Last week the New York Times magazine published an article called “Teaching Good Sex”, about a coprehensive sex-ed class at a Quaker school in the United States that premises itself on an open discourse about sex and an embrace of sexuality. Al Vernacchio, Laurie Abraham writes, thinks that “if kids are starting to use their bodies sexually, they should know about their potentialities.”
Right now most sex-ed in America follows two lines of reasoning: that sex is an awful thing that shouldn’t be done, or that sex is an awful thing with which, as a last resort, a condom should be used. Varnacchio, alongside a smaller group of educators, believes that a comprehensive sex education for teenagers functions as a “force for good,” and that it should be approached realistically as heavily braided with risk, responsibility, and pleasure. He urges his students to “know their own minds, be clear about what they do and don’t want and use their self-knowledge to make choices.” He allows students to ask whatever questions they have and answers them frankly and from several perspectives.
One little note, Laurie Abraham also wrote a little follow up to her article that was posted on the New York Times’ 6th Floor Blog: “What Sweden Knows About Orgasms.” She writes this little anecdote about the experience of a sex-ed class in Sweden:
Q (Student). “What is an orgasm, and why do people talk about it so much?”
A (Teacher). “Orgasm is the moment of highest pleasure during sex, and that’s why people talk about it so much.”
Abraham’s point here was that American sex-ed neglects to talk about pleasure and desire in sex, thus alienating students, who are at the same time plugged into a media-driven world where graphic sexual imagery is rampant. She, and other writers agree, that if an open conversation about sex does not start in the classroom, it might begin in the places that do not foster nonjudgemental instruction on bodies, birth control, disease prevention, healthy sexual attitudes and relationships, and responsible choices.
Abraham brings up a topic about porn that several of her responses dilineated on: that if teenagers don’t get their sex education from educators, they will get it from porn, which will instill at a very early age unhealthy sex roles and stereotypes. While this is not obviously true of all porn, yes, we agree that if teenagers are only exposed to mainstream porn and not aware of how to have an open conversation about sex, it becomes much more difficult to have healthy sexual relationships. Amanda Hess talks about this very beautifully in her article, “An American Oddity: Sex Ed That Actually Talks About Sex.”
“If we miss out on the basics at a young age, when do we evolve into full sexual adults, people who know what we want and how to get it? Proponents of “disaster prevention” sex ed seem to think that if we teach kids about sex at a young age, they’ll mature too quickly. I was educated on that assumption, and I’m still waiting to really grow up.”
This article appeared on the cover of the New York Times Magazine and was followed by many other articles responding to it. That’s great! We’re happy that the American media is beginning to accept sex positivity as a part of the mainstream conversation about sex. We also hope that this will draw more attention towards people like us who are working to create alternatives to the way that we experience sex.