This post is sponsored by Simon and Schuster.
Jenn Bennett might be the Queen of YA contemporaries but another reason we can’t get enough of her is her openness about sex in her books. Jenn sat down to speak to us about her new book, ‘Serious Moonlight’ and why she actively seeks to include sex within her books.
My latest YA contemporary, ‘Serious Moonlight‘, is a book about Birdie and Daniel, two teens who meet one rainy afternoon in Seattle and impulsively decide to hook up. Unfortunately, the experience is bumbling and embarrassing. Birdie’s only solace is that she’ll never see him again, but alas, when she lands a job working the front desk at a historic hotel, Daniel is the hotel van driver. Awkward. Do they ignore each other? Pretend it never happened? What if they still like each other? What if they are both just bad at sex?
All of my YA contemporaries are romances; all of them include sex on the page. It’s by no means the driving force of my stories, which also include a lot of other big-ticket items—themes about non-traditional families, exploration of mental health issues, and the importance of self-expression. But when you write about two people falling in love, just like real life, that connection sometimes gets handsy.
Luckily for me, this is one of my favourite subjects to write about, because sex is such a complex and wondrous thing filled with weird emotions and meaningful conflict. How can something so simple go so wrong, so often? How can something so pleasurable be plagued with baggage, shame, and guilt?
I never once considered not including sex scenes in my YA books, nor did I want to “fade to black” during the kissing, or skim over the good parts. And by good parts, I don’t mean the actual sex—though that’s in there, too. (Three cheers for joyful female desire!) No, I mean the talking about it. Because my characters talk about sex a lot. They talk about birth control. Previous partners. Lack of experience. Pain. Rejection. Body image. Masturbation. Pregnancy.
My characters are curious. They ask permission and respect boundaries, but they also get confused and make mistakes. They know exactly what they want, and yet know nothing at all. Like all of us, really.
The subject of sex is strange when you’re a teen. It can be both alienating and blissful, both scary and alluring. It can change your life in terrifying ways (pregnancy, STDs) and in unexpected ways (establishing an intense, beautiful connection with another human). Sometimes it’s all of the above, and that’s a heady thing to explore when you’re trying to figure out who you are while also surviving the day-to-day pressures of finishing high school.
Writing these kinds of stories occasionally makes me feel like everyone’s cool auntie, the person in who you feel safe confiding. Yet, at the same time, being a YA author comes with a certain amount of responsibility. I always tell my editor, when we’re both in doubt about a certain piece of dialogue or the direction a scene’s taking, that my personal philosophy as an author is much like a doctor’s oath: do no harm. That’s a lot of pressure, especially when I don’t have all the answers about sex, love, and relationships. But I think I’m okay with it. I do my best, and that’s all any of us can do.
Fiction is part escapism, part mirror…and sometimes, it’s rebuilding the world how it should be. To that end, I hope that teens (and adults!) reading Birdie and Daniel’s story in ‘Serious Moonlight‘ will see two people on the page who make a few mistakes but eventually get to know each other, talk frankly about their hopes and fears, and build a stronger, lasting connection.
And what could be more positive than that?
Jenn Bennett’s ‘Serious Moonlight’ is available to buy in the UK and US now. Grab a copy here.