Why is this controversial? Look on any writing focused message board and you'll see the same question, "How far can a sex scene go in YA?" Often times, someone will answer that "anything goes" or that "you can do anything in YA that you can in adult!" Honestly, though, I have to disagree with both of these sentiments.
Don't get me wrong - I"m not saying sex shouldn't be in YA at all. I'm actually a huge advocate of sex positive and authors writing honestly about teen sexuality. Censorship is no friend of mine. But as an avid reader of both YA and adult romance (I love the occasional bodice-ripper! What can I say?) I have to be frank in that there is, in my experience, a huge difference between a sex scene in adult romance vs. in a YA novel.
How are they different? Well, I like to think of it on a sliding scale, in a sense. Let's say sex scenes are ranked on a scale of 1 to 10. A 1 means the sex scene is entirely about emotion with very little graphic detail about body parts. A 10 is a sex scene with a great deal of detail about body parts (all of them) and very little text spent on the emotion. If that's the case, I feel like the scale looks something like this (though there are always exceptions).
YA Sex Scenes - ranked 1 to 4
Adult Romance Novel Sex Scenes - ranked 5-8
Erotica Sex Scenes - ranked 8 - 10
Now, to be clear, I think there are is definitely room to cross over, and this is a very generalized scale, but it will give you an idea of what I've observed.
To put it into more specifics, YA sex scenes tend to be much more about the emotion. I think this is because, as teenagers, everything is emotional. Everything is a big deal. So it seems natural that characters would be so absorbed in emotions when it comes to something as big as sex. Another thing I've noticed is that specific body parts you'll see focused on are hands and lips as opposed to any, ahem, naughty bits. Even the most graphic of YA sex scenes never get as detailed as most romance novels do.
In romance novels, sex scenes are different. They are racier, but still not quite to the level of erotica. Emotions play a big part, but they aren't the key focus. Hands, lips, and naughty parts (usually shaded with entertaining euphemisms) are all brought to our attention. These scenes are often longer than a YA sex scene and a lot more specific about the details. And yet, as I said, they still aren't to the level of all out erotica because, as a general rule of romance, the "romance" and not just the sex is key to the plot.
So, to sum up, the idea that anything that goes in an adult sex scene goes in YA seems a little skewed to me. I think there's definitely a difference when it comes to the writing of sex scenes.
But I want to hear what YOU think. Do you agree or disagree? What differences do you notice between YA and adult sex scenes? Should there be a difference at all? Let us know in the comments!