Should children be allowed to read books with sex in them?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about when might be a good age to allow your children to start reading romance novels.  My son who is 9 wants to read the Twilight series because he really likes the movies.  Some people have freaked out when I told them he wanted to read the books because there are a couple of sex scenes in the 4th book.

Debating about this matter has had me reflecting on my own childhood.  Personally, I started reading romance novels around the time I turned 12.  I found a Harlequin romance novel for a quarter at a garage sale and bought it.  After reading the sex scenes, I was hooked.  For a curious kid who was almost a teenager, these books appealed to my budding sexual curiosity.  My friends often secretly borrowed my stash of romance books, but always had to keep them hidden from their parents who would ground them if they found them reading such “filth”.  One friend even hid the naughty books I lent her under the collection of age-appropriate books her parents were trying to force her to read.  I always found that a bit ironic.

In my house sex was never a taboo subject.  When I was around 5 or 6 my mom told me all about sex, even showing me a pop-up book filled with pictures of genitals and other reproductive organs.  I don’t think I will ever forget the cardboard penis that would pop up when I turned the first page.  For some reason it even fascinated me back then!  So when I started reading romance novels she didn’t mind at all.  In fact, she would even buy steamy ones for me for Christmas.

Did all this sexual freedom make me promiscuous?  Quite the opposite actually.  I didn’t engage in any sexual activity with a partner until I was 19.  I think having the freedom to express myself sexually actually made me want to hold off on having sex until I felt ready.  It wasn’t this huge forbidden thing that many parents make it, to me it was natural and good, but also something to be taken seriously, especially since sex can sometimes come with serious consequences such as unwanted pregnancies and nasty diseases.

So what do you think?  At what age should children be allowed to read books with sexual scenes in them?

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4 thoughts on “Should children be allowed to read books with sex in them?

  1. This is a good question, and a topic I’m going to have to deal with sooner or later in my own house. My oldest still only wants to read Barbie books and books about princesses and such, so unless Barbie starts getting it on with Ken, I’m safe for now! I would say a kid is old enough to read a romance novel with sex in it when they’re old enough to want to read that specific book and they understand what sex actually is. I know that means they might be reading it at a young age, but I would hate to force my kids to read a bunch of books they don’t want to read instead. I want my kids to enjoy reading, and if they enjoy reading romance novels that just happen to have sex scenes in them, so be it.

    I think it’s great that your 9 year old wants to read the Twilight books! Yes, Bella and Edward have sex in book four, but it’s not really that bad. If I remember correctly, they get in the bed and the scene fades out…and then the next morning the headboard is broken and Bella has a lot of bruises. Which pissed me off a little bit because I bet it was good! 🙂

  2. That is a question that has plagued me a bit when writing my teen novels. I do include a bit of romance, but for my sixteen year-old protagonist, I feel actual sex scenes are out of the question. That does not mean that I skirt the subject altogether. On the contrary, my main character is pursued by two young men, both of which stir feelings in her, but she is afraid of encouraging either of them because of the circumstances in which she finds herself. I think, if I were to write a teen romance in which they actually went to the final level, I doubt I would go into a lot of details, much like in ‘Twilight’.

    There is a fine line between romance & what I would consider erotica. As a writer of teen fiction, I would not feel right including any type of erotica in my novels, not because it is wrong, necessarily, but because I want my books readily available in school libraries. I want their historical content presented to kids in a fun way, not crammed down their throats, so including sex scenes would automatically eliminate them from the schools on sheer principle. I suppose that is a little hypocritical as I did read adult historical romances as early as fifteen and, like you, it did not make me promiscuous. It’s also a little self-serving, I suppose, but I figure if the kids are going to read those novels with the sex scenes, they can always find them somewhere.

    I did not forbid my teenaged daughter to read them. Actually, I would have been happy if she read anything at all!

  3. Literature doesn’t always rise to the levels it is capable of, nor does it need to. Yet it should be encouraged to challenge us, to take us beyond where we are comfortable. It is far safer to read about something we do not understand, than to perform our first adventures in real life.

    Censorship is undesirable, not because it kills ideas, but because it allows them to live, to fester in hiding. For example: somebody is going to feed your children information about sex; would you like to know what that is? Then you could correct it, provide a second opinion, a better perspective. If you allow them to read these books, you can find out what they are reading. They may even ask you questions about it. This creates an open forum, allowing for bad ideas to be exposed and discussed. Open forums work in society and will work in your family, if you do your due diligence. Not that it would be easy, parenting never is, but it would at least be possible.

  4. Sex was never taboo in my family either… I didn’t start having sex until I was 19, and even then… I’m not active. My mum wouldn’t stunt my reading growth by saying I couldn’t read certain books, it irritated my teachers.. But seeing as I didn’t actually START reading until I was about 9… I took off, and I still love to read to this day because she ENCOURAGED me to read.

    Twilight wasn’t too bad, sex scene wise. YA novelists shouldn’t be afraid to touch on it… Especially for the books aimed for the OLDER kids. They’re gonna learn about it anyway….

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