Nov 7 2011 3:00pm

OMG, TMI?: Reading Sexy YA as an Older Adult

Shut Out by Kody KeplingerImagine the scene: you’re in the library, shelving books, when all of a sudden your hot co-worker is with you and:

My body was riddled with electric shocks as his kisses grew more intense. My fingers grasped at his short brown hair, pulling him to me. I’d never felt like this, like I wanted to climb into another person’s skin. Like I wanted every inch of him to touch every inch of me, to twine myself around him and never let go.

A promising beginning, but that’s not all. It continues like this:

My skin was on fire as we pressed closer to each other. I found myself climbing into Cash’s lap, straddling his hips as his hands slid to the small of my back, pulling me toward him.

Hot sex in the library “stacks” is a common fantasy, especially among book lovers. But would it change your personal reaction to realize this scene involves two seventeen-year-olds?

Well, this one does. In Kody Keplinger’s Shut Out, lucky teenager Lissa gets to enjoy this sizzling romp with a tall, handsome soccer player named Cash. Putting aside the whole argument about how much is too much in YA lit, what’s more interesting is how a more mature reader modifies a teen love scene into their own daydreams. People have healthy imaginations, and as such, are able to inject themselves into what they read, with fervor even, when there’s sex involved.

How do we manage to do this without feeling all Mary Kay Letourneau-ish? Well, here are a couple of solutions that might help.

First, we can roll back the hands of time and put our teen selves in our fantasy. The boy in question might be tall, dark, and handsome, but he most likely is still unable to grow a beard that resembles anything more scruffy than a baby chick’s behind. It stands to reason that a wrinkle-less, non-saggy version of our modern day being would look fantastic beside this young, athletic guy. This is probably the best option as so many disgruntled adults are often led down the road of nostalgia, wistfully (mis)remembering their adventurous, youthful glow infused teen years. Here’s hoping those teen years and our ability to remember them doesn’t include the dreaded ’80s hair; who wants to relive THAT fiasco?

Or, like the latest technology in facial aging software, we could tweak our fantasy soccer player to become more age appropriate. Give him a slight paunch, the small bald patch at the top of his head, the grunts and groans of a man who has lost his ability to hold you up from that previously alluded to crouching position. After a spectacular finale, you would be rewarded with the lasting gift of complaints from him of how his hiatal hernia recovery will take months longer than expected, all because you wanted to have “relations” in the library. Ugh.

There’s always the voyeuristic approach. Imagine searching out the latest book by Nora Roberts and you just happen upon this couple making out enthusiastically in the “P through S” section. They are so engrossed in their dalliance that they don’t see you, and (thankfully) you can’t see how old they are, with their bodies pressed against each other just so. Like a deer in the headlights, you can’t tear your gaze away from what’s unfolding in front of you. Unknowingly, you utter a wistful sigh of longing, inadvertently breaking up the action. Once you see the couple in question, though, you might end up back in the original predicament of feeling a little skeezy because they’re teens.

When you think about the average age of the writers themselves (Keplinger excluded from this, being much younger than the norm), it is mature (read: middle-aged) women and men who are creating these characters and scenes. Part of that involves putting themselves into the characters’s perspectives. Fair enough. As adult readers, this gives us a measure of comfort. It also allows us to see how that “seventeen-year-old that lived a hundred and eighteen years” Edward guy was made more agreeable to his (older) fans by doing the math, using averages…alright, that works out to a sixty-seven-and-a-half-year-old man, but if you DON’T do the math, it seems mostly tolerable.

Reading about sex from the teen standpoint, especially from the “remember when we were that age” perspective, is heightened by vague recollections of how much we were affected by the opposite sex back then (thanks in large part to overactive hormones.)

Whichever way we choose to reinvent these scenes into our own fantasies, it’s probably not as bad as my slightly exaggerated examples above. And while Keplinger’s scene didn’t get much beyond the kissing portion, we can take these ideas as a starting point and envision a steamy library (or any other venue) tryst of our own, with relish.

Jackie Lester imagines a day when she can make a living as a writer. Until then, she reviews eclectic books at My Ever Expanding Library and lives in small-town Ontario with her daughter.

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
I don't know, this has never been an issue for me, I guess because characters in every book I read look the way I want them to look, you know? And it doesn't hurt that most of the actors in "teen" dramas these days are at least in their mid-20s, further helping my imagination out. I'm actually bothered more by these types of scenes in TV and movies with age appropriate actors. The Runaways, for instance? Was hard to watch at times.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
This doesn't bother me either, since I remember what it was like (at least I think I do--it's been awhile) back then.
In fact, if I read more YA with sex in them, it'd feel more realistic to me--some of the 'ooh, he's gonna kiss me!' just doesn't seem true to me, from what I know of current teen sexual norms.
3. username
Wait...age is but a number LOL

When reading YA I think back to when I was that age, so in that mindset it doesn't bother me. *sigh* Oh to be young again and only have boys to worry about.
@redline - That's the good thing about books: you can imagine them the way you want. I haven't seen The Runaways, I'll have to check it out to see what you mean. It's ironic that older teens are played by twenty-somethings, probably for just that reason; to appeal to the older viewers too. It's a fine line, I think.

@megan - I think that's the key, that we can remember what it's like, so we can appreciate the characters feelings too. The more or less sex is that whole grey area for authors, who at times feel pressured to not 'set bad examples'. Realistic people know better.
@username (AKA Mel) - It's funny how we stressed over the boys back then but now, when real life stress is everywhere, we think fondly of those days.
Melissa (My World...)
6. Melissa (My World...)
I like thinking back on myself in these places from time to time, now that I'm an adult. But I'm who I want to be then, not who I was then. ;D Along with the '80s hair! LOL! Mine was so flat or frizzy, not really ever big though.

But I don't know about this in YA reads. I know they get crazy ideas already from the tv and we have to keep up, that's for sure. But, I guess I'm just starting to show my age. *sigh*

Really a wonderful post. :)
Stephanie Treanor
7. Streanor
I dont think reading Sexy teen YA bothers me as much as watching it on TV or in a Movie.

Its true, you are able to make up your own fantasies in your mind when you read the story but its different when you are watching it on screen.

I find the older i get the more creeped out i get for drooling over 17 year hold heart throbs.
Melissa (My World...)
8. BrooklynShoeBabe
I comparmentalize my reading. I don't feel anything while reading YA books with sexy scenes/language because I'm reading them for work. I try to remain objective. Some of the books do evoke feelings of when I was a teenager, but none of it spills over into my adult escapism. Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers was close to spilling over but I didn't feel bad because the sexy demon was like 1,000 years old. :-)
Melissa (My World...)
9. Angel9460
I usually read adult historical romances, but this summer I came across Simone Elkeles Perfect Chemistry. This hooked me on YA romanace even though I'm 30 years old. I have read a ton of YA romances since and while there is not sex in many of them, the ones that had it didn't bother me. Usually there is not much to those scenes anyway in a YA book, just the start then it cuts to after the event. I think when there is sex in a YA love story it is more realistic. Teens have sex. It is naive to pretend they don't.
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