Writing for children: sex, love and romance

He slipped his hand under her shirt and fumbled with her bra clip. She held her breath in anticipation, but after nearly 60 seconds of oxygen deprivation, forcefully exhaled: “For pete’s sake get on with it!”

But should we, as adult writers of books for children and young people, be ‘getting on with it’? How far is too far? Do we have to include sex, love and romance in our storylines?

Well that depends on the age you’re writing for. If you’re aiming your work at under 10s, then anything lovey-dovey will be considered ‘yucky’. This applies to affection between parents too. By all means have strong friendships between boys and girls, but stay away from romance.

Age matters: 10 – 12

jacqueline-wilson-girls-in-loveIn the 10 to 12 age group, girls are beginning to be interested in romance. For a good example see Girls in Love by Jacqueline Wilson. Boys are still not interested. Look at how long it took for JK Rowling to create a love-interest for Harry.

Age matters: 12 – 14

In the 12 to 14 age group, sadly, most girls read ‘grown up’ romance with the characters in their early 20s. It’s very difficult to find dedicated romance with teen protagonists for this age group. An exception is the Sweet Valley High series (eg Secrets), but this is generally read by under 14s. The 14+ are more likely to read Chick Lit aimed at older females.

Age matters: Boys 14+

philip-pullman-the-butterfly-tattooFor boys, it’s still uncool, and there is no such thing as dedicated romance fiction for boys (unless you consider ‘soft porn’ romance!). However, in more literary novels, romance can come into play eg The Butterfly Tattoo by Philip Pullman. Like their female counterparts, the 14+ boy reads ‘Lad Lit’, aimed at older men, with its humorous take on sex and romance.

Romantic sub-plots

Romance usually figures as a sub-plot in most genre books for this age group (boys and girls). So even if you don’t want to write dedicated romance fiction, you should try to incorporate it to some degree in your other genre writing. It works best when linked to a coming-of-age or teen-angst story line. In adventure stories, it can work as a useful plot device, either distracting or aiding the protagonist in the pursuit of their goal.

Male / female POV.

Romance differs depending on whether you have a male or female POV. Girls tend to be more emotionally expressive, boys less so. Boys tend to think and talk about sex more, but beware of sketching all your male characters as sex mad and the girls as emotional wrecks. Both are often insecure and concerned about what their friends think. Having a boy / girlfriend validates them as being ‘worth something’. Despite this, romance is not all they think about, so create realistic characters interacting with their families, friends, school and society. Often their inner lives are at odds with how they act – first person narrative is useful to show both.


My feeling is that it shouldn’t be depicted in books for under 12s, but can be mentioned (eg Girls in Love.) Let’s not pretend that girls this age don’t know anything about it. In the 12 – 14 category, a certain degree of physical expression (eg kissing) can be depicted. Once you get to the 14+ group, varying degrees of physical expression may be shown. However, it should still be tamer than an adult novel, and your own personal or religious views will dictate how far is far enough. If kids want something more steamy, they will turn their attention to grown-up books anyway.

The author’s moral framework

If you’re uncomfortable writing about anything intimate, it will show. But don’t worry, for this age group emotional intimacy is far more important than physical expression (for girls anyway!). Finally, beware of moralising. If carefully handled, it is possible to create a moral framework without sounding preachy, and, conversely, to depict sexuality without being x-rated.

Now, how are you getting on with that bra clip?

This is the first in the Crafty Writer’s writing for children series. Next week, come back and read Writing for children: mysteries and thrillers

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4 comments on “Writing for children: sex, love and romance

  1. Rocky Wintersteen on said:

    Hi. I wanted to drop you a quick note to express my thanks. I’ve been following your blog for a month or so and have picked up a ton of good information as well as enjoyed the way you’ve structured your site. I am attempting to run my own blog but I think its too general and I want to focus more on smaller topics. Being all things to all people is not all that its cracked up to be.

  2. Fiona Veitch Smith on said:

    Hello Rocky,

    Thank you for your kind words. I’ve been sadly neglecting the blog for the last while due to work commitments. But things are easing off in a week or two and I hope to get some meaty stuff up. I agree, niche sites are easier to handle and access – but too niche and it gets dull. I don’t know if I’ve found the balance, but I’m trying.

    All the best,


  3. Jensen Ahlfield on said:

    I like the way you have explained the different levels and degrees of sex and romance for the different age groups. I am a very avid reader mostly fantasy-science fiction. I am 15 and i just whant to let you know that a am also reading my grandma’s romance novels and am very interested in them and not because of the sex but the detailed romance and tho way the characters act and react to differant cercomstances I apoligize for any grammer or spelling problams i hope my comment was interesting.

  4. Fiona Veitch Smith on said:

    Hi Jensen, thanks for posting such an interesting comment. I also read my mother’s romance novels when I was 15 – for the romance and not the sex!

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