book chat: triggers and sexual content (in Young Adult fiction)

I’m back with another (perhaps controversial) book chat. Just like my previous two book chats, this is a reaction to some of the things I have seen in the book community. I’m just expressing my own opinions here and don’t want to convince anyone that I’m right. This is just my take on sexual content and triggers. Because I mostly read Young Adult literature, I am going to focus on that genre.

1. sexual content

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a tweet by Jay Kristoff (author of Nevernight, co-author of The Illuminae Files), in which he said something about sexual content in Young Adult and how it was okay. I’ve been looking for this tweet for about half an hour now, but I can’t find it anymore! So don’t quote me on this, I don’t remember exactly what he said. Anyway, I agreed with what he said. Teenagers have sex, so why not include it in books?

But then I started thinking how younger people read YA as well. Young Adult is a proposed age range, from 12 to 18. There are no strict rules. I’m 21 years old and I read YA, so there are plenty of children who read the genre as well. And I don’t think they should have to read explicit sex scenes.

Let’s talk about the Throne of Glass series for example. I haven’t continued this series myself, but I know there is explicit sexual content (in the fifth book?). When I say explicit, I mean graphic sexual scenes, describing male genitalia. And you know who does marketing for Empire of Storms? Bloomsbury Children! Granted they do say it contains mature content somewhere on their website, but they still advertise it on their Twitter, without any warning:


So yes, if you specifically go looking for information, you will be informed that it contains mature content. But if you go to the book store, order the book online… you don’t know that. And as far as I know, there is no warning on the book either.

When this series started, it didn’t feature any mature content (as far as I can remember). But now, it does. So young readers who start this, suddenly have to stop in the middle of the series because it is not appropriate for them anymore, whereas the first books were.

Imagine if an author started a series about twelve year olds. Each year, the author publishes a new book and the characters are one year older. By e.g. the fifth book, the characters start having sex and the content because more mature. Just because the characters age, doesn’t mean the readers do. Just because it takes five years for a series to be finished, doesn’t mean it takes five years for readers to finish it. So writers can’t except their readers to mature alongside their books.

Look, I’m not opposed to sexual content in books. I actually hate it when authors are very vague about it and I don’t know whether or not the characters actually did something. But I know there are some people who don’t like reading such graphic scenes and I don’t think it’s appropriate for young readers either.

Therefore, I think there should be a warning on the book that says more about its content. Years ago, I bought The Naughty Girl’s Book Club. As you can tell by the not-so-subtle title, this was an erotica (very, very mild though, I have to say after reading). On the back of the book, there was an ‘erotic reading guide’, which indicated how much trills, drama, love and sex there was in the book:


Wouldn’t it be useful if Young Adult novels had guides like these as well? Obviously not describing the book’s trill levels, but indicating the amount of violence, sexual content…

I’m currently writing my thesis on diversity in YA. So for me, it would be useful if I knew beforehand whether or not a book is classroom appropriate. Yes, if I do plenty of research I might find some information on it, but I still think guides like these could do a lot of good.

When doing research on Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I discovered a website for parents where others write reviews on what they should know before they allow their child to read a book. And to my surprise, the fact that two boys hold hands and kiss was mentioned in the same sentence as bullying, blackmailing… I can’t believe this has to be said, but LGBTQ representation and characters are not mature content!!! Parents would never make others aware that two straight people hold hands in a book, so it is not okay to mention that when talking about two boys. I was absolutely disgusted by that parent’s review, so I had to mention this here as well.

2. triggers

A couple of weeks ago, an author (I don’t know who, but I can guess) said trigger warnings could be spoilers. The reading community was outraged, and rightfully so. Sometimes, sexual abuse is used as a plot twist in New Adult. But some people get triggered by that. If someone has been raped, of course they might not want to read about that, so they should be warned beforehand! Obviously, there are other triggers besides sexual abuse as well.

By no means I am implying that sexual content and triggers are the same. But I just proposed the guide for sexual content and I think the same kind of system could be used when talking about triggers. I doesn’t have to be a ‘guide’, but I do think triggers should be mentioned on the back of a book (or in the summary you find on e.g. Goodreads).

I’m certainly not implying that books shouldn’t feature sexual content or topics that could be triggering to some. However, I do think readers should be warned beforehand. If one does a lot of research, they might find out on themselves, but I don’t think that should be the case. Mentioning it in the blurb or putting it on the back of a book might be enough.

What’s your opinion on this?


2 thoughts on “book chat: triggers and sexual content (in Young Adult fiction)

  1. debbieslibrary says:

    I think, as you said, you should be warned before you start reading a book if there is some sexual content or trigger subjects. This can be just a simple symbol on the backside of the book, it has to be there.
    As far as I know, films did this too (I don’t know if they still do it). They have/had symbols for sexual content, violence, scary stuff and so on. Then you know what you can expect.
    As for the trigger warning, I don’t care if it is a “spoiler”. Someone can really have problems when they are triggered and they should be warned beforehand. And if you have to do research every book you read, just to make sure that doesn’t happened, it doesn’t seem right to me.
    So I think making known that there is sexual content or trigger subjects, in a book, is a must.


  2. Laura says:

    I agree. I’m not opposed to sex but it should be done with care. I’m also 21 and I have read some scenes in YA that made me cringe. If you’re going to have such scenes it should be marked as Adult or Erotica and not YA. Regarding diversity and LGTB+ I’m just going to say that we need more books with them but them actually having weight in the plot and not dying randomly to make the white characters look good.


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