Consent in Young Adult Fiction

Trigger Warning: This post, while not graphic or descriptive, contains discussion regarding themes of rape as well as consensual sex. 

Author’s Note: This post started out as a lighthearted piece regarding my discomfort with writing sex scenes, but I couldn’t finish it because it wasn’t authentic. I tore it up in favor of this, which is the real reason I struggle with sex scenes. I said I would tell the truth, so here it is, in all its ugliness. Please note the comments on this post will be closely monitored. Discussion is encouraged and welcomed, but due to the sensitivity of this topic, there WILL be censorship if necessary. 

My “first time” was a rape. It took me over a decade to summon the courage to write those words, and I’m not sure how much longer it will take me to publish them. Many of the people closest to me, including my family, still don’t know. If I ever publish this, I suppose they’ll find out.

I will not call it a date rape. I will not dignify the act with some kind of qualifier. I will not amount it to some lesser crime because I thought I loved the boy who forced himself on me. I said no. He said yes. He was stronger. I was afraid and froze like a rabbit before the fox. That is the whole story.

I attempted to fictionalize the experience only once, in a long-short (a longer than average short story). The piece was eviscerated (rightly so) by both my peers and my professor. I handled it with clumsy hands. The subject was too close. After that critique, I put it in a drawer and never looked at it again. I still get a little nauseous thinking about it and the way it felt to hear my professor say the character wasn’t believable.

Writing about sex has always been a challenge for me, and I’d be a fool not to recognize the glaring reason why. Sex is a challenge for me. I have been subjected to a lot of trauma in my life, but this violation is the loudest of all the voices in my head. I have difficulty being touched, I panic when I’m in a crowd, I am prone to fits of unbridled rage when someone sneaks up on me. And all those things are at war with the very real desire to experience human contact. I’m human, after all, and we thrive on contact. It’s difficult to explain the simultaneous pushing and pulling within me when it comes to physical touch, but I’m a writer and in some ways, it’s my duty to try.

Until the revisions of my second book, I was able to avoid sex scenes. I thought I could hide behind the label “young adult”, but the genre is changing, it’s growing, and I want to grow along with it.

After doing some research on the subject and some soul searching, I decided to reconsider the traditional “fade out” I’d hidden behind before. Make no mistake, the fade out is a tactic I’ve employed in aid of my own comfort, not the reader’s. That’s not to say all authors use it this way, it’s only to say I do. I’ve made no final decisions on what any potential sex scenes will look like in my subsequent works, but I do know if I choose to use this tactic in the future it will be because it’s organic to the story, not because I’m too afraid to confront my own demons.

Demons. That word has been weighing me down lately. I have so many demons, I can’t help but wonder if that’s why the girl with so much potential chose to waste her talent on writing fantasy. Because I want to live among angels, and if I can’t, I will create them.

My characters often speak to me from deep, dark caverns I haven’t yet consciously recognized. Inner truth comes from various places and in different voices, and often, it’s not until I’ve written it that I recognize it for what it is. In The Wheel Mages, the notion of “purity” is challenged. I didn’t realize it until it came forth, but that was something I had to confront in my own life. In this second book, I tackle consent.

You see, I realized that when I wrote that long-short in college, I was trying to handle rape from the wrong side (for me). It was a story that wasn’t ripe for telling, and may not ever be (again, for me). The story I do want to tell, though, is the story of what-could-have-been-but-wasn’t. I’m a fantasy author. I want magic and romance and love and yes, consent.

It’s important to me that my work depicts consent, even if it doesn’t lead to sex. In fact, if it doesn’t lead to sex, better. That’s consent really at play. I don’t think it’s something that’s talked about often enough, and if I can help that conversation along, I am desperate to do so. I often wonder if anyone ever talked to that boy I thought I loved about consent.

I know it’s faux pas to discuss “themes” in your work, to discuss this kind of planning, because when it’s discussed it doesn’t seem quite so organic, but this is important enough for me to break that rule.

So yes, though it may make me uncomfortable, I will take on the topic of sex, and I will do it in young adult fantasy because those are the people most commonly affected by the subject. The Blood Mage will have elements of consent. Spoiler, sorry. Hopefully, it will be done with less clumsy hands than those of the 19-year-old who tried to fictionalize her own rape. Hopefully, it will speak quietly but passionately. Hopefully, it will serve as the voice someone once tried to take from me.