Whether or not sex has a place in YA literature is a long-disputed topic that people will likely be debating for many, many years to come. Despite it’s ~controversial~ nature, some young adult books that talk about teen sex — in depth, nonetheless — are simply irreplaceable. Novels like Forever by Judy Blume, or The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth are essential reads for teens struggling to decide how they want to approach the topic of sexuality during their young lives!
But let’s face it — they can’t all be good. In fact, while YA works should be preparing teen readers for the REALITY of first-time sex and just doing the deed in general, some novels only scratch the surface, staying in the realm of fantasy and avoiding the REAL difficulties and awkwardness that that come with having sex. That’s not to say that all of these books are trash — in fact, some of them are so amazing for other reasons! But while we can enjoy getting lost in the pages of these exciting reads, we should be using a critical eye because some of the messages they’re putting forth could wind up being pretty harmful.
Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer
Even the biggest Twihard had to have known this book would make the list. Why? Because after Bella and Edward's first time having sex, she wakes up in pure ~bliss~ and somehow doesn't even realize that her entire frickin' body is covered in bruises!
It's completely normal for a first-time sexual experience to hurt (even if it's with a non-vampire), but just because you love someone a lot does not mean you're going to be immune to the next-day pain, which is what the fourth book in The Twilight Saga suggests!
And then there's also the fact that the girl could've literally died from having sex with her non-human bae, which, you know, puts it on the UNrealistic list for sure.
Photo: Little, Brown & Company
Hopeless, by Colleen Hoover
Without giving too much away, here's what the book's about: The lead character, Sky, and her boyfriend witness a close friend commit suicide, become spattered in that person's blood, proceed to wash themselves and then IMMEDIATELY have sex. WTF?!
it's a little difficult to believe that two people who witness something so traumatizing would be able to put that on the back burner for some seemingly great sex (even though it's her first time, which only adds to the unbelievable nature of the whole thing). Many readers took issue with the fact that Sky had some serious problems that needed addressing and it seemed like the only needs that were actually taken care of were the ones within her relationship.
Photo: Atria Books
A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah J. Maas
Wow, reading a page out of this YA novel seems a bit more like taking a glance at Fifty Shades of Gray as opposed to Twilight! While the first book in this series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, had some sex, this one for sure took it to the next level.
We've said it before and we'll say it again — there's nothing wrong with Young Adult novels featuring sex scenes, but they've gotta serve a purpose! Not only are there some serious issues in here regarding consent, but the events that exist on the pages seem a little too flawless and sexy to be real. Sure, it's a fantasy romance but still!
Photo: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Firsts, by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
In theory, this book seems like it should've been a sex-positive tale of a teenage girl taking control of her sexuality and defying the slut-shaming norms of our culture. Unfortunately, though, Laurie seemed to miss the mark.
The novel is about a young woman who deflowers other girls' boyfriends so that they can give their GFs better first times. Mercedes Ayres sees it as a "public service," though in reality, it's actually really effed up. She's actively stealing away what might be a special moment for another woman and assisting a guy to deceive her.
As if that's not bad enough, there are several sex scenes in the book that are clearly non-consensual, yet the writer does nothing to unpack those moments, or shed some light on how that's not okay.
Photo: St. Martin's Griffin
Doing It, by Melvin Burgess
While it's totally important to be getting a bunch of different perspectives about how various young people look at sex, which this book does, it also sends strange messages.
First of all, a teacher-student relationship à la Ezria in Pretty Little Liars or Archie and Ms. Grundy in Riverdale is totally steamy — but realistic? Not so much. Not only do we have some inappropriate relations here, but there's also a part where one of the characters says, "Doing sex with a girl, it's a bit like putting a frog down their backs or scaring them with dead mice or throwing worms at them." Yuck.
FYI: Lots of fat-shaming and fatphobia in this book, too. :(
Photo: Henry Holt and Co. (
Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis
This book is definitely a little more adult than most others in the YA genre, but many still classify it as a classic coming-of-age tale. The book def focuses a little extra on the main character's sex, drugs & rock n' roll lifestyle (which in and of itself isn't the 'typical' experience for most recent high-school grads), but that's not the only unrealistic aspect present.
When Clay meets a random girl at a party and they go back to her place to ~get intimate~, it seems like a scene out of a music video — not an IRL description of sex!
"I take off my clothes and lie on her bed and she goes into the bathroom and I wait a couple of minutes and then she finally comes out, a towel wrapped around her," the author writes. The girl then literally has Clay wear a pair of Wayfarer sunglasses that she keeps in her bedside table during their whole encounter because it's *sexy* or something.
Basically, the only realistic part is when he's leaving and she tells him "to be quiet walking down the stairs so [he] won't wake her parents."
Photo: Simon & Schuster