What is the appropriate heat level for YA romance?

We’re loving the monthly themes here at AO&R and we really hope you are too. If you have a suggestion for a topic you’d like us to cover, please suggest away in the comments or on our facebook page. We’re always open to ideas. Anyways, the month of June is all about romance. So hold on tight so as not to get swept away in the swoon-fest!

It’s a widely known fact that many readers of YA are more ‘young at heart’ than actual young adults. Not speaking for myself of course … 😛 Okay, okay, so I’m totally a mum to one, almost two, real young adults. My little bookworms’ emergence into teenhood has brought with it an unexpected element and a new way of looking at YA books. Where I once devoured anything with so much as a sniff of romance, turning pages until I reached that happily ever after, I often now evaluate as I read. Thinking about books in terms of heat levels and other age appropriate issues. I know, I know. It totally ruins the reading experience.

Many people (including some parents) don’t see the sexiness of a book as an issue when it comes to young readers. In fact, they don’t know that there are different heat levels. They believe that if the book is in the YA section of a bookstore or library then it’s suitable. But as a reader / writer of this category I’ve realised that there is a rather large heat difference between publishers, individual libraries, and especially online bookstore categories (think Amazon and iBooks). Not easy for the cautious parent to navigate.

My teen is thirteen, the other twelve, and although they both know all about the birds and the bees, reading about it in a novel setting is a whole other thing. Neither of them are ready for that. One isn’t even ready to read a make out scene. Eww — girls. 😛  You see, when we read an image plays out in our heads, and it often has more impact than watching a scene that is ‘told’ via a screen. This is because we create the visual, using pictures familiar to us and becoming the main character. Essentially living the scene with them. So, these images are lasting and on a developing brain can have a psychological impact.

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I guess that is why most traditional publishers recommend YA for 12+ and most have restrictions on levels of sexiness within their books.

I’ll never forget the first sex scene I read. I was sixteen. It was in John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began and barely lasted a few paragraphs. At the time I felt so naughty and grown up, but looking back now those scenes are very tame and very age appropriate. That book was written before YA was a thing, but it still holds the familiar depth of romance we see in many traditionally published books for the young adult market.

Since becoming an author I’ve learned that most of the big 5 publishers love romance in their YA books, but their kissing and make out scenes are restricted to far less detail than we’d find in a new adult or an adult book. Sex scenes, likewise are okay, but generally not in a blow by blow account. As a parent, this is a relief. It sure makes vetting appropriate books far easier.

I know not all children are the same and some may not need censoring, but my precious, empathetic souls do. Being advanced readers doesn’t make it easy to choose books, but we’re stumbling through this together.

Stay tuned for part two — a more in depth look at YA in libraries — coming up later this month.

What about you — what heat level to you think is appropriate in YA books?

Stacey Nash writes YA and some sexier books that fall under the NA banner. To find out more about Stacey’s books or to connect with her on social media (where she tries not to only romance), check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.





  1. This is an issue I recently encountered in my own writing – how much is too much?
    Romance is ‘my thing’ and I lose interest without a romantic subplot, but I’ve definitely found since becoming ‘active’ myself – having been writing sinse I was 12 – that its become more of an issue.
    I’ve begun writing both YA and Adult Fiction, so deciding how much detail to include in one versus the other can be really difficult.
    Especially considering what I’ve encountered in other YA Fiction – Sarah J Maas’ most recent Throne of Glass book contains a particularly steamy beach scene which shocked me and threw my concept of appropriate-steam way out of wack



    1. It really is a tricky question, Ace. I’m not sure if it’s always been the case or I’m only noticing it now that my children are older, but their peers started reading YA in primary school. Usually around grade 5 — that’s 10-11 years old. YA fiction is typically targeted to the 12-16 age group, so I think the romance needs to be similar to what we’d see in a PG movie. But I’m just one mum … and as you said it really does vary between books.

      I do think with series like Sarah J Mass’s they start of with a low heat level, but tend to increase as the series (and the romance) progresses. Perhaps the publisher / author thinks the audience grows with the series as books are generally released 12 months apart.

      As a devourer of ya lit, I’m like you. I need a romantic thread to keep my interest, but I think sometimes we’re forgetting to take the ‘young’ into account with our YA audience. Some book seller, like Booktopia, I’ve noticed are now putting age recommendations on their books. I like this. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person


      1. I often deal with really controversial and psychological topics, and after writing my adult fic, a psychological mindfck, im assessing how much of THAT is appropriate for my YA book – I’m feeling I write more for the older half of teen years, but im always concerned that it won’t be conveyed if the book ends up in a library, and it impacts how i write it – so i really love that! The idea of puting age groups on books. I dont know why it’s not just standard to include it on the cover like they do with genre stickers in libraries (mystery, fantasy, thriller, etc).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m reading Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Mass at the moment. It has a full sex scene in it and is very steamy in the last part of the book. I keep putting it down and thinking – how is it ok to market this to younger teens? While it is classified as YA but the protagonist is 19. Bracket creep to NA seems to be going on here.



    1. That’s the first book in that series too, yes? I would definitely label it NA rather than YA if the protagonist is 19 and the content isn’t suitable for younger teens as well — but too often these books are placed in the YA section.



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