Think this generation of kids knows everything it needs to know about sex – and then some?
Think again, We may be raising our kids in a culture that's obsessed with sex, but we aren't doing a very good job of teaching them about sex. In fact, according to Heather Corinna, founder of Scarleteen, a website that has been answering teens' questions about sex for the past dozen years, we haven't even managed to equip them with the basic vocabulary.
"We have teens apologizing for not having using the right language, not having the right information about how their bodies work. In what other area of knowledge do we make people feel bad about themselves for not knowing? At Scarleteen, we tell the teens, 'It's everybody else's fault but yours that you don't know.' "
Ignorance is not bliss
An advocate for "inclusive, healthy, and sex-positive sex education," Corinna feels we should be providing teens with the information they need to stay safe and make informed choices. For that to happen, the conversation needs to start while your child is still quite young.
"You don't want your child to end up in sexual situations too early. Ignorance enables that to happen. Silence gives them the message, 'I'm not supposed to talk about it.' It prevents them from talking about it. And it leaves them vulnerable to predatory adults. If you don't know the name for a particular body part, it's pretty hard to tell someone you've been touched there."
I'm okay, you're okay – and so is your family
Talking about gender identity helps children to understand that it's possible for a boy to love another boy – just as it's possible for a girl to love another girl. The world isn't just made up of boy and girl couples.This conversation doesn't just become relevant when kids start dating. It is relevant the moment a young child begins to notice that not all families are the same.
"It's about talking about these kids' families, making these kids visible, Corinna explains. "And sending some implicit messages about who these kids might end up loving."
The consequences of such conversations could be far-reaching.
"It might be possible to decrease how much people are going to get bullied. It might reduce the number of queer kids in junior high who commit suicide."
And about that sex thing....
Talking about sex is not the same thing as promoting sex.
But neither resorts to fear- or guilt-mongering in order to achieve that goal. And for good reason, says Corinna.
"Ideally, we want kids to get the idea that sex, at the right time, with the right person, is a good thing. We want them to be empowered and happy, to view sex as pleasurable; not to feel bad, to stumble into horrible relationships, to take unhealthy risks."
That's what I want for my kids. How about you?
Coming in Part III: The Sex Ed Files: A roundup of resources related to the sex ed debate.