April 18

29 comments

Sex Ed Is Failing in the USA – You Can Help

By Therese Sibon

April 18, 2016

Child Development, Parent, sexual education

Why are we whispering about sex ed?

Editor's Note: I’m still traumatized by our sex ed “health” class in middle school. I've blocked what was said and how it was said, except for one experiment:

The rows of desks with kids exchanging fluids (ew, gross!) in test tubes to see how fast STDs can spread.

There was a vague mention that sex can feel good but you should just say no until you're ready.

Whatever that means. Thank goodness Therese is on the blog today!

Sex Ed was a joke.

Bananas, condoms, red-faced boys and giggling girls.

Didn't it just make you more curious?

Sex isn’t bad. Sex ed is smart. So why do we treat the topics like they're, well, diseased? Why the double-standard when it comes to something every person on Earth thinks about (a lot)?

Keep reading to figure out how to move past those feelings and teach your kids about pleasure. There are some very unexpected benefits!

Note: This post is not for or against sex before marriage. We respect your beliefs. This information is to help you help your children. Nothing more, nothing less.

Quick Link To Books

Here are some books we highly recommend on sex ed and bodies. The Family Library series are written by age group, organized youngest to oldest. 

  • Ages 4-8: It's Not The Stork
  • Ages 8-12: It's Amazing
  • Ages 10+: It's Perfectly Normal

These books make discussing sex ed So.Much.Easier. You won't regret getting one, as these books cover age-appropriate anatomy and psychology, as well as important topics like safe touch and safe adults.

Why Sex Ed has to include the P word (Pleasure)

Did you ever catch your little ones exploring their bodies and getting great delight out of it?

How did you react? Tell them to stop? Did you ignore it? Were you uncomfortable?

Did you ever talk to your kids about what fun it is to feel .... pleasure?

Your kids want to know what sex is all about. Eventually they will have sex and - hopefully - they will enjoy it.

Your children are tiny and they're curious.

They’re pre-teen and they’re confused.

Maybe they're older and think they know it all.

How do you handle the Sex Talk?

Where's the pleasure in the sex ed mind map?

I have always considered myself to be the open-minded mama. So when the ridiculously titled "Birds n Bees Talk" occurred with my 2 older kids, I thought I made it through without messing up too badly.

It wasn't until years later, when my 3rd child entered adolescence did I realize a huge topic had been omitted from the sex ed conversation: PLEASURE.

Sex ed with the older two had the graphic (the ins and outs), the variations on a theme (a little DIY info), and the protection warning (don't get pregnant, don't get STDs). It was an objective presentation.

Perfectly adequate.

Pleasure was never mentioned.

While it might feel kinda creepy talking about sex and pleasure with your kids, it’s important if you want them to get the Big Picture.

What is having sex really all about?

Your automatic response could be: “Procreation of the species.”

But sex is about pleasure and, eventually, babies. If it doesn't feel good, we’re not going to jump to engage in it. If pleasure doesn't enter the conversation, then its absence undermines any message we might want our kids to understand about their sexuality.

Yes, sex can be about making a baby. But isn’t pleasure where it all starts?

Are my kids going to have sex way before they’re ready if I use the P-word (Pleasure)?

In a word: No

I spent to some time in the Netherlands and discussed this topic with several Dutch teachers. The Dutch government has a sex ed program called "Long Live Love" which focuses on age appropriate biology as well as values, attitudes, variations and ....

PLEASURE!

They even talk to kindergarteners about "spring tickles" - that warmth you feel inside when you are hugged by someone you love.

Dutch teens discuss the importance of mutually, sexually-satisfying relationships.

Why Sex Ed Has to Include Pleasure

Researching the European approach, I discovered that while average age of initiating sex is the same as the U.S. — 17 — their rates of STD, abortion, and teen pregnancies are way lower than ours.

These stats are supported with similar studies, comparing open-minded SexEd with none or limited information. The age of initiation is constant while the unwanted side effects of sexual activity are much lower.

I spoke with some Dutch teens and 20 year olds and a lot of the prejudices, insecurities, ignorance and shame that I hear from their peers in this country were not present. I got to see the benefits of the Dutch approach. Wow!

A little-known secret about sex and pleasure

It starts early.

And the idea of addressing pleasure from an early age acknowledges feelings that are present from infancy which can be confusing. These feelings are usually sublimated - at least until adolescence. If ever addressed at all.

Infographic sex ed talk by age infant to adult LiesAboutParenting.com

When my now 20+ daughter was around 5 years old, we were going to her friend’s house for a playdate. “I so a-scited [excited] to see JoJo! I so ascited .... my bagina tickles! Does that ever happen to you, Mama?”

I’m choking with laughter but driving a car so I had to control myself. I blurted out - “Yeah, it does happen sometimes!”

I often think of that moment, realizing how physically directed children are when they experience pleasure - it’s not about sex, but it is highly sexual. Sexuality is ever-present, even if they can’t name it.

Let’s be realistic about sexuality and kids. Pleasure is a fact. It is felt viscerally in the body. It is a healthy response to a healthy drive. Pleasure improves the immune system and the nervous system and our general outlook on life.

Talking about the pleasure of sex makes the whole act real - not shrouded in shame or romantic vagueness.

Talking about the pleasure of sex with kids makes the whole act real, not shrouded in shame or vagueness. #sexed #empowerment

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So what should you talk about anyway?

Clitoris, balls, breasts, and penises - in addition to the millions of nerve endings in every part of the body - are all part of sex and to bypass them destroys your adult credibility. Young people are more likely to ask questions about sex and their sexuality if the subject of pleasure is brought to them first.

The perception of pleasure as the goal for any sexual act will make sexual experiences quite different from sex on the sneak, guilty sex and in particular non-consensual sex acts.

Still not sure?

Maybe your sex-life sucks and you don’t want to share that.

Maybe it’s great and you don’t want to share that.

Maybe the entire topic freaks the hell out of you.

This is a perfect place to start.

You may think you don’t know what you’re doing (who does?). Yet you know you want your kids to be educated on all the issues you’re blundering through - finances, ethics, politics. Sex is just one topic on the list.

Tackling the big issues with our kids requires us to tackle them in ourselves. Confronting our children's sexuality (which is present and active from infancy), gives us pause to look at our own.

Answers are optional - it's the questions that open the conversation.

Why School Sex Ed may screw up your kids

When you have doubts or discomfort talking to your kids about sex, you might be tempted to just let their school handle all the details.

Choose an active role in your children’s sex ed.

See what your district has on their Sex Ed agenda (if they have one). Many of the United States school districts promote anti-sex messages and the idea that mostly girls are to blame if anyone goes "wayward".

Sex is often taught as something that devalues anyone who has it - though girls are particularly targeted as the ones who must say NO. This message is damaging to anyone who hears it. It is particularly damaging to victims of sexual abuse who could not say no.

What kind of sex do you really want for your kids?

sex ed talk


How about a happy relationship with joy and eros, in a safe environment where they can love and be loved? A place where they never associate sex with shame.

Sex will happen. One day, your children will engage in sexual activities, hopefully when they’re ready.

Eek!

Whether your beloveds are toddlers, tweens, teens, or in their twenties, integrating the pleasure principle in any discussion on sexuality will empower them to choose the love they want.

And isn't real, healthy love what matters most?​ 

For all our beloved Lies About Parenting readers, a free booklet - 6 Sex Lies That Could Screw Up Your Kids - is available here.

Resources​

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About the author 

Therese Sibon

Therese Sibon is an alchemical acupuncturist, with private practices in Manhattan and upstate NY, as well as a personal alchemical coach worldwide. She believes in transforming the obstacles in one’s life to gold (or whatever your heart desires). For over a decade, Therese has been involved in Social Inclusion, a self-empowering program designed to deal with the effects of bullying and teasing. She is a member of the JCAB - Juvenile Community Accountability Board, helping young people avoid Family Court and the prison system. Grab a free copy of her report, 6 Sex Lies That Could Screw Up Your Kids, here .

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  1. First off, my childhood wasn’t sexualized. There was no talk of sex or anything. I’m 18 years f and I developed breasts at age 8 and was having full menstruel cycles at age 10. Secondly, My middle school sex Ed was don’t do it until your married or you’ll get pregnant/diseased and die. My high school offered one week of sex Ed as a freshman. So by the time I was seventeen and putting it into peactice my boyfriend who had taken the same class didn’t even remember how to put the condom on and actually broke it. And anyone that found out that I had sex with him were terrible to me. Sex IS a personal choice, but kids need to know there is nothing shameful about their bodies or developments. Kids would be happier adults knowing they’re not selfish for wanting to feel pleasure or be with someone they care about or physically touch or be touched, and they also should know they’re not selfish for not wanting those things. I would have been a lot better off if communication had been better in my household or my schools about things like that.

    Reply

    1. Jacey, thank you SO MUCH for sharing your experiences and words of wisdom. Children so deserve to know and internalize that there is NOTHING shameful about the way our bodies work and experience life. You have shined valuable light on this seldom-discussed topic. Thank you!!

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    2. Jacey – thank you for taking the time to respond and share your story. Sex is a part of everyone’s lives and a topic we spend a good part of every day considering. And yet … the conversation around it is hidden and shamed so often. Communication shines a light.

      Reply

  2. I can’t thank you enough for writing this article. With two daughters, it is something I constantly battle with- what to relay to them, how much to share, when and how to share it. Thank you for being a voice to the opposite side of ‘its not allowed,’ and ‘you shouldn’t do it’. That is the message I was given as an adolescent and I still struggle with allowing myself to feel pleasure in sexual experiences with my husband.

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    1. Thank you, Michelle. Your words made my day 🙂 I have a daughter and have found the It’s Not The Stork (and additional books) priceless in opening up natural and comfortable discussions about our bodies and sex. We just leave the age-appropriate book out (the series has several) and our daughter is free to read it, discuss it, or bring it in for bedtime reading. By normalizing the terms, emotions, and images surrounding our bodies, I truly feel we can move away from shame and secrets and towards healthy emotional and physical balance. You rock!

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    2. MIchelle – thanks for your response. As a mother of 3, one son, two daughters 26 and 20, I have seen the benefits of having open communication about sex and pleasure and all the scary parts as well. They confide in me, share their stories, ask me for advice. Their friends come to me for help, particularly the ones whose parents have taboo’d the topic. We think of sex all the time (or sublimate it). Bringing it out in the open, as an ordinary, every day occurence de-mystifiies our sexuality and honors it.
      Thanks again.

      Reply

  3. Sorry but no. P for pleasure my ass at 4-8? Wtf is wrong with people tody. Abstinance is a great message. Sorry but this is just bad… All my friends with parents who were open and forward like this had NOTHING but trouble and still have trouble.

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    1. I agree with you! My half sister and I were raised completely different-she with her dad and his parents, me with our mom and grandparents. My sister was raised with an open mind and blunt approach to sex and to this day she can’t settle down with anyone because she enjoys her sexuality with too many people and is not ashamed of it. Me on the other hand was kind of sheltered from sexuality, and I was taught abstinence is the right thing and yes, to have enough shame about sex not to go spreading it with the world. To this day I am married with 3 kids and I have never been the type to open myself up and have casual sex just for pleasure. Too much openness does not create moral boundaries.

      Reply

      1. Shyanna, thanks so much for sharing your wisdom. It must be a struggle to balance your beliefs against your half-sister’s actions. At the end of the day, I want my daughter (and every child) to truly know and understand 1) how their bodies work and 2) that it’s okay to find pleasure in touch; that it’s not “dirty” or “bad” or “shameful.” Appropriate boundaries and freedom within those boundaries. And, most importantly, that it is okay to say no.

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      2. Shyanna, I get your concerns. We live in a society where sex is used to sell car tires and porn. It’s all over. Discussions with our children, offering them our values, our stories and experiences will help them navigate this terrifying territory. You can talk about your half-sister’s troubles, offer your own happy marriage as a positive goal, You can give support and guidance so that your kids will choose partners that are healthy for them, who respect their boundaries and who love them. Isn’t that what we all want? The conversation is going on – in the media, on the internet, in school, at kids’ houses. The question is: how do we as parents want to be involved? Our children will make their own choices in their own bedrooms when they are adults. As parents, we can give them healthy options. Having the conversation only acknowledges what is already going on – a curiosity about sex, a desire to be connected and loved. It’s obvious you love your children and are concerned about your sister. Being open to discussions around sexuality helps our kids navigate it and create healthy boundaries. Thanks.

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  4. The only thing I would add to this is the need to teach kids about abstinence until after marriage. Abstinence until after marriage is still the safest and most pleasure filling form of sex. Should abstinence be the only thing taught? Heck no! But it should be the beginning and end of all sexual talk with our teens and tweens.

    Reply

    1. Crystal, thanks for your input. Abstinence is an important part of the larger conversation surrounding sexual education. But abstinence is a choice, as is engaging in sexual activity. Our children need to be informed in order to participate in consensual, healthy sexual relations. My goal is to educate my child on healthy, happy, loving sexual relations, so she can determine when she’s ready. Abstinence until then? Absolutely! But abstinence as more pleasurable than sex? I would be lying 🙂

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    2. Crystal – Definitely! All choices need to be discussed. And then let go – because our kids will make their own choices about their own sexuallity in their own time. An open conversation, presentng our values and our hopes for our kids – all of this contributes to a healthy sex life. Shame, judgement, misinformation – I’ve seen how this damages kids into adulthood as a therapist. And abstinence until they are really sure that the person they are involved with is good for them – that’s it. Sex ia a treasure and needs to be honored and valued. In my opinion anyway – it seems like you think that as well! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Reply

    1. wow! a great comment, Tom! I follow your writings and they are superb. Thanks for being a political insight into this situation we are in now!

      Reply

  5. I have to disagree completely! I took a health class in high school. Pleasure was never discussed. My parents never had the sex talk with me. I was a virgin when I got married. I was not remotely ashamed to feel pleasure with my husband. It wasn’t until my husband started comparing me to the women that he worked with or watched on TV that I became self conscience. It has nothing to do with pleasure. It has to do with the fact that sex and sexuality is a personal issue and is not to be discussed or compared with other people. It is not a subject that is supposed to be studied in school. There is nothing more personal than ones sexuality. It was a gift that I gave him and he dissected it like it was a dead frog on a board. How can someone feel pleasure after that? When you make sexuality into just another subject you take in school, you take the most intimate of gifts and destroy it.
    Do you really think that the reason that society is desensitized to sexuality has to do with the word “pleasure” being taken out of sex ed? Could it have anything to do with forcing sexuality, an adult subject, on children. In your article you mentioned that puberty can start as early as 9. Did you know that the age of puberty has slowly decreased as the age of sex ed introduction has decreased. Stop introducing babies to sex and their bodies won’t think that it is time to go through puberty.
    Just for fun lets think about this, Adam and Eve didn’t get any sex ed, do you think that they didn’t experience any pleasure? Do you think that they had any psychological problems? Do you think that they thought they had to teach their kids how to do it or what was natural? No! What part of natural do not understand? I see the argument that kids are being exposed to it, so one would rather tell them the correct information instead of false made up heresay from their uninformed peers. But, are you sure your kids are being exposed? And if they are, maybe the “ed” should be teaching parents how to protect their kids from the exposure.
    Children are being over exposed to sex. They are forced to do projects on the internet for school and when they look up innocent pictures for a project board the horrific pictures that come up! Magazines, TV, sports advertising, music, billboards, why do we have to give them more? The word “pleasure” is not the problem! Over exposure is. Get it right.

    Reply

    1. Mary, thanks for your insights. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who disagrees that kids are over-exposed to sexuality…which is why we brought the topic of pleasure up. Check out the studies about the Dutch kids — it’s really interesting because, if anything, they’re more aware of sex than American kids are and yet, their STD rates are lower. This article was not about stopping kids from having sex; it’s about teaching them that sex is much more than just an act. The word “pleasure” is about all things that feel good. Warm tickles in tummies when kids are happy, developmentally-appropriate conversations when children shows signs of going through puberty. Not discussing pleasure (happy, good feelings) makes me feeling like I’m doing a disservice to my child. I (and Theresa) believe in encouraging the understanding of pleasure and sexuality and both separate and connected feelings and experiences. Thanks for your insights and comments.

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    2. First of all, Mary, thank you for taking the time and focus to write such an in-depth comment. I think we share a number of concerns and opinions. You are right to imply that sex is over-used to sell, manipulate, and hypnotize. Even in households where tv and screen time is highly rationed, children are exposed to messages that are certainly not in alignment with my ethics. I agree with you, I was often horrified as to what my kids would pick up in supermarkets, waiting rooms, billboards – even while I did so much to keep the negative blasts away from them!

      How do we divert that negative input? By giving our kids a safe, open platform of information and love, with communication lines open at all times.

      And you’re so right – the age of puberty has gone down significantly over the years (world wide). Research is varied on why that is – and not all of it in agreement. Personally, from reading and consulting with medical / gynecological experts, it seems as if its a combination of several issues. Over-exposure to pesticides, chemicals, meds, food additives etc. wreaking havoc with hormones, as well as sexualization in media seem to be mitigating factors.

      As a parent, I want my children to engage in their deeply personal lives of sexuality while knowing the effects of sexuality globally. I want them to be confident and aware of their value. This is not usually the message given by media or even school or church education. There is too much shame connected with sex and that is never – EVER – a feeling I want associated with their bodies, their minds.

      I heard a profound talk by Elizabeth Smart, which she gave at Johns Hopkins University. She had been abducted at 14 by an insane man who basically made her his sexual slave. Ms. Smart spoke about the need for clear, self-affirming sex education for young people, which teaches them of their inherent value. (see below)

      This is a loaded topic, and a great one to open up and invite all input! Thank you, again, Mary.
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristen-howerton/damaging-effects-of-shame-based-sex-education-lessons-from-elizabeth-smart_b_3226971.html

      Reply

  6. This is a great article! and I think extremely well-articulated and bang on the point. Nothing is so desired, so universal and yet as shamed as sex! I think kids definitely will come to see not just sex differently but also see themselves with a lot more self-esteem if pleasure is woven into the discussions. Thank for a great article,Therese and Ashley!

    Reply

    1. Yes, that is true -” Nothing so desired, so universal and yet as shamed as sex!” And where does shame get anyone? Not any place I’d want to visit (or my children either). The self-esteem derived from finding your pleasure, knowing that it is your personal responsibility is self and relationship enhancing! Thank you for reaching out

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  7. Therese, thank you for the refreshingly honest and open perspective on education kids about sexual matters. While a part of this terrifies me (the idea of talking about sex with my child), the better part of me is cheering that it’s okay to encourage sexual awareness and knowledge of pleasure and intimacy. Thank you!!

    Reply

    1. You are right, Ashley. The idea of talking to kids about sex is intimidating, yet so essential. I weave it in through the day- like not switching channels when there is a kissing scene on, or hugging my hubby in front of them- but there’s only so much you can do! Sometimes, I fumble with questions- like my daughter asked me, why do mean like girls wearing low dresses! well- I am trying!

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      1. Devishobha,

        That’s great how you describe weaving the conversation into your lives. It’s impossible to have every answer prepared, but it sure seems like keeping the lines of communication open is a better plan than shutting them down!

        Thanks so much for reading and commenting. And for those who haven’t, be sure to check out Devishobha’s site, kidskintha.com!

        Reply

      2. Devishobha – I loved your comment: I am trying. This is uncharted territory for most of us, we all have our hangups, and most of us did not have these conversations when we were younger. So we forge on! Slip, fall, get up, do some research …. perfectly imperfect humans we are!

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    2. Yeah, it is terrifying! It sure wasn’t done in my childhood. I cannot emphasize how this has changed my relationship with my daughters. I know they trust me more with confidences because I have up’d my credibility rating with them!

      Reply

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