An interesting article penned by Darren Shan:
Horror author Darren Shan has claimed that publishers of books for young adults have a no-sex policy, believing it will turn off teenage readers. The writer behind Cirque du Freak and the Zom-B series has sold 25 million books worldwide, and is renowned for treating his young readers to gory, violent scenes.
"You can have heads ripped open and sacrifice," he said. "The only time you get in trouble with the publishers is if there's kissing."
This seems to be a pretty broad accusation encompassing the general publishing world and it isn't clear that Shan has ever made submissions featuring YA books that have sex. But he's talking about kissing here, which doesn't even touch on fondling/foreplay or full-on copulation. This is the first I've heard of kissing being excluded from the text and I'm wondering where he's gotten these impressions, unless he's talking about the major Christian Publishers. And even then, I can't understand why kissing would get the no-go from even a Christian publisher or imprint. It's been mentioned in a forum that John Green's books, featuring a male lead has teenage sex, as well as Patrick Rothfuss' work that does have some cross-over elements but features teenage characters that indulge. There is also the implication that male writers of YA that feature sex are far, few and in between and less likely to be published than female scribes. Although it's true there are many less male writers in the YA category, I don't think it's held against when it comes to sex scenes. We're getting into gender biased territory here.
I can't see what's wrong with sex with consenting 18+ years or above in YA. Not that I've written it. I have flirty nude scenes and some kissing in my YA books and haven't had any editorial condemnation because of it. I have crushes and moments of passion, ending in no more than a thigh or shoulder rub. But I won't take it that far (full-on coupling), even with consenting 18+ teenagers only because I don't want to risk rewriting such scenes--either toning it down or yanking it altogether. I do understand a problem with underage participants indulging in "grownup" sex and this deals with morality issues like contributing to the delinquency of a minor and rape.
However, I have been flagged for drugs, swearing and liquor use by some editors, and others have let it pass. I think the editors who've let it pass understand that underage drinking, swearing and drug experimentation are all part of life that a young person goes through and to deny that it is bordering on head-in-the-sand thinking and a very naive view. I do get that some publishers wish to keep their YA titles clean and uncomplicated, not wishing any controversy or back-lash from a reading public. Chances are such publisher will state their preferences upfront in their mission statement or guidelines. I think writers can avoid these types of issues by thoroughly reading the missions statements and guidelines before they even think about submitting their YA manuscripts.
Another questions that pops up: Are male writers afraid to write sex scenes, believing that such things should be left to more skilled female authors? I don't think so. I'm quite capable of writing believable sex scenes, backed by passion and romance. I just don't think male writers feel too comfortable with the topic and are more likely to avoid it. Would a young teenage boy be frightened off from a YA book that had sex scenes? It seems to be implied, but again, I don't see a problem with it. If the book has adventure, thriller or horror aspects to it that dominate the plot, where's the danger for a for a teenage boy reader? I think young boys are more prone to actively avoid romance-centered stories, where the romance is a focal point and the storyline is character-oriented. I'm wondering if the newish category of NA (New Adult) might be platform for venturing into a more daring sex-filled storyline, where obviously, most of the MCs are past the 21 year-old mark.
The bottom line is, feel the publisher out by reading a few of their YA titles. Be sure to read the mission statement and guidelines. Better yet, write to the publisher and get a definitive list of what they consider unacceptable or naughty.