Giant Bugs, Inessential Penises, and …. Ralph: Memorable Sex Scenes in YA
Young Adult books can be sexy, I assure you. YA authors are trying to connect with teens and give them relatable experiences, and while some people don’t like to think about it, teens do have sex. Generally, explicit sex makes a book jump from the YA market to the adult market pretty quickly, but not all YA books use the “fade to black” technique when the characters get down to business. I find that these more frank descriptions of sex to be more memorable, because they’re uncommon and just more realistic. Not to say that sex scenes have to be more graphic to be memorable, but it certainly does help when an author doesn’t leave everything to the imagination.
So, I’ve come up with a Top Nine list of the Most Memorable Sex Scenes in YA Literature or at least the most memorable to me. Why nine? Isn’t nine so much sexier than ten? Okay, it’s because I couldn’t find more than nine that were sexy and memorable enough.
Thinking of these memorable moments was harder than I thought it would be, because I kept recalling instances of sexual assault. Memorable sex in YA was going to be easy, I thought. What about sex with bedazzled penis guy—actual book, look it up—oh wait, that was rape. What about … oh also rape. YA has a lot of unhappiness related to sex: rape, questionable consent, coercion, more rape, horrible consequences for gay characters who have sex, and so on. I wanted this list to be about mostly positive sexual encounters. It made me pretty sad that it wasn’t as easy to find as sexual violence.
Well, let’s countdown from my least memorable to most memorable sex scenes in YA. I tried to excerpt the passages when I could find them again, but if not, you get to discover them for yourself. And please, if I’m missing any let me know in the comments!
9. A sexy fade-out scene and “inessential penises” in Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Okay, so Taylor does make use of the sexy fade-out trope in this book, but the fade outs are very sexy. First, it’s hot kissing with moans and arched backs with Karou and her angel lover, Akiva, and then it’s recovered memories of sex between Madrigal and Akiva, complete with dresses made out of sugar and secret assignations. All that does make for memorable sex scenes, but the best is Karou’s advice from her adoptive father Brimstone to avoid “inessential penises.” It doesn’t come off as prudish or slut-shaming, but rather allows Karou to decide what it essential and inessential to her. Plus it gives us all a great insult for men we don’t need in our lives: “Ugh. His penis is totally inessential!”
8.The Han Solo and Boba Fett scene in Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Yet another fade to black scene, but this one is memorable, because it’s so sweet. Odd ducks Eleanor and Park find each other and sneak to Park’s house while his parents are out. Classic teenaged move. But the sweetness is that Park tells Eleanor he loves her, and she responds with Han’s (and Leia’s, I might add) classic line, “I know.” Then they debate over who gets to be Han before Park decides,
“You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.”
It’s so sweet, and the awakening of sexual agency and pleasure in Eleanor is really lovely over the next few pages. Her life is not great, and she is made to feel shame for many non-sexual things by awful adults. But as she says, “Nothing was dirty. With Park. Nothing could be shameful.”
7. The “Let’s all three make a baby” scene in Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
I’ll admit that I don’t think I quite “got” Weetzie Bat when I first read it, but I do appreciate it. The book, centering on Weetzie and her crew of friends in LA, hits on all sort of issues, like high school malaise, drugs, and happy gay relationships, which seemed an impossible dream when the book was published in the middle of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. When Weetzie decides she wants a baby and her mysterious Secret Agent Lover Man doesn’t want a child, Dirk and Duck, her two gay best friends, decide to help. You don’t know who Cherokee’s father is, but it doesn’t matter. Block’s philosophy of making your own family and loving whoever you want to love is the most important thing. And glitter—glitter is also important.
6. The “almost bisexual love triangle” in Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa
Originally advertised as a love triangle between a girl and her two best guy friends, the book doesn’t quite live up to that expectation of a love triangle, but does have some sexy times. Mira and Sebby (Sebastian) met when they were both hospitalized for self harm and depression. It’s in the hospital where they first started “helping each other out” with some orgasmic release even though Sebby states he is totally gay. When Jeremy comes along he’s folded into their intimate friendship. There are some sexy make out sessions between the three of them and one instance of questionable consent where Sebby performs oral sex on Jeremy, who was totally into it, and then Mira, who seemed surprised. I’m not sure if the author meant it to cross a line or it just did for me. But in general, the love, both platonic and sexual, between the three is sweet.
5. The “Do the Sex” scene in The Awesome by Eva Darrows
This is not a big book, so I expect that its readership is fairly small, but it has something amazing: sex-positivity! Maggie is a sassy, rough-and-tumble monster hunter in the Supernatural vein, who is ready to take on vampires. The catch? She needs to lose her virginity—or “do The Sex” as Maggie says—before she can safely hunt vamps. Her mom hilariously encourages her to do the deed, stresses that sex is fun, but also important, and provides the condoms. When she actually has sex, her partner not only gets her off before the all important penis in vagina bits, but it takes like FOUR PAGES. There is talk of wetness and thrusting, and it’s one of the most detailed scenes I’ve read in YA. It is indeed awesome.
4. The giant preying mantis sex and bisexual feelings in Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
There is a lot of sex in this coming-of-age and personal history story set in Iowa and narrated by an odd kid fascinated by Polish history. Austin doesn’t know whether he’s more in love with his girlfriend Shann or his best friend Robby. And does that mean he’s bisexual or what? Austin’s questioning and the sex in the bowling alley in an underground bunker—it makes sense in the book, I promise—are memorable enough. But then there’s the giant preying mantis sex. Did I not mention that people turn into giant preying mantises (mantii?!) after a biological agent is accidentally released? That happens and all the mantises want to do is eat and fuck. This book is memorably bonkers and worth checking out.
3. That “I’m all alone and thinking about ART” scene in The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Hey, sexy times don’t always have to include another person, and that’s why this book is so far down the list. Let’s hear it for masturbation! It’s not every day that you read a book where there’s lady masturbation in it, and it’s presented as a natural, healthy, enjoyable thing. The sci-fi novel set in a future Brazil where a Summer Prince is chosen for ritual human sacrifice! Yay! But before that there’s LGBTQ and polyamorous relationships, as well as June, the main character, masturbating on the beach. Here’s the passage:
I watch, I breathe. My hand drifts to my stomach, then lower, beneath my folded-over dress and my underwear. I bite my lip, but there’s no one here but me and the seabirds.
The sun makes me savor it. I’m slow and deliberate and not thinking of anyone much at all, which is strange of me. I think about art.
Her friend and maybe lover, the Summer Prince, finds her in her moment of petite mort, and there is no awkwardness and no move to intrude upon her time. The book is memorable in it’s portrayal of sex and relationships, but not without controversy. For some thoughts and frustrations about cultural appropriation, check out Ana’s post at The Book Smugglers.
2. The “blowjob that wasn’t” scene in Looking for Alaska by John Green
Not everyone is awkward, but I bet almost every sex-having person has had something horribly awkward happen. It’s part of the deal that sometimes it’s going to be a bit uncomfortable. That’s why the blowjob scene between main character Pudge and his girlfriend Lara, who is clearly a stand in for Pudge’s massive crush on the mysterious Alaska, has stood out as an example of that discomfort. The book isn’t perfect, but the scene sure is funny. Here’s the first part:
And then she wrapped her hand around it [his penis, duh] and put it into her mouth.
We were both very still. She did not move a muscle in her body, and I did not move a muscle in mine. I knew that at this point something else was supposed to happen, but I wasn’t quite sure what.
After a few more minutes of this, they give up, go ask Alaska what to do, and get instructions. Then they are off to happy, BJ-land without so much of the teenage fumbling.
1. “Ralph” from Forever by Judy Blume
While the dialogue is a little dated, I think Blume’s classic still holds up despite it being over forty years old. The story of first love between Katherine and Michael is sweet, and their insistence that it will be forever is so well done. Along with a detailed description of a doctor’s visit to get birth control pills that is memorable for being not that different from the hoops women still have to jump through today, there is Ralph. Ralph is the name of Michael’s penis, and honestly, every time I think about it I still giggle! The passage where we find out Ralph’s name is glorious in all of it’s teenaged awkwardness and formal introductions:
“Help me, Michael … I feel so stupid.”
“Don’t,” he said, wiggling out of his pajama bottoms. He led my hand to his penis. “Katherine … I’d like you to meet Ralph … Ralph, this is Katherine. She’s a very good friend of mine.”
I know this list skews very heterosexual, so please enlighten me to great LGBTQ sex scenes that I’m missing. Finally, may all of your sex be essential, and may you never run into a penis named Ralph!