I've talked about sex in YA before. As an author who writes both sexy adult stuff and YA, I see a definite difference in how I personally approach things. I don't believe in shying away from sex in young adult fiction, but I write it differently than I do in my adult work.
To illustrate this, I have a niece who is thirteen. I let her read any and all of my YA manuscripts, and I know she regularly reads published YA with sex in it. A while back, she asked if she could read one of my adult stories, and I said no. Even without finding out whether or not my sister would throw a fit, I was uncomfortable with her reading a specific scene in that story because I didn't feel my niece had the necessary experience to understand what was going on in the heroine's mind (and it was kind of... violent sex). Anyway, this isn't a slam on my niece. A lot of adult readers hate that scene--in my mind because they don't understand the character. That's okay, but I'm not going to willingly hand it over to an unprepared 13 year old.
Turns out, my sister would have indeed been upset. My niece and I were talking book recommendations over the weekend and I asked my sister if anything was "off-limits" as far as content. She basically said "sex", at which point I had to clarify that she meant descriptive sex as opposed to "knowing it happened without seeing it." (I think she'd prefer her daughter read only books about virginal heroines who have no intention of ever being anything else, but whatever...)
The funny thing is, I'm reading a YA right now that is very sexually charged. None of the characters have had sex in it yet, but it's a major topic and a plot driver and very much viewed with want. I'm kind of torn because while it's a very realistic portrayal of how a lot of teens think about sex, it's... a lot. And it got me thinking: where exactly is the line between "okay for YA" and "too much for primetime?"
And yes, that's pretty much how I view things. If it can be on network TV before 10pm, it's probably okay for YA. After 10 or on cable? Odds are it's too much.
But the written word is different. You don't see body parts, they're described. The want is described rather than being viewed through the actions of the actors. So, can you get away with more description, where the viewing equivalent would push it to cable? When does written sex push from PG-13 to R?
I'm really not sure. There's a scene snippet in a manuscript I have on sub right now that I feel is very borderline, and that's with it described through the filter of a character who doesn't want to see it and wants absolutely nothing to do with anything to do with sex. (That virginal heroine? Yeah, her. She's just surrounded by non-virgins.) Another manuscript I have out has a sex scene or two, but they are very fade-to-black in nature.
I'm sure the line is different for every reader, but I'm curious. Where do you draw yours?