This is a quickie condensed version of a longer article I’m writing on healthy, non-shaming, sex-positive sex education. I feel that this information is too valuable not to share with every parent I know…
Christopher White and I grew up in the same dusty corner of West Texas known as the Permian Basin, best known for its oil industry and a little girl falling down a well in the 1980s. Although we went to different high schools we were thrown together by virtue of being different from our peers. Ponytailed readers of Kafka, gay boys, skate-punks with Mohawks, and earnest poetry-writing honors students all clung to each other for collective protection from the larger shadow of football and country-western evangelists.
Now we both live in San Francisco. Chris is the Director of Education at the National Sexuality Resource Center at San Francisco State University, and I’m a writer who wants to learn more about healthy sex education. I recently caught up with Dr. White at a wine bar in the Castro neighborhood and we talked about sex.
Robin: Here’s my million dollar question. How can parents teach their children to be sexually safe and healthy without creating guilt and shame? And I know you could talk for a week on that, so what’s the short answer?
Chris: The basic answer is to make sex and sexuality a normal conversation in your house. So it’s not something that’s weird to talk about. I don’t mean talking about having sexual intercourse or engaging in sexual behaviors, but talking about sex, talking about body parts, talking about sexuality and gender as thought it’s a normal everyday part of conversation. That’s the number one thing that parents can do.
We are actually causing more harm by not talking to [kids] about it and by not giving them a language to talk about it. So if they have questions about their own bodies, or more importantly if someone is abusing them they need to have language to talk about it and to tell an adult about it.
R: So here’s the counter-argument that some folks might give. If you talk to your kids about sex they’re going to go out and be promiscuous. How do you counter that?
C: The research shows that if you talk to your kids about sex and start talking at an early age and with consistency they will wait until later to start having sex, they’ll have fewer partners when they start having sex. If kids get comprehensive sex ed, versus an abstinence-only message, they are more likely to wait until they are older, they will have fewer partners, and they are more likely to use a condom or other contraceptive devices.
R: So what about
those virginity pledges or contracts or whatever they are called?
C: A colleague of mine named Ira Reese says virginity pledges are broken more often than condoms.
R: How can parents of young girls counter sex-saturated/sexist media and culture?
Two things are important with girls. One is to teach girls to be critical of the images that they see starting at a young age. (This is important for boys too.) Understand that images on TV and in magazines aren’t real bodies.
The other thing is to empower girls to own their own sexuality. This goes back to talking to girls and role modeling what it means. Girls are taught more than boys to not have any sense of agency around their own sexuality. So we have to encourage girls to control their own sexuality. They are in control of it and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Girls have desire. Girls have pleasure. That’s something we don’t talk about. We talk about boys' pleasure and desire but not girls. By not talking about it we take away agency from girls. Talk about sexual attraction and desire as normal, that we all experience it.
More good stuff to follow...
--Robin Dutton-Cookston is senior editor at Mamazina and lots of other good stuff too. Read about her book and catch a final peek at this article in a few weeks at her blog, The Foggiest Idea.