#NAAugust Discussion: Sex in New Adult Fiction

Posted August 19, 2016 by Dani in Blog Tours, Discussions, New Adult August // 0 Comments

#NAAugust Discussion: Sex in New Adult Fiction

Welcome to another day of New Adult August! We’re talking about all things New Adult throughout this month, and you can find out what we’ve shared so far and what to expect right here!

Ooooh a fun topic! We’ve already discussed what NA is and how it differs from YA and Adult generally, but now it’s time for that big differentiator: S-E-X!

talk about sex


We’ve already established that NA is about main characters between 18 and 30, and we’ve agreed that it has themes of growing up, which includes sexual relationships. Let’s really look into the sex side of things today, though. As with my other discussions, this one has been built up with contributions from those that filled out my survey, plus a spontaneous Twitter poll!

Given the nature of the topic, I also asked demographic questions in my survey, as these factors will affect this discussion more than other topics. Here’s the gist:

  • Gender: 100% female
  • Age: 100% over 18 (26.9% over 30)
  • Sexuality: 82.1% heterosexual, 3.6% asexual

Is sex integral to NA, and do you even like it?

First off, I asked a couple of questions:

  • Does NA have to have sex in it to be NA?
  • How do you feel about sex scenes in books?

Everyone agreed that NA does not need to have sex in it to be NA, but most NA books do have it to some extent. One person pointed out that it needs to be more mature than YA in some sense (sex, violence, some kind of issue) to be considered NA. Someone else said it’s important to mention sex in some way, but not necessarily for the main character to have it, just because sex affects everyone in some way as they grow up. This could be figuring out one’s sexuality, whether someone is sexual or contemplating where one stands on sex (e.g. whether they should wait until marriage).

Rachel of Confessions of a Book Geek wrote:

No. When the genre first started, it was erotica-lite. It bridged the gap, and it always had sex. But it doesn’t have to at all. It can just focus on a specific age range and the issues faced during those years, though inevitably, sex and relationships, or the lack of them, will usually factor in there somewhere. NA Fantasy like ACOTAR or Uprooted is moving the genre along.

Not everyone wanted sex in their books either, though a lot of people did. Here was the breakdown of responses:

  • I love sex scenes in books: 53.6%
  • I like them from time to time: 35.7%
  • I prefer books without a lot of sex: 3.6%
  • I avoid books with explicit sex scenes: 7.1%

As you can see, almost 90% of responders like reading sex scenes, and more than half actually love them!

Which brings up a side issue regarding sexual diversity in NA… If 9/10 people want sex scenes in books, it makes sense that most NA books will have said scenes. While I agree that there should be more diversity in the category, authors have an upward battle ahead of them, as their market will be smaller without sex scenes. Their plot will have to really good to compete with the books that are kind of good but have sex in them. As demonstrated in SMUT by Karina Halle, sex sells. (See my 4.5 star review here!)


Where is the line between Young Adult, New Adult and Erotica when it comes to sexual content?

There was a pretty clear consensus on this question! Here’s a summary of what we agreed on:

  • Young Adult will focus more on kissing, light petting and first times, and if there is sex, it’ll usually be hinted at or fade to black. There won’t really be any kinkiness involved, and the emotional part will be stronger.almost held hands
  • New Adult will usually have sex, and it’ll usually be fairly explicit. However, at least in good NA, the sex won’t overwhelm the plot. The sex might involve some exploration of different kinks, but usually quite lightly. There will be a good balance between physical and emotional aspects of a relationship.
  • Erotica will have a sex-driven plot, and the sex will be graphic and frequent. There might be some fetish or another involved to cater to different people’s sexual tastes. The physical side will be stronger, as it’s meant to “titillate”.

Let me just stop giggling over that word choice, used by an author who responded… Yes, I’m very mature.

Guinevere of Twinja Book Reviews pointed out something very interesting about sex in YA.

YA isn’t very sex positive because mainly adults write it, so it often reflects their views on teenage sex.

I don’t think ignoring that teens have sex is going to make them not have sex, so I live for the day there are tons of books where teens get to learn about safe sex in a positive way, in a safe space like their kindle.

She wasn’t the only one to notice this. Rachel also said she found YA, when it did talk about sex, often did so with a touch of slut-shaming. Could this be because adults don’t really think teens should be having sex? Ely of Tea and Titles agreed that YA wasn’t always sex positive.

Newsflash: young people are having sex

teen wolf sexI’ve often read people arguing for more sex in YA, and defending it in NA, by saying that it starts to be a part of people’s lives from when they’re a teen. If they’re not already having it, their friends are, or they’re thinking about it. One of the questions that came to mind earlier today was when people tend to lose their virginity, something to backup that claim of sex being a part of teen lives.

So I took to Twitter. Now, I expected maybe 20…30…responses? Yeah, within a few hours, I had over 700, with 58 retweets, and the poll is still going! With 733 responders, here’s what people were saying about if and when they lost their virginity.

  • Virginity lost before turning 18: 43%
  • Virginity lost after turning 18: 36%
  • Under 18 and still a virgin: 5%
  • 18 or older and still a virgin: 16%

shocked kidAlmost half of the responders were having sex while still considered Young Adults!

You have no idea how many follow-up questions I have after seeing these results. I’ve jokingly said to Jamie that I should do a PhD on sex in YA and NA, as I’m suddenly very interested in investigating how sex affects people’s reading habits and why they do or don’t read sex. I mean, do virgins generally like to read sex scenes, or do they prefer to shy away from them? Who enjoys sex scenes more: those who are satisfied with their sex lives or those who aren’t? Why do people enjoy sex scenes? Are they seeing what’s missing from their own lives, getting off, addicted to the fluttery feelings? (I am definitely addicted to the feelings of a good romance and steamy scene.)


What makes a good New Adult sex scene, and what makes it cringey?

Oh, this was fun. Authors, pull up a chair and take notes!

Good sex:

  • Adds to the story in some way
  • Describes emotions and atmosphere to add to the chemistry and make it feel real
  • Has a lot of tension and build up
  • Remembers that the woman isn’t just a prop
  • Is consensual and enjoyable to both parties
  • Is flawed
  • Involves characters we already care about
  • Comes after we’ve already connected to the characters and the plot
  • Matches kinks to characters, if it needs kinks at all

Bad sex:

  • Doesn’t involve consent
  • Is gratuitous (it gets boring if it’s one scene after the next without any plot development)
  • Isn’t physically possible, or even probable
  • Describes the mechanics without any emotion, reading like a DIY manual
  • Uses cliché words, outdated language and cheesy euphemisms (see the banned words list)
  • Forced dirty talk and crude language for the sake of being dirty
  • Involves on-command or simultaneous orgasms (because that just doesn’t happen, k?)
  • Goes into too much detail about weird fetishes
  • Involves a woman without personality and a man who is manipulative and abusive, and who thinks he owns the woman
  • Involves tampons
  • Has grenade women

About that last one… I had to include it because one of the responders said this:

“anytime a woman has an orgasm and she ‘shatters’ or ‘detonates’—good Lord, she’s not a grenade”

Banned Words

There are a lot more than this, but these are the specific (and hilarious) examples shared in the survey!

  • bieber what is happeningBeaver
  • Clam
  • Raging salami
  • Manhood
  • Member
  • Flower
  • Delicate petals
  • Sword
  • Scabbard or sheath
  • Discostick
  • Joystick
  • Rod
  • Shaft

Authors who know how it’s done

My final sex question was: which NA authors write the best sex scenes? Here’s what people had to say! (Anything with !!! after it means this author was recommended at least twice.)

  • Nana Malone
  • Perri Forrest
  • Inger Iverson
  • J.J. McAvoy
  • Colleen Hoover (!!!)
  • Brighton Walsh (!!!)
  • Megan D. Martin
  • Leah Raeder
  • Kristen Callihan
  • Dahlia Adler
  • Sarina Bowen (!!!)
  • Kristi and Becca Ritchie
  • Jennifer L. Armentrout (!!!)
  • Cora Carmack
  • Elle Kennedy
  • Kelley Armstrong
  • A.J. Pine
  • Julianna Keyes
  • Elizabeth Briggs
  • Abbi Glines

What are your thoughts on sex in NA? Do you enjoy reading it? What makes a sex scene good or bad for you? What words would you add to the Banned Words list?


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