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The depiction of sexual experience is a dividing line between children’s and young adult (YA) literatures. While the former elides sexuality to preserve an ideology of innocence, the navigation of emerging sexuality and the development of sexual politics are often core elements of the latter. This two-day conference held at Homerton College, University of Cambridge, invites papers that explore how YA defines, affirms, or withholds the complex net of desires, behaviours, identities, issues, ethics, boundaries, and conflicts that constitute adolescent sexual experience. Our exploration of what remains a controversial theme to represent to young people hopes to consider not only issue-based contemporary realism but the full breadth of genres and forms that bring sexual experience into conversation with what it means to be an adolescent, including nonfiction as well as fiction. We are interested in how the manifold aspects of sexual experience — as awakening, discovery, rebellion, romance, eroticism, queering — configure maturation in YA, especially within broader political and social contexts. With this in mind, it is important, too, to consider how adolescent sexual experience is infringed upon by the violent, the coercive, and the abject (for example, in texts that depict sexual abuse and incest). Additionally, we are keen to explore the representation of issues and themes adjacent to sexual experience, such as reproductive rights, sexual health, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS; as well as how sexual experience is represented to intersect with the politics of minority/oppressed identities.

Suggested topics for discussion include (but are by no means limited to):

  • Innocence, liminality, maturation

  • Sexual identities, difference, dissidence, deviance

  • Sexual agency: adults controlling adolescent sexuality

  • Gender and power

  • Sex, race, and racism

  • Morality and expurgation: the absence and censorship of sex

  • Sex and the closet (including euphemism and the unstated)

  • The erotic and the pornographic

  • The ethics of representing violence, abuse, coercion, incest; how to ethically

    address and comprehend these themes

  • Sex, social activism, and social media (e.g. #MeToo, #OwnVoices, the so-called #incel movement)

  • Sexual health and reproductive justice

  • Sex and pedagogy/didacticism

  • Sex across genre, form, and media (e.g. fantasy, nonfiction, ephemera, games, graphic narratives, YouTube, etc.)

While we are very interested in papers that offer new perspectives on classic representations of the negotiation of sexual agency (e.g. Forever, Speak), we also encourage papers that use sex as a lens to reframe texts less associated with sex and desire, with the hope of generating a broad range of discussions.

Papers that blend the creative and the critical are welcome, as are interdisciplinary papers and panel proposals. We particularly encourage graduate students and other early-career scholars to apply.

Please send an abstract of 300 words, a short biography (100 words) and 5-8 keywords in a Word document to with the following subject line: ‘Let’s Talk About Sex abstract’.

Papers must be received by 15th January 2020. Notification of acceptance will be sent out by Valentine’s Day 2020.

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