I have been thinking about how I want to talk to my sons about sex ed. Specifically, about women. I want them to understand rape, but I want them to understand sex done right as well.

Maybe sex education is not so much ways of doing and more ways of seeing. What education do you need to see Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings as sexual? Should I start by showing my sons how Charles Petillon can make his famous balloon fracas look sporty or sexy.

While I was trying to reconcile the idea of unschooling and sex ed, I found a really innovative, Mad Libs sort of exercise about sex on Carol Black’s website. She brings up the point that you can exchange “sex” and “learning” in many, many sentences and largely retain meaning, because sex to an unschooler is just like anything else: something to learn about when it feels right and something to grow with as you dig deeper.

Here are ways to think about sex ed outside of curricula and in the hearts and minds of curious kids.

Female Fertility
The genesis of the fertility fog is that parents give up sex ed to the schools, and the schools, being the political tools that they are, have a fertility curriculum that is based on blocking it. You find plenty of “Abstinence” (of course). Or a pill, a shot, a condom, or all of those—use anything. Just don’t get pregnant.

Part of fertility is infertility, but schools don’t cover that. One in five kids will experience infertility, and as far as they know, they are largely alone.

Holistic fertility health is becoming more popular with young women, but they are not getting their information from schools or parents or even their doctor. They’re getting it online. This is a huge missed opportunity for conversation and open communication. Girls don’t want to be on the pill; and it negatively affects their ability to choose a mate.

Reciprocity
The most prevalent source of sex ed material is porn. The most talked about issue with porn is it leads to erectile dysfunction problems for young men.

But another problem is that girls are unsure about what’s expected of them, and what they are “supposed” to be doing. In an article titled When Did Porn Become Sex Ed? Peggy Orenstein writes:

What’s missing here is the discussions about ethics, respect, decision making, sensuality, reciprocity, relationship building, the ability to assert desires and set limits — remain rare. And while we are more often telling children that both parties must agree unequivocally to a sexual encounter, we still tend to avoid the biggest taboo of all: women’s capacity for and entitlement to sexual pleasure.

The new sex ed for girls should be reciprocity. And really, it should be the new sex ed for boys, as well.

Career planning
When you dismiss fertility as a school concept you convey that it’s not important. But fertility is the biggest factor limiting a woman’s career. Women are equal to men in the workforce (if not superior for many, many roles). But for most women, their career ends (or at least tops out) when they have kids.

Amy Klein writes a fertility column for the New York Times, and she documents (among other things) the incredible fertility delusions of smart, educated, grown women.

So for women it’s a mad dash to launch and grow a career before it’s time to have kids—which is at age 30. Fertility education is essential to women so they can plan their lives. If women want to freeze their eggs, they need to do it in their early 20s. And even then the odds of those eggs working are slim. Most women don’t know that 25% of women have miscarriages. That needs to be part of your planning as well. Girls need to know that early on. Their fertility planning starts as soon as their career planning starts.

Fertility Feminism
The success of feminism is that women have more choices than ever before. But the choices are meaningless if we don’t have knowledge to make tough choices for ourselves. Fertility, more than than anything else, limits choices in adult life. What we do with those limitations determines how free we’ll feel.

 

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32 replies
  1. Candace
    Candace says:

    Maybe you should WAIT till your kids actually have girlfriends. Let your husband talk to them about their bodies. My parents didn’t discuss sex w me. Wasn’t taboo. Figured it out fine. Didn’t lose my virginity at age 13. Certain things about your politics and educational values are bizarre. Stop helicoptering too.

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      I don’t believe your statement of “Maybe you should WAIT till your kids actually have girlfriends.” applies here. As Penelope stated – “I have been thinking about how I want to talk to my sons about sex ed.” – she’s thinking about the “talk”. I’ve read enough of Penelope’s writing to know she’s researching and preparing herself for how best to guide both her sons. It’s what she does – worries and then prepares.

  2. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    This is fascinating. Thank you for writing about it.

    Sex ed in schools is another place where school is more about creating a social order than about actually educating about sex. My kids got a primer in the elements of sex (this is the penis, this is what puberty is about, here’s how pregnancy happens at a molecular level) but after that it was mostly about the consequences of sex and about avoiding the negative ones.

    In the inner-city church where I attend, the cost of teen pregnancy is giant. We have a couple now with a baby, parents aged 17 and 15. You can see how in every way their lives just became 2,000 percent harder — now and in the future. And these two kids are just not emotionally equipped to handle it. Education about the negative consequences of sex, assuming they got it, was important for them. Of course, in the church’s neighborhood there’s so little hope for the future that people tend to take the short-term pleasures anyway. That’s what happens when there’s little hope: you live for the now, because tomorrow is probably going to suck no matter what you do now. Your past points about inner-city schools needing to be about social services really resonates against this backdrop.

    For the record: Boys are confused about what’s expected of them, and of what they’re supposed to be doing, too. And it paints an unrealistic picture of what girls want. And so after consuming a boatload of porn they are faced with their first real partner and have a doubly confusing combination of being unsure and having the only reference available to them having as much to do with real sex as an action movie has to do with real life.

    And so I’ve tried to talk about my own sons about, well, essentially reciprocity, and it’s tinged with all of my own insecurities and challenges and all I can do is hope I got something valuable into their minds.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I like that you mention the confusion. How confused boys are about what is expected from them. This is a great way to look at why it’s so important to talk to kids when they are really young.

      Kids try to imagine what grown up life will be like. And if we don’t tell kids what they are seeing is not real, then they will normalize it. It’s very similar to how kids normalize other, absurd things like neglect, anger, disorder, etc. Kids will normalize anything, really, as they try to sort out what the world is like.

      I like the idea of helping kids to understand what someone who is healthy and loving and kind will expect from them.

      As always, the most difficult lessons of parenting are also the most difficult parts of adulthood…

      Penelope

      • Lauren Bishop
        Lauren Bishop says:

        Loved this post, but loved this comment from you, Penelope, even more. You hit the nail on the head here. Thank you.

  3. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    Not about doing, but about seeing.

    AH! SO GOOD!

    I wish I could shape my thoughts better but I am in a hurry (again!) and I have to go.

    You’re on a roll. So good!

  4. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    To be honest, think I am still working on my own sex ed curriculum, let alone worrying about the kids just yet! Most of it is pieced together by reading & personal experiences (not just mine, e.g. the friend who went through menopause at 30, so unprepared for that!). So great article & links.

  5. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Besides the links in this article next on the reading list is:
    “The Smart Girl’s Guide To Porn” by Violet Blue (just recently discovered her blog which has the tag line “open-source sex”)

  6. Isabelle
    Isabelle says:

    I wish we would stop believing that all sexual relationships between teenagers are dangerous and unhealthy. I had a 4-year relationship all through high school that was very committed and serious, and it was one of the best learning experiences of my life, both I terms of sexuality and a million other things. Things were simpler on one hand because we were both female (so no pregnancy risk), but the main thing was that we loved each other and learned early what the benefits AND downsides of committed relationships are. I can’t imagine just starting those lessons in college, or AFTER college– it totally shaped who I am (and I’ve been happily married for 8 years, to a different person than that high school love.)

  7. Emma
    Emma says:

    Schools are the absolute worst at this topic, but so are many adults, honestly, and I don’t see either changing in my lifetime.

    I usually ask my stepson about once a year what questions he has about sex. He’s online. He’s playing video games. He always has questions.

    He didn’t have that many questions about consent though, and it’s an important topic to me. I thought about how to get him interested enough to at least hear me out. So, of course, I made a YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJWTgUyQaYw. He watched it to the end and said the emoji use on the last slide makes me seem old, but the rest was good.

    For more advanced readers, I am a huge fan of “Toward a Performance Model of Sex”: http://nobetty.net/collab/sexed_s13/YesMeansYes_towardaperformancemodel_SECollab.pdf. I gave this to my younger cousin and she actually wrote to thank me. She is not a regular thank you card writer.

  8. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    I am determined to leave my kids sex ed to school, as I’ve experienced how horrible that education was, and still hearing what’s been taught in middle school now! So I’m also re-educating myself about sex.

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:

      Hi, Lucy, Leaving sex ed to school: Aren’t you afraid of that?

      Can you see this link? It shows schools agenda for sexually-educating children:
      http://www.futureofsexed.org/documents/josh-fose-standards-web.pdf

      Here’s a portion of a post I just wrote:

      When I was in fourth or fifth grade public school, my parents were given a permission slip for them to sign for my going to two brief classes (during school hours): one was about male anatomy and one was about female anatomy. Parents had to sign yes or no for each of the classes (they didn’t authorize my going to the male anatomy–I was the only one who didn’t go).

      There was no promotion of various types of sex–only the biological FACTS. It was completely unbiased. The girls and boys were in separate classes so there was no embarrassment around the opposite sex. As a parent now, I say that was a BRILLIANT way to handle it in school.

      Here is what should to be covered in sex education at around age 10 at the earliest. Males and females need to be separated during this class time:

      1. Anatomy of both males and females: reproductive organs, their functions, menstruation and ovulation.

      2. How to get pregnant and how to avoid pregnancy (abstinence, rhythm method and contraception).

      Here is what could be covered at around age 12 or 13 at the earliest. Males and females need to be separated during this class time:

      3. A brief discussion about sexually-transmitted diseases and their symptoms–with the approach that abstinence is the best way to avoid these diseases.

      Each of the above class sessions wouldn’t need to last longer than **half of one school day.**

      The rest of the information, including values and beliefs, belong with each family; the parents of each family get to handle the rearing of their own children their own ways.

  9. KNYC
    KNYC says:

    Took me 37 years to figure out that I have a G-spot and how to use it. So much for relying on public school sex ed.

  10. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Very good post with many good links. The Carol Black & Neal Marlens post is genius and had me laughing because I was rapidly interchanging the words ‘learning’ and ‘sex’ as I read through it.
    Art is in the eye of the beholder and art may be presented in many different ways and platforms. I’m thinking besides photos and paintings, art includes music, movies, plays, sculpture, architecture, and the list goes on. So I think it’s possible to introduce many different art forms to young people to guide them towards ” … the discussions about ethics, respect, decision making, sensuality, reciprocity, relationship building, the ability to assert desires and set limits …” mentioned in the NY Times article.

  11. D.
    D. says:

    I think that a lot of people need to know these things. I try and tell my daughter and my future daughter-in-law about how having kids will change your lives so much. I also make sure they know about the 25% miscarriage fact. So many people are so shocked at miscarriages and I think education about this number could help them. I think, though, that it is 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, not 25% of women have miscarriages? Not sure.

  12. stacey
    stacey says:

    I don’t believe the miscarriage rate is this high for young women.
    It’s a misleading stat because there are women who have multiple miscarriages and clearly trend that stat up. We don’t all have the same miscarriage risk. The miscarriage risk is very substantial for a woman 40 and over or somewhere in that zone. There’s a reason for this. The decline is stark after 40 and then super stark at 43. The eggs clearly age but not year by year. It’s like how some people age dramatically after not having aged dramatically. I don’t know if encouraging egg freezing is wise. It is a high dose of hormones, it’s silly to say it doesn’t affect the egg at all to keep it on tap for so long (it may still be good but I do think less probability than natural but it’s a numbers game). IVF is usually only covered once and then it’s so expensive. I think procreation is healthier all the way around the old fashioned way and IVF is for people with trouble conceiving. I think it’s ugly to make it a part of family planning. It’s just my opinion. Kids need rights too. I think it’s nut to implant many embryos potentially endangering the health of kids but the kids have no voice. IVF has made people so callous about children and childbirth. I don’t see the commotion about sex ed. These are modern times. Kids are doing fine. I think if a kid is dating and is of age it’s critical to discuss protection. I agree about being of dating age and actually dating. No one shows kids how to help themselves and they all figure it out eventually. I also think a boy would find it totally weird to have his mom discuss this with him.

    • D.
      D. says:

      You’re right about younger women having lower rates. I went and looked it up. In the 30s when most women these days start to try to conceive, it’s more like 15%.

  13. Liobov
    Liobov says:

    “How Not to Fall” is a erotic novel written by Emily Foster that deals particularly with matters of power and consent. I think she manages to portray the issue in a fun, healthy non patronizing way. It’s a bit racy, your son might be too young for it still, but then again if you let him watch porn…

  14. me
    me says:

    “Girls don’t want to be on the pill; and it negatively affects their ability to choose a mate.”

    I don’t see where this claim is backed up in the associated link. (I’m not saying this isn’t true, I was just hoping to learn more.)

  15. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    As I understand, the biggest influence on kids is genes, followed by peers, followed by parents, and I imagine that is especially true where sex is concerned.

    The instinct will take care of itself, and the parental input is going on every day, in word and deed. So that leaves the peers.

    I don’t know that the mechanics of sex is all that important. So Newtonian, don’t you know. How about thinking in terms of quantum sex functions?

  16. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    The point about holistic fertility education is dead on. I spent 1000 hours in sex Ed in the bluest of the blue states and learned nothing about how my body worked. It was all about “staying safe”
    I’m surprised that in a homeschooling forum, even an alternative one like this, there aren’t more religious homeschoolers who have spiritual and cultural traditions that teach chastity. I want to impart that value to my children while still being positive about love and marriage.
    Both public school approaches, “abstinence only” and “stay safe” seem really similar to me in that they focus on disease and risk and treat pregnancy as a negative.

  17. Teresa
    Teresa says:

    The secular “Our Whole Lives” sex ed curriculum has all of the things Peggy Orenstein said were missing from most classes–ethics, respect, decision making, sensuality, reciprocity, relationship building, the ability to assert desires and set limits, women’s (and disabled people’s, and LGBTQIA people’s) capacity for and entitlement to sexual pleasure. (Full disclosure, I’m a facilitator, and also an unschooler.) It’s done in a richly values-centered way. Most often taught at Unitarian Universalist churches, but sometimes offered in community settings, too. The classes themselves tend to appeal to homeschoolers–always given the choice to “pass” if you don’t want to participate in a certain activity, lots about individual differences and needs, very interactive content and very low percentage of lectures/talks, bringing in community experts, etc. http://www.uua.org/re/owl

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      I love this book too. I didn’t understand the female body at all until I read it and then wanted to learn more.
      I have noticed some problems in the fan community though.
      1. Some women who read it develop a strange over confidence in their relative expertise in fertility. I have found women online who believe that reproductive endocrinologists don’t understand women’s cycles as well as they do! (Eye roll really)
      2. It leads a lot of women into believing they have these completely functional yet yooneek cycles. Sure some women menstruate every 5 weeks but there is a reason doctors just ask quick and dirty if there are normal cycles. Yooneek yet fully fertile cycle are less common than the books implies, or maybe it’s not the book but the hope that readers are bringing to it.
      But yes, it’s a great book.

      • Erin Wetzel
        Erin Wetzel says:

        Cáit-

        Agreed. The “fan community” around it can be a little bonkers…but that’s true with anything.

        I didn’t realize I had fertility problems till I read it. Taking the book at face value and applying it to your life will just give you more information about how your body works. Then it’s up to you how to apply that info.

        :) It’s a good discussion. Thanks for replying!

        – Erin

        • Cáit
          Cáit says:

          I felt really cheated that I didn’t learn this stuff in school. I had as much sex Ed as math but the female system was looked at as something to be thwarted, not understood. Sex Ed in my experience was very pregnancy/fertility negative. It would be amazing if teen girls could learn this stuff.

  18. Joni Jeffries
    Joni Jeffries says:

    When I was in 5th grade, my teacher and her college-age aid had all the girls in for lunch. We brought our lunch trays into the classroom and had an open discussion about our bodies, sex, and anything we wanted to ask. They answered frankly and allowed the conversation to flow naturally.

    We loved it! It was far more educational than the following year’s version of sex education.

    My homeschool community hosts a similar “class” for our 5th graders. It is an open discussion allowing the kids to laugh, relax, and ask anything they want. It is one of our most popular classes.

  19. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Very informative article. I was surprised by a family friend who had not talked to her daughter about sex when she was in about the 9th grade and she saw nothing wrong with that, and actually expressed relief that her kid had not been introduced to the subject yet. I thought, how odd because I was talked to by my mom at around 12 and with a 9 year old in my home now, I am keeping a watch and talking with my husband about timing because I believe that we are approaching a critical age and stage of development where I want to be the one to give her the perspective on such a sensitive but foundation to life subject matter. Great job! And thanks for the info on the purity curriculum. I will have to take a look at that option.

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