More Love, Less Sex by Blake Nelson
When I was in college and I realized I was going to be a writer, I would go downstairs at the end of my day and watch MTV in the dorm lounge and write in my journal. I would write what happened that day, and also, would occasionally write “scenes” or describe people, or write strings of dialogue for practice. One day, I had the thought that I would have to write sex scenes eventually when I someday wrote a whole novel. So I tried writing one. It was very difficult. I couldn’t really do it. It was too embarrassing and I found I didn’t really want to go into it, I didn’t feel comfortable using the words involved. It was really weird because all my favorite authors wrote about sex. This was the 80s and all literature, serious and genre, seemed to have lavish descriptions of all kind of sexual situations in them. I guess I was slightly grossed out by them, but I also felt, it was a necessary thing. It was cool and interesting and showed if you were brave enough as a writer to “go there”.
So I kept writing sex scenes though I never really got great at it, I thought I could hold my own.
I got my first chance to prove my abilities in GIRL my first novel that I thought of as an adult novel at the time I wrote it. Since it would go to an adult publisher and since I was trying to tell truthfully what it was like to be a teenaged girl, I felt like it had to have sex scenes in it and so it did. But I was still pretty young and inexperienced as a writer and as a sexual person, and so now looking back I think most of the actual sex scenes were not my best, and some of them were confusing. Everyone thought Andrea, the main character, had had an orgasm her first time, but in fact, I was just trying to describe the general exhilaration of the situation. So I learned a few lessons about that.
But other sex-related things in GIRL I thought were great. Like the scenes where guys are pretty horrible about sex and pushy and crude. At one point one of her boyfriends is grinding against her in a car. And her reaction to that gave the book a realism that really worked.
Anyway, I wrote a couple more adult books with lots of sex scenes, as did everyone else as the 90s progressed. Then, around 2000 when I started writing Young Adult books, without really thinking, I just kept including sex scenes. I thought: well the world has evolved, YA is getting more sophisticated, the kids can handle it. They probably appreciate someone telling the truth about such things.
But then TWILIGHT came and I realized that actually the pendulum was swinging the other way. Kids actually preferred less sex. Younger girls especially. Does a 13 year old girl really want to hear the gory details of that stuff? Some of them do, but a lot of them probably don’t. Plus, in a world that was by 2000 so saturated in sex and sexual images and descriptions etc. the really interesting artistic choice might be to go the other way. And talk about pure love, idealistic love, as opposed to the jaded sexual love that had been so popular as I was growing up. In fact: I had kind of preferred that myself, but the world around me had seemed to require sex in novels.
So then gradually I started to scale it back. But then I found in some of my books, like RECOVERY ROAD, it was so important to show how the two characters related to each other sexually, I had to put it in. One scene especially, where the two kids, who are deeply in love, but can’t seem to stay together, grab each other and have a wild uncontrollable encounter in a car that neither could help. They both have addictive personalities anyway, and so this scene makes total sense. It really had to happen and it feels like it has to happen and it is one of the best and most moving scenes in the book.
My favorite sex scenes in a book that is not my own are in KING DORK. There is something about teen sexuality that is often very funny and awkward and I love how Frank Portman handled it in that book.
One thing I think is that of course teenagers are always interested in sex and in talking about it and hearing about it. But it might be that they prefer to do that among themselves and to not have adults (teachers or writers) telling them about it.
If it was just a matter of parents and teachers not wanting so much sex, I might resist. But I think the actual kids might prefer it. The culture itself, the zeitgeist or whatever, seems to want to pull back from saturating young people with explicit sex. And I’m kind of onboard with that.
Blake Nelson is the author of RECOVERY ROAD and the most recently, DREAM SCHOOL, the sequel to his groundbreaking first novel GIRL.