(Reposted from my deviantArt blog)
I've thought about this on and off for a while, and although I know the topic's been covered to death before, I felt idle enough today to organize it into a blog post. Or maybe this post isn't so organized. Anyway. I'm not sure if this is a touchy subject or not, so please don't throw tomatoes at me. Just my ramblings!
It's no secret that the U.S. has a bit of a 'warrior nation' syndrome. Do our hackles rise at excessive violence in our books and media? Meh, sometimes...although you'd never know it, what with all those SAW sequels. We may grumble under our breath now and then about gratuitous violence, but by and large we accept it as a necessity for entertainment.
Do our hackles rise at sex? Much more so than violence. Even the most violent Young Adult novels (think The Hunger Games) will succumb to making their love scenes fade to black. Now, I understand that because the books are written for a younger demographic, there are obviously certain scenes that just aren't appropriate to put in. But blowing up legs, mangling flesh, etc? A few lashes get batted at that, but not much more. When sex is mentioned in books, it's usually accompanied by the character very very blatantly pulling out condoms ("Teens, practice safe sex!"), or having the two characters who have sex get married first or never break up EVER and get married down the line and have pretty children ("Teens, if you have sex with someone, that better be the person you'll marry later on"). Pansy Love Scenes, as I've come to call them. :) When violence is mentioned in books (which is almost every book, including mine), there's no expectation that the author needs to put in some sort of afternoon school special warning on it. Characters punch, kick, and kill each other with reckless abandon. Few of those violent acts have very serious repercussions.
Now, having said that, I used to do the exact same thing. I did this in the very first draft of LEGEND, up until my agent Kristin called me out on it. Why is your main character killing people with reckless abandon? she'd said. He's moral. He's the good guy. He would think twice about killing anyone, even a person who works for the dark side. And she was completely right. After this, I started seeing my story in a new light. When there's violence, I hope I show a very good reason for it. When a character is attacked or dies, it's not gratuitous. And later on, if there's sex, I hope I do it justice. Because sex is no worse than violence. On the contrary, I'd say sex is way way WAY better than violence, right? Make love, not war?
This is not to say sex scenes should be gratuitous. Nothing should be gratuitous, neither sex nor violence, and if they're in a story, they better have a good reason for being there. There are a few YA novels I've read where I think the love scenes were done nicely, balancing tasteful writing with the bravery to describe more than Pansy Love. One good example I can think of: Simone Elkeles PERFECT CHEMISTRY. Yes, the love scene does involve condoms and true love, but who cares--there is no fading to black, it's a fantastic, tastefully done scene, neither vague nor gratuitous. It's super romantic. And makes perfect sense in the plot.
I don't mean that I don't like YA novels with excess violence and pansy love scenes. Many of them are my all-time favorites. This isn't a commentary on the authors and their books, but on the peculiar American culture that I understand we all have to cater to. If a book has a particularly violent scene, parents don't usually worry about it. If there's a sex scene, parents jump on it. Case in point: Kody Keplinger's debut THE DUFF. A book offering a candid, non-preachy plot with teen sex (and written by a teen, so I'm pretty sure it's accurate). When reading reviews on it, I see the huge amount of inevitable "too much sex, inappropriate". Granted, people also criticize The Hunger Games for having too much violence, but the uproar raised over that is half-hearted at best.
I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but for me it really just comes down to: I'd like to read less Pansy Love Scenes in YA and more tasteful, honest love scenes. If the story is better with that love scene, do it justice.