiction.

    You'd think they wanted us to put teens off sex or something...

    I still remember reading Judy Blume's 'Forever' for the first time - surreptitiously flicking through it in a corner of a bookshop to find THAT scene that my friends were all talking about, then everyone eagerly passing the book around our girls' school like contraband. (One of my friends was particularly thrilled because her boyfriend at the time was also called Michael!)

    We'd read problem pages galore, but this was the first time we'd encountered sex in a book aimed at us, and it was enlightening - this was not a cautionary tale, neither was it the glamourized sex scenes you see in movies.

    This felt real, it was from an author we trusted, and it meant something to us.

  5. The authors I've read recently who do the sex thing really well are Gillian Philip and Keris Stainton. Not too graphic and not at all in the 'if you have sex something TERRIBLE will happen' mode. William Nicholson's Rich and Mad is good too, but I was so disappointed that the girl having sex for the first time feels the need to say 'I'll just look after myself shall I?' (or something like that, haven't got the book here).
    Oh and I should have mentioned all those paranormal romances where the sexual tension is palpable..but if they DO it his special powers will KILL her.

  6. I tend towards the Jane Austen approach but have become bolder as my books have developed. Good points Keren and well worth considering.

  7. This is one of the best blog posts I've read in a long time. Short, concise, honest and to the point.It makes you think, 'shit, yeah!'

    Books for teens don't always have to be about issues or messages of morality.