Back to school means more than Trapper Keepers and trigonometry. A middle schooler might have their first kiss or her first period, or even lose their virginity. Ideally, their health class would teach them how to deal with all of those situations. Unfortunately, our current president wants to defund sex education to focus solely on abstinence-only teaching.
As a parent, you’re on your own with helping your child become a sexually healthy adult.
Sexuality is about a lot more than reproductive biology. When it’s offered at all, school sex education too often only explains the mechanics of vaginal insemination. Knowing how a sperm fertilizes an egg is important. But it’s just as important to know what you do and don’t like sexually and how to communicate with your partners. Health classes will show gratuitous pictures of infected genitalia to scare students into not having sex, a tactic we know does not work—they’ll have sex anyway. They just won’t do it safely.
“Your sexuality is not defined just by your body and your feelings. It is also shaped by your cultural background, your family history, your education, your experiences, and your religion. We are sexual beings from birth to death,” writes sexologist Debra H. Haffner in her book Beyond the Big Talk Revised Edition: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Teens – From Middle School to High School and Beyond.
In lieu of the quality sex education your kid’s school will likely not offer, below are some sex-positive sex education books for you and your children. These reads certainly should not replace open and judgment-free conversations with your kids. But they’re a good place to start. Sex is just plain awesome and everyone has a right to know how to have safe, happy, awesome sex when (and only when) they are ready.
Sex Is A Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings and YOU
Aimed at 8 to 10-year-olds, Sex Is A Funny Word is a LGBTQ-inclusive approach to sex education that depicts a variety of interracial and intergenerational family structures without defaulting to heterosexuality or cisgender identity. Author and sex educator Cory Silverberg told Between The Lines News that he wrote the book while “informed by a certain kind of feminist critique of the science of sexuality.”
Notably, the children’s book “gives the clitoris its due,” as he put it, “and makes it very clear that the vagina and the vulva aren’t the same thing.” Teaching your child proper names for body parts is a critical part of introducing them to human sexuality. Even more so with girls and all children with vulvas because too often they are told their parts are inappropriate simply for existing.
For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health
Sex educator Al Vernacchio is known for his pizza model of sex. In a Ted Talk, Vernacchio explained how the standard baseball metaphor—which generally means kissing, oral and penetration correlate to first, second and third base—is “sexist,” “heterosexist,” “competitive,” and “goal-directed.” It enforces a sexual hierarchy (with vaginal penetration at the top) that, as he put it, “can’t help but produce unhealthy sexuality in young people.” His pizza model, in contrast, frames sexuality as an array of possibilities, similar to choices of pizza toppings. In his book For Goodness Sex, he encourages readers to talk over desires with your partner the way people sharing a pizza debate pepperoni and pineapple.
Beyond the Big Talk Revised Edition: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Teens – From Middle School to High School and Beyond
Raising a sexually healthy human is no easy task. Beyond the Big Talk aims to help guide parents through the process. Haffner explains how to provide a holistic sex education, covering everything from masturbation, sexual orientation, peer pressure, porn and sexting.
Haffner’s work is also a great choice for parents of faith who want a sex-positive alternative to traditional religious teachings. A Unitarian Universalist minister and sexologist, Haffner co-founded the Religious Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting sexual health in religious communities.
From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children – From Infancy to Middle School
In From Diapers to Dating, Haffner’s precursor to Beyond the Big Talk, she helps you face the reality that sex education is like math or P.E.: you have to start teaching children when they’re very young. That obviously doesn’t mean sitting your 5-year old down and explaining what anal is. Rather, it means giving them accurate information about their bodies and letting them know there is nothing wrong or shameful about what they feel or how they look.
It’s naive to pretend your child, whether a 6-year-old or a 16-year-old, will never have sex. They’re going to do something sexual at least once in their life, probably more and probably before they move out of your house. So swallow the awkwardness and talk about sex. And start the conversation before they are having it.