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Why female pleasure must be at the heart of sex education

‘Our sex education was essentially a lesson in contraception.’

Bring in compulsory sex education classes from the age of four – and end the idea that sex is only about power and pleasure for men

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I was given a shell-clasped plastic case in pearly pink. Inside were two sanitary towels so small they could have been used as rugs in a doll’s house, and a leaflet about other sorts of period products. I had started my period at least a year before receiving these treasures. The trinket box was wasted on me, and the conversations about my periods came way too late.

I genuinely don’t remember any other sex education at primary school. By the time they started talking to us about it at secondary school, I think in the third year (year 9), most of the girls in my class had had their first sexual encounters. These were mostly at the Bill Clinton level: not full intercourse, but all the other stuff. The teachers were clearly counting on us not having had intercourse (although some of us had) because our sex education was about AIDS (it was the early 90s) and babies. It was essentially a lesson in contraception. I would wager that almost every girl in my class carried a condom in her purse long before she came to this lesson. In fact, we used to keep them as charms to show how grown up we were, accidentally on purpose spilling them out of our bags and pretending to be embarrassed.

We were the generation of the Femidom, which I am certain no one has ever used, but my brother’s best mate’s mum worked at the family planning clinic, so they nicked a big box from her and he would frequently put them in my school bag as a joke. When these fell out, I genuinely was embarrassed. Women’s sexuality was embarrassing, whereas pretending you were a dab hand at rolling on a condom was something to be proud of.

Sex and relationships were never discussed in our contraceptive education. It was all about the dangers of a man climaxing. That is the thing that causes the babies, so that is what we were taught about. We were shown how to handle and dispose of men’s pleasure safely. I went to a girls’ school; I have no idea what boys were taught – most likely the same.

The heavy petting we were all getting up to, bragging about which “base’” we had got to with the lads, was, again, all about doing what the boys wanted. When they were touching us and we were gloating about it, we garnered zero pleasure from such interactions – beyond getting to tell your mates that the fittest one had stuck his hand in your knickers. It was a league table; it wasn’t even about liking people. No one ever told us that it would be great if you liked each other, better if you did it because you actually got off from it. Bless the boys, I think they thought we enjoyed it. No one told them, either.

In almost every case, we were not victims, and the boys were not aggressors, but we were certainly not sexually enlightened young women exploring our sexuality. We were vessels for the boys’ exploration. No one ever said that sex was for us, too.

I hope this has changed a bit in 20 years, but I am not sure it has. I spent a good few years while working at Women’s Aid going to schools and teaching teenagers about the scary side of relationships: rape, coercive control and sexual exploitation. We always couched this in terms of teaching about sex equality and how power imbalances between men and women can lead to dangerous and harmful behaviours and expectations. We would try to teach boys to respect women and women to respect themselves. It was vital work, usually brought about after an incident of sexual violence at a school, but it never explored the ideas of women having equal sexual needs, wants and, ultimately, power.

Still, the average member of the British public thinks men need sex more than women. They need it like we need water, oxygen and food. This is a cultural norm we have all accepted and it seeps into how we live our lives and teach our children. Men don’t need sex any more than women, they just enjoy it more because it has a guaranteed payoff. They won’t die if they don’t have it, just like I won’t die if I don’t eat cake. We have to change this altered reality.

The government has just released its draft guidelines on relationship and sex education after campaigners and politicians have, for decades, called for mandatory relationship education to try to end the epidemic of domestic and sexual abuse. The guidelines are better than they were and cover areas of coercion and consent – finally. However, they still give a green light to schools to teach only very traditional notions of sexuality, relationships and gender norms. They are also squeamish about sex, which seems a bit odd, and totally fail to address the idea of a power imbalance between men and women that leads to coercion and sexual abuse. Worst of all, in my opinion, is the emphasis on teaching “virtues” including “self-control” and resisting sexual pressure, suggesting abstinence and ignoring the fact that many are coerced. This, once again, seems to put pressure on girls to be the controllers of male sexuality, not masters of their own. A bit like when my nan used to say: “Keep your hand on your halfpenny,” as if it was me tantalisingly flashing my vagina at boys and giving in to their demands that would lead to my untimely pregnancy. “Just say no” doesn’t work, so perhaps we need to try teaching young people about why they might want to say “yes”. What does good, healthy and happy sex look like, for example?

Girls masturbate, girls know all about what they like and want. They also know what boys like and want. Boys only know the latter. Girls and boys spend at least the first 10 years of their sex lives focusing exclusively on what boys want. Girls are taught at school that sex is about boys and how they should manage that – from the mess to the risks. Would it hurt to talk to both boys and girls about how sex should be for both parties? Giving girls a bit of hope that shagging won’t just lead to them dripping in breast milk or being a witness in a trial. Could we not change the way that sex is perceived to be about power and pleasure for men by simply talking to young people about why we do it?

I want young people to have compulsory sex education from the age of four. I want us to be braver about talking to kids about the difficult and scary stuff, like abuse and coercion. I want the frightened young woman who feels pressured to know that at school she will be able to find help. I want all of that, but I don’t want young girls growing up thinking that sex is just something that happens to us. I want boys and girls to know that it should be about both people not just agreeing, but also enjoying it.

Boys should want girls to say yes, yes, yes, not just be taught to listen when they say no.

Complete Article HERE!

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Encourage teens to discuss relationships, experts say

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By Carolyn Crist

Healthcare providers and parents should begin talking to adolescents in middle school about healthy romantic and sexual relationships and mutual respect for others, a doctors’ group urges.

Obstetrician-gynecologists, in particular, should screen their patients routinely for intimate partner violence and sexual coercion and be prepared to discuss it, the Committee on Adolescent Health Care of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises.

“Our aim is to give the healthcare provider a guide on how to approach adolescents and educate them on the importance of relationships that promote their overall wellbeing,” said Dr. Oluyemisi Adeyemi-Fowode of Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, who co-authored the committee’s opinion statement and resource for doctors published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

“We want to recognize the full spectrum of relationships and that not all adolescents are involved in sexual relationships,” she said in an email. “This acknowledges the sexual and non-sexual aspects of relationships.”

Adeyemi-Fowode and her coauthor Dr. Karen Gerancher of Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, suggest creating a nonjudgmental environment for teens to talk and recommend educating staff about unique concerns that adolescents may have as compared to adult patients. Parents and caregivers should be provided with resources, too, they write.

“As individuals, our days include constant interaction with other people,” Adeyemi-Fowode told Reuters Health. “Learning how to effectively communicate is essential to these exchanges, and it is a skill that we begin to develop very early in life.”

In middle school, when self-discovery develops, parents, mentors and healthcare providers can help adolescents build on these communication skills. As they spend more time on social networking sites and other electronic media, teens could use guidance on how to recognize relationships that positively encourage them and relationships that hurt them emotionally or physically.

Primarily, healthcare providers and parents should discuss key aspects of a healthy relationship, including respect, communication and the value of people’s bodies and personal health. Equality, honesty, physical safety, independence and humor are also good qualities in a positive relationship.

As doctors interact with teens, they should also be aware of how social norms, religion and family influence could play a role in their relationships.

Although the primary focus of counseling should help teens define a healthy relationship, it’s important to discuss unhealthy characteristics, too, the authors write. This includes control, disrespect, intimidation, dishonesty, dependence, hostility and abuse. They cite a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of young women in high school that found about 11 percent had been forced to engage in sexual activities they didn’t want, including kissing, touching and sexual intercourse. About 9 percent said they were physically hurt by someone they were dating.

For obstetrician-gynecologists, the initial reproductive health visit recommended for girls at ages 13-15 could be a good time to begin talking about romantic and sexual health concerns, the authors write. They also offer doctors a list of questions that may be helpful for these conversations, including “How do you feel about relationships in general or about your own sexuality?” and “What qualities are important to someone you would date or go out with?”

Health providers can provide confidentiality for teens but also talk with parents about their kids’ relationships. The committee opinion suggests that doctors encourage parents to model good relationships, discuss sex and sexual risk, and monitor media to reduce exposure to highly sexualized content.

“Without intentionally talking to them about respectful, equitable relationships, we’re leaving them to fend for themselves,” said Dr. Elizabeth Miller, chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, who wasn’t involved in the opinion statement.

Miller recommends FuturesWithoutViolence.org, a website that offers resources on dating violence, workplace harassment, domestic violence and childhood trauma. She and colleagues distribute the organization’s “Hanging Out or Hooking Up?” safety card (bit.ly/2PQfxEM), which offers tips to recognize and address adolescent relationship abuse, to patients and parents, Miller said.

“More than 20 years of research shows the impact of abusive relationships on young people’s health,” Miller said in a phone interview. “Unintended pregnancies, sexually-transmitted infections, HIV, depression, anxiety, suicide, disordered eating and substance abuse can stem from this.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Sex Ed before college can prevent student experiences of sexual assault

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Students who receive sexuality education, including refusal skills training, before college matriculation are at lower risk of experiencing sexual assault during college, according to new research published today in PLOS ONE. The latest publication from Columbia University’s Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT) project suggests that sexuality education during high school may have a lasting and protective effect for adolescents.

The research found that students who received about how to say no to sex (refusal skills training) before age 18 were less likely to experience penetrative in . Students who received refusal skills training also received other forms of sexual education, including instruction about methods of birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Students who received abstinence-only instruction did not show significantly reduced experiences of campus sexual assault.

“We need to start sexuality education earlier,” said John Santelli, MD, the article’s lead author, a pediatrician and professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “It’s time for a life-course approach to sexual assault prevention, which means teaching young people—before they get to college—about healthy and unhealthy sexual relationships, how to say no to unwanted sex, and how to say yes to wanted sexual relationships.”

The findings draw on a confidential survey of 1671 students from Columbia University and Barnard College conducted in the spring of 2016 and on in-depth interviews with 151 undergraduate students conducted from September 2015 to January 2017.

The authors found that multiple social and personal factors experienced prior to college were associated with students’ experience of penetrative sexual assault (vaginal, oral, or anal) during college. These factors include unwanted sexual contact before college (for women); adverse child experiences such as physical abuse; ‘hooking up’ in high school; or initiation of sex and alcohol or drug use before age 18.

Ethnographic interviews highlighted the heterogeneity of students’ sex education experiences. Many described sexuality education that was awkward, incomplete, or provided little information about sexual consent or sexual assault.

The research also found that students who were born outside of the United States and students whose mothers had lived only part of their lives or never lived in the U.S. had fewer experiences of penetrative sexual assault in college. Religious participation in did not prevent sexual assault overall, but a higher frequency of religious participation showed a borderline statistically significant protective association.

“The protective impact of refusal skills-based , along with previous research showing that a substantial proportion of students have experienced before entering college, underlines the importance of complementing campus-based prevention efforts with earlier refusal skills training,” said Santelli.

Complete Article HERE!

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Encourage teens to discuss relationships, experts say

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BY Carolyn Crist</a

Healthcare providers and parents should begin talking to adolescents in middle school about healthy romantic and sexual relationships and mutual respect for others, a doctors’ group urges.

Obstetrician-gynecologists, in particular, should screen their patients routinely for intimate partner violence and sexual coercion and be prepared to discuss it, the Committee on Adolescent Health Care of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises.

“Our aim is to give the healthcare provider a guide on how to approach adolescents and educate them on the importance of relationships that promote their overall wellbeing,” said Dr. Oluyemisi Adeyemi-Fowode of Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, who co-authored the committee’s opinion statement and resource for doctors published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

“We want to recognize the full spectrum of relationships and that not all adolescents are involved in sexual relationships,” she said in an email. “This acknowledges the sexual and non-sexual aspects of relationships.”

Adeyemi-Fowode and her coauthor Dr. Karen Gerancher of Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, suggest creating a nonjudgmental environment for teens to talk and recommend educating staff about unique concerns that adolescents may have as compared to adult patients. Parents and caregivers should be provided with resources, too, they write.

“As individuals, our days include constant interaction with other people,” Adeyemi-Fowode told Reuters Health. “Learning how to effectively communicate is essential to these exchanges, and it is a skill that we begin to develop very early in life.”

In middle school, when self-discovery develops, parents, mentors and healthcare providers can help adolescents build on these communication skills. As they spend more time on social networking sites and other electronic media, teens could use guidance on how to recognize relationships that positively encourage them and relationships that hurt them emotionally or physically.

Primarily, healthcare providers and parents should discuss key aspects of a healthy relationship, including respect, communication and the value of people’s bodies and personal health. Equality, honesty, physical safety, independence and humor are also good qualities in a positive relationship.

As doctors interact with teens, they should also be aware of how social norms, religion and family influence could play a role in their relationships.

Although the primary focus of counseling should help teens define a healthy relationship, it’s important to discuss unhealthy characteristics, too, the authors write. This includes control, disrespect, intimidation, dishonesty, dependence, hostility and abuse. They cite a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of young women in high school that found about 11 percent had been forced to engage in sexual activities they didn’t want, including kissing, touching and sexual intercourse. About 9 percent said they were physically hurt by someone they were dating.

For obstetrician-gynecologists, the initial reproductive health visit recommended for girls at ages 13-15 could be a good time to begin talking about romantic and sexual health concerns, the authors write. They also offer doctors a list of questions that may be helpful for these conversations, including “How do you feel about relationships in general or about your own sexuality?” and “What qualities are important to someone you would date or go out with?”

Health providers can provide confidentiality for teens but also talk with parents about their kids’ relationships. The committee opinion suggests that doctors encourage parents to model good relationships, discuss sex and sexual risk, and monitor media to reduce exposure to highly sexualized content.

“Without intentionally talking to them about respectful, equitable relationships, we’re leaving them to fend for themselves,” said Dr. Elizabeth Miller, chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, who wasn’t involved in the opinion statement.

Miller recommends FuturesWithoutViolence.org, a website that offers resources on dating violence, workplace harassment, domestic violence and childhood trauma. She and colleagues distribute the organization’s “Hanging Out or Hooking Up?” safety card (bit.ly/2PQfxEM), which offers tips to recognize and address adolescent relationship abuse, to patients and parents, Miller said.

“More than 20 years of research shows the impact of abusive relationships on young people’s health,” Miller said in a phone interview. “Unintended pregnancies, sexually-transmitted infections, HIV, depression, anxiety, suicide, disordered eating and substance abuse can stem from this.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Recovering the Beauty of Sex

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By Joseph A. Barisas and William F. Long

Last week, a group of students hosted Harvard Sex Week, a series of widely-publicized events with titles ranging from “Hit Me Baby One More Time: BDSM in the Dorm Room” and “Bloody Good! An Intro to Period Sex” to “One is Not Enough: Open Relationships, Non-Monogamy, & Polyamory.” The Undergraduate Council and the Harvard Foundation shared the distinction of sponsoring these talks with, among others, various retailers of exotic sex toys, lubricants, and condoms.

Over our years at Harvard, we’ve seen our fair share of the extreme and the avant-garde, but this year’s programming managed to shock even us. The idea that a week including BDSM and polyamory could possibly contribute anything to a healthy understanding of sex struck us as entirely backward. Why has our dialogue about sex, something which should be considered intimate and reverent and profound, become simply an outlet for our unrestrained desires and debased passions?

The answer, we suspect, likely has something to do with the fact that Harvard teaches us from our very first week on campus an oversimplified attitude towards sex that we might call the “consensual” philosophy of sex. Each year during Opening Days, freshmen sit through a mandatory theatrical production called “Speak About It” in which, over an hour of sexual reenactments, they learn that as long as they have “consent,” they are free to engage in whatever with whomever they please. What matters is not the act consented to, but the consent itself. While consent is obviously essential to the very nature of sex, there is so much more to it than just a verbal assent extracted from the other party in order to do whatever one desires.

Because there are no other normative guidelines on what true and good sex is, this ambivalence inevitably reduces sex, one of the most powerful and meaningful components of the human experience, to what many young people invariably want it to be: a purely physical act whose primary function is to produce pleasure and satisfy passions. It matters not with whom one engages in it, neither the duration or depth of that relationship, nor yet the further continuance of the relationship. To speak of its emotional and spiritual aspects feels awkward and anachronistic, and discussion of its procreative nature, arguably the most essential characteristic of sex, is avoided like the plague.

But the consequences of this cheapened, hollowed-out view of sex are heartbreaking. They can be seen in a culture of one-night-stands and hook-ups, fueled by alcohol, often ending in indifference and, occasionally, emotional trauma. Young men and women learn to see one another as means to gratification and not ends in themselves, infinitely valuable and unique. A woman who had suffered the emotional toll of being ghosted once too many times asked in a New York Times column whether by consenting to hook-up culture, she had also consented to its premise of detachment and self-centeredness. When we lower our standards of acceptable sexual behavior to merely what is legal, we should not be surprised to see our personal standards of sexual morality drop and unbridled license expand to fill the void.

A sexual ethic that bases its standards solely on what is allowed teaches students that they are being moral by merely staying within the bounds of the law. A robust ethic has positive rather than solely negative norms. Students learn implicitly a definition of sex as allowance, where anything not prohibited is good, instead of realizing that boundaries and reason help make sex the entirely unique and wonderful thing it is. Paradoxically, this prohibitive ethic in which we are currently immersed destroys the possibility of allowing people to see sex as a good and honorable and beautiful thing.

One of the self-proclaimed objectives of Sex Week was to “connect diverse individuals and communities both within and beyond Harvard,” and the group that runs it aims to “open up campus dialogue.” This is an aspiration we can certainly agree with, and we want to begin engaging in this dialogue by rejecting the premise that the ethic of “consent” is sufficient to create a culture of sex that truly empowers and connects.

Couldn’t we all agree that true sex requires genuine care for the other party and to have their best interest at heart? The moment we impose this reasonable requirement, we recategorize a wide swath of sexual behavior — drunken one-night-stands for instance — as instead a sort of glorified mutual masturbation. As we continue to positively construct sex by considering its many natural and valuable facets, we begin to elevate its dignity and purpose and reestablish a philosophy of sexual ethics that we believe benefits everyone. At the Harvard College Anscombe Society, we believe among other things that true sex should be a total and unreserved giving of oneself to another, physically, emotionally, psychologically, biologically, and spiritually. Its primary function is unitive, tying two people in an indissoluble bond, and procreative, wherein the love shared between the two manifests itself in the miracle of human life.

Only when we take every aspect of sex seriously and consider it in its proper framing, can we recover its natural beauty and value. Admittedly, constructing a full alternative vision of sex is not something that can be easily done in an op-ed, and the Anscombe Society — through meetings and public talks, including one with world-renowned moral philosopher Dr. Janet E. Smith this week — hopes to continue this ongoing dialogue about true love.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to have the talk with your partner

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Since the most common symptom is actually having no symptoms, talking to any partners about sexual health is even more important than it is awkward. The good news is talking about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and getting tested leads to more honesty, open communication and better relationships (and health) in the long run. Here’s how to start that particular conversation.

Taking the lead

“Just so you know, I got tested for STIs last month…” is a strong start. Taking the initiative yourself to get tested, get treated if necessary and know your status keeps you and your partner safer. Then, when you’re ready to have the conversation, you can open by sharing your results and normalizing getting tested for your partner.

If they respond that they haven’t been tested or it’s been a while since their last appointment, encourage them to do it, too, so you can be on the same page. This also is a good time to remind them that getting tested doesn’t mean they do have an STI, and if they do, most are curable and all are treatable (and having one doesn’t say anything about them).

Jumping in together

If you haven’t been tested recently either, start a conversation with your partner about both of you getting tested. You can even introduce it as something uncomfortable if that’s where you are, i.e., “This is awkward, but I care about our health and I think it’s time for us to get tested for STIs. Would you want to go get tested together?”

This kind of conversation lets you share an awkward experience while empowering you both to take care of yourselves and each other, creating stronger communication in the long run. It’s also a quick way to hear from your partner if they have recently been tested, and if so, they can serve as your support system in taking on your health.

Sharing results

Talking about an STI you had or have, or hearing about one from your partner, can be a stressful situation. A few things to keep in mind: STIs don’t define people or behaviors, many are curable and all are treatable, millions of people contract STIs every year and even in monogamous relationships an STI doesn’t necessarily mean someone cheated (in some cases, it can take years for symptoms to show up, if at all).

Start a conversation like this one in a safe place where you won’t be interrupted and practice what you’d like to say ahead of time. “I had chlamydia and took medicine, so I don’t have it anymore, but it made me realize we should be getting tested more…” or “I was just diagnosed with gonorrhea and my doctor said you can also get a prescription for the antibiotics…”

Sometimes people need time to process this information, and that’s okay—let them know you’d like to continue talking about it when they feel ready.

If your partner is disclosing an STI to you, remember these facts and consider how you’d want to be treated on the other side. Be compassionate, avoid judgment and take on your health as a team. If you have questions or would like to get tested, Medical Services offers STI testing by appointment with a health care provider and on a walk-in basis through the lab.

Free safer sex supplies (condoms, lubricant, etc.) are available through Health Promotion on the first floor of Wardenburg Health Center. For general information on sexual health and sexually transmitted infections, visit beforeplay.org

Complete Article HERE!

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Time to stop being coy about sex – and give young people the truth

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The government’s draft curriculum on sex education falls short on LGBT experiences, sexual violence and pornography

Why is there such a reluctance to arm young people with the information and discussions they need to go on to have healthier sexual relationships?

By

I had just turned 11 when Salt-N-Pepa released a track that made my ears burn on first hearing: “Let’s talk about sex baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be. Let’s talk about SEX.” It was quickly recorded on to a cassette and listened to surreptitiously. God forbid my parents should hear and think I wanted to talk about sex with them. But of course, as a preteen and then teenager, it was a conversation I did want to have. One I hoped would make me feel normal amid the swirl of overwhelming hormones.

My parents were, for their part, ordinary in their attitude towards “the talk”. They could be best described as squeamish, preferring to be vague on details but with a huge dollop of fear because … PREGNANCY. They were, and are, not alone. Ineptitude sits close to denial; both act as effective weapons for those who’d rather shirk a tricky responsibility. On this matter our schools have proved no different. Deemed best placed to curate discussions around sex, they have done so with an incompetence that has left young people unable to talk about the good and bad of s-e-x.

Britney Spears was dressed in a school uniform demanding “Hit me baby one more time” when the current sex education curriculum was first published. That year Monica Lewinsky was pilloried by public opinion that was too sexist to recognise that the 22-year-old intern might be a victim in the grim spectacle. Our schools largely ignored these teachable moments and were silent on such milestones. No wonder then that it is a curriculum feminists have long criticised for inadequately meeting the needs of today’s young. Where is talk about consent, sexting and the explosion of online pornography? Nowhere. Why is there such a reluctance to arm young people with the information and discussions they need to go on to have healthier sexual relationships?

Thankfully in the government’s new relationships and sex education (RSE) draft curriculum there is now explicit mention of these issues, and on Wednesday the Department for Education (DfE) closes its consultation on it. Yet there is still a danger it could fail many of our young by repeating old mistakes – and by ignoring the issues young people want to talk about.

It’s clear from the draft curriculum that violence against women and LGBT experiences are still issues seemingly difficult to broach – best handled with the language of ambiguity or outright silence. There is talk about coercion, but no room to place that in the context of gender inequality.

There is, too, a repeated return to the centrality of marriage, admittedly with an acknowledgment that this includes same-sex marriage. Yet this jars with making the teaching of LGBT relationships discretionary. It is why the feminist organisation Level Up is calling for people, especially the young, to have their say and respond to the government’s draft consultation. The aim is to let the government know that LGBT experiences should be an integral part of sex education rather than a tacked-on optional extra. To ignore this would be to let down the thousands of LGBT young people grappling with their sexual identity, who are already made to feel out of place. A survey by the government itself found that for 31% of young people, it is a priority that they are taught about gender and sexual identity.

We all have stories of that one sex ed class where a teacher, usually barely able to contain their own discomfort, instructs a class of giggling teenagers on how best to place a condom on a cucumber. It tells us much that the memory of sex education for so many is one of awkward tittering – and a very clear sense that sex is something to be feared if not avoided.

But even in that scenario, most could at least say they found their sexual identity reflected in the content of discussion. The same could not be said for LGBT students whose teachers were legally bound under section 28 to desist from teaching “the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Fifteen years on from the repeal of the act, and despite proposed changes to the curriculum, RSE in many schools might be more accurately described as heterosexual sex ed. If schools can decide to opt out of teaching LGBT experiences, the government must accept that those relationships will not be normalised and LGBT young people will be made vulnerable as a result.

That LGBT students would be given sex ed without seeing themselves reflected is a repudiation of their sexual identity. It is the type of silence that can easily breed self-doubt and loathing, not to mention bullying and coercion. This new curriculum is supposed to be a step forward. Instead it feels like we are stuck in the past.

Complete Article HERE!

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6 things I wish I knew about sex as a teen

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It’s up to you to define what constitutes losing your virginity

By Olivia Cassano

Growing up we receive so many problematic messages about sex that it’s no wonder we still consider it such a taboo.

Although I consider myself a very sex-positive person now, it took years to unlearn most of what mainstream society taught me about doing the deed.

There’s a lot to be learned about the nuanced experience of sex and I full-heartedly believe that we can never stop learning.

But here are the things I think everyone, young women especially, should know in order to foster a healthy, fulfilling relationship with sex.

Virginity is a heteronormative myth

Almost everything we know about virginity is either wrong or misogynistic.

First of all, it completely excludes same-sex experiences and focuses only on hetero PIV (penis in vagina) sex, alienating gay sex and turning it into the ‘other’.

If we were to take virginity for how it’s taught, technically gay people are all virgins.

See? It makes no sense.

All sex is sex and, ultimately, it’s up to you to define what constitutes losing your virginity, because it’s nothing more than a concept.

Losing your virginity is also somehow simultaneously romanticised and made out to be this horrific, traumatising, painful milestone.

It’s an oxymoron, but your entry point to sex will most likely be unremarkable.

It doesn’t have to hurt and you might not bleed (I didn’t), because another fallacy is that losing your V-card is all about the hymen breaking.

We’re taught that the hymen is like a fleshy roadblock that needs to be crashed into to officially lose your virgin status, but none of that is true.

The hymen is a thin, perforated membrane most, not all, women have, and it can be torn from pretty much anything, like tampons, masturbation and even some types of sport. It’s not proof of your virginity or lack thereof because, newsflash, women don’t come with a freshness seal.

The first time can be uncomfortable and the pain often associated with it most likely comes from nerves and a lack of lubrication.

Relax, lube up and enjoy (once you’re ready of course).

Had I known this before my first time, I wouldn’t have looked forward to it with such dreaded anticipation.

All sex is sex

As mentioned above, society has a tendency to think of sex as intercourse.

Again, this alienates same-sex experiences and trivialises other sexual activities like oral, anal and masturbation.

This way of thinking is so embedded in how we understand and talk about sex that it took me a while to dismantle this way of thinking, but it’s crucial to abandon this hierarchy.

And – lazy, straight men – foreplay is sex. Stop acting like it’s a nuisance you have to quickly get rid of before sticking your dick in us.

Which brings me to my next point.

Sex is not a race

Orgasms feel incredible and provide a wide range of mental and physical benefits, but, that being said, they’re not the only reason we have sex. Sex should be a whole experience and should be enjoyed even though it doesn’t end in climax, especially since the sad reality is that most hetero women don’t come from intercourse alone. Slow down, savour the experience and stop trying to hit a home run straight away. Masturbating is awesome

Women do it too.

It doesn’t make you desperate.

You shouldn’t feel guilty about it.

It’s healthy. It’s amazing.

DIY sex is more than just satisfaction, it’s an act of self-love that reinforces your own pleasure and agency in sex.

Knowing how to please yourself means knowing what you want out of a sexual experience with a partner, if you wish to have one.

STIs don’t make you dirty

Although I was lucky enough to attend a school that offered a sex ed class, all it consisted of was our teacher showing us a slide show of disease-ridden genitalia.

The aim wasn’t so much to spread awareness but rather disgust us into not having unprotected sex.

It reinforced the stigma that people with STIs are dirty and stupid for catching them in the first place, most likely from having sex with a lot of different people.

Yes, we should teach kids to use a condom and get regularly tested – this advice applies to adults too – but we should also be taught how to talk about STIs without judgement or shame.

The easier it is to talk about them without wanting to recoil, the easier it is to approach the subject with a partner should you find out you caught something.

I didn’t get my first sexual health test until six years after being sexually active because I was terrified of knowing if I had anything.

Now I get a routine check every six months even though I am in a committed relationship, and it’s something I look forward to because it’s a way to make sure I’m being safe and keeping my partner safe too.

STIs aren’t something to be happy about, but they’re also not the end of your sex life.

Literally anything about consent

It’s 2018 and most people still don’t have a clear grasp on consent.

Growing up, I had never even heard of consent, because no one taught me.

Consent isn’t just the absence of a ‘no’, it’s a voluntary, explicit and enthusiastic verbal and non-verbal ‘yes’. It can be withdrawn at any point and consenting to one activity does not mean consenting to any future activities.

Sex without consent is abuse or rape, so it’s probably the first and most important thing we should be learning when it comes to sex.

Complete Article HERE!

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Get the Sex Education You Never Had With These 9 Books

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It’s not too late to learn something beyond the keep-your-legs-closed approach. Virginity not required.

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Chances are, if you had sex ed in America, your sexual IQ is suffering. To help get you up to speed, we asked top experts to weigh in on their fave books on sex and sexuality, from newer releases to tried-and-true classics. Consider this your actually good resource on what to read.

A playbook for your vagina problems

Our Bodies, Ourselves, by the Boston Women’s Health Collective

“This classic belongs on every woman’s bookshelf. It is a very comprehensive guide to most sexual-health issues that you are likely to encounter in your life and frequently connects critical medical information to its cultural context.” —Laci Green, online sex educator and author of Sex Plus 

An LGBTQ “instruction manual”

This Book Is Gay, by Juno Dawson

“Growing up, it’s common to have lots of questions about sexuality, attraction, love, and relationships. Being LGBTQ can add an additional layer to those questions and sometimes it’s hard to know who to talk to or where to get information. This book is filled with great info about sexual health, as well as stories from LGBTQ youth.”  —Nora Gelperin, director of sexuality education and training with Advocates for Youth 

A true story about sexual assault

Missoula, by Jon Krakauer

“I’m recommending this book to highlight sexual assault and rape on college campuses. This story stresses the need for sexual-assault education at the college campus level but provides insight on the need to provide this education at an early age. And it also sheds light on the need to address the justice system on college campuses.” —Jennifer Driver, state policy director for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) 

An almost sci-fi take on female anatomy

Woman: An Intimate Geography, by Natalie Angier

“An OG guide to the female body. Natalie Angier does a great job dissecting stereotypes while outlining research (and lack of research) on the exact anatomy that life comes from. Twenty years later and this is still a go-to guide.” —Eileen Kelly, editor-in-chief and founder of Killer and a Sweet Thang 

A refreshing brushup on periods, relationships, and consent

GIRL: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You, by Karen Rayne

“I chose this story because Karen runs one of my favorite sex-ed organizations, Unhushed. It’s similar to my book, Sex Plus, for those looking to expand their perspective.” –Green 

An illustrated explainer on “sex stuff”

It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris

“This read provides comprehensive information about how bodies work, how pregnancy happens, various attractions, and sexual orientations. My go-to sexual-health book with fantastic, inclusive content and wonderful illustrations that help explain all this complicated sexuality stuff.” —Gelperin

The textbook you should’ve had

Changing Bodies, Changing Lives, by Ruth Bell

“Ruth Bell was part of the team that wrote Our Bodies, Ourselves, which revolutionized sex education in 1976. In this book, she includes poems and cartoons from real teenagers, making it feel more lived-in and more realistic than many others. We desperately need more options for sex-ed books that have an intersectional feminist lens—especially ones that prioritize transgender kids—but Bell’s updated work is sex-positive and LGBTQ-friendly.” —Samantha Dercher, federal policy director for (SIECUS) 

Gen Z giving their take on sex

Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, by Peggy Orenstein

“Peggy Orenstein traveled the United States interviewing more than 70 young girls between 15 and 20 to figure out what it’s like for girls growing up in today’s day and age. This is a highly insightful read into how the digital landscape is changing everything around us, shaping the way society views women and how girls and women view themselves. It’s a necessary read.” —Kelly

A classic about the angst of girlhood

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume

“Judy Blume’s 1970s novels are iconic for a reason—the world has changed, but preteen anxieties don’t. Although today’s kids have probably never heard of a sanitary belt (recent editions of the novel have updated the text to more modern menstrual products, but I prefer the original book!), Margaret still serves as a representation of that universal tween feeling of not belonging. It might not feel as modern as it once did, but Judy Blume—and Margaret—revolutionized how preteen girls view themselves and their bodies and made the terrifying unknowns of puberty seem a little less scary to me.” —Dercher

Complete Article HERE!

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Sex & Accessibility 101:

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How to Have Super Hot Sex with or as a Disabled Person

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I was once a horny and confused disabled teenager, and somehow managed to come into my own as a horny and downright pervy disabled adult. Growing up, no one ever talked to me about sex or sexuality. Outside of my peer groups (and often times even within them), sex was a touchy issue. Doctors, educators, family — they all functioned from a place that sex wasn’t for someone like me. And woof, how do you feel good initiating conversations about your bod and all the things you find yourself wanting to do with it when even your doctor seems squeamish about it?

Fast forward to 2018, and doctors are still garbage. But I like to think that we queers of the world are ever-evolving, and as result, getting pretty hip to the concept that all different kinds of bodies want to connect with other bodies. With that in mind, I’m not going to waste any time defending the desirability of disabled folks. Disabled folks are desirable. Period. Disabled bods and access needs are still left out of the conversation when it comes to S-E-X and well… f*ck that. So settle in and hang out for a minute. We’ve got a lot to talk about.

Disability Sexuality

Disabled folks make up the largest minority population in the world; upwards of 20% of people in the US are living with a disability. This means whether you, yourself, are disabled or not, disability touches everyone in some way or another. Our genders and sexualities vary as much as anyone’s, but our access to communities that affirm (or allow us to explore) our genders and sexualities is frequently lacking. Navigating sex and disability as a queer person has its challenges, but outside of societal misconceptions and misinformation, it’s not necessarily any more (or less) complicated than navigating any other body or sexuality. Bodies are weird. Sex is weird. Weird is good.

While the information here can be useful for anyone, this guide primarily focuses on physical access needs in sex. Disability is an incredibly broad umbrella term. There are a lot of different ways that disability exists in the world, and needs and considerations vary greatly. This is in no way meant to be definitive or all-encompassing. All bods are different and need different things. That’s kind of the point. As always, take what applies and feels good for you.

Communication

Inarguably, communication is the key to good sex, period. But, for disabled folks (and the babes that love them), those conversations may feel a little more vulnerable than conversations some able-bodied folks are used to having, and it helps to learn better ways of navigating them.

It should go without saying, but assumptions never do anyone any good in the bedroom (or anywhere, really). It’s important to find ways to communicate your wants and needs without ambiguity. Knowing what you want can be half the battle whether you have accessibility needs or not, so don’t be afraid to do a little work in finding that out for yourself. Handy worksheets like this old gem from our own Austen, Ara, and Geneva can help you not only brainstorm your own wants and needs, but find common ground with your partner. Talking about you want to do with your partner, also opens up the line of communication to advocate for the things you may need in order to do it. If you’re feeling anxious, try to remember that these conversations feel vulnerable for all bods involved, so be kind to both yourself and your partner! Initiating potentially vulnerable conversations about sex and bodies can work best outside of the bedroom. Talking about sex can feel daunting enough; changing up the space and talking it out before you’re in the bedroom can help ease some of the pressure and help you connect.

If you’re able-bodied and your partner isn’t, remember that when your partner is opening up to you about their body, it’s a conversation, not an inquisition. Make sure you’re meeting them in the middle, not putting them through an interview. Talk about your own boundaries, needs, hopes and expectations. Rather than “How do you…?” or “Can you…?” lines of questioning, focus on pleasure (i.e. “What are you into?” “What feels good for you?”). Your interest is in finding out what makes them feel good, not unraveling the mystery of their body. Good conversation topics to consider: preferred words/terms for parts, parts of the body you do or don’t like to have touched/seen/etc., body sensitivity or pain.

A common don’t that comes up all too often is the dreaded “I don’t even notice,” “You’re pretty/handsome for a disabled person,” or “You’re not disabled to me!” Able-bodied folks tend to think these are compliments, but I can assure you as a person who’s heard it all, they aren’t. The last thing anyone getting down and dirty with you wants to hear is that you don’t see them, or that you have to avoid parts of them to feel attraction for them.

If you’re disabled and wanting to open up communication, remember that communicating with your partner is a back and forth. You’re not responsible for sitting under a spotlight and disclosing your medical history, and you should never feel pressured to say or do anything that doesn’t feel right for you. Everybody’s got needs and expectations in physical and intimate relationships! Try not to feel weighed down sharing yours.

Communication while getting down is important, too. Tell your partner when they’re making you feel good, and be open to vocalizing (and switching things up) when something’s not working for you. Likewise, be open to hearing from your partner when something isn’t working for them.

The effort it takes to hone your communication skills really pays off; it feels good to know what you partner needs and expects from you, and it feels really good to know that your partner cares about what you need. Besides, talking about sex is great foreplay, pal!

Getting Down

Setting the scene

One thing disabled folks with physical access needs are beyond familiar with is the need for preparedness. Sometimes we can get bogged down by all the little details needed to make a space accessible; sex is really no different in that regard. Setting the scene for the sex you want helps ease anxiety surrounding unwanted interruptions or time-outs. It helps keep things flowing, and builds up the anticipation — which can be exciting!

Making sure that your harnesses, toys, positioning furniture, lube, and clean up supplies are within reach is a great start, but there’s more you can do to set the mood. Don’t underestimate the power of intention!

For folks who experience incontinence, waterproof pads and blankets can help with anxiety surrounding unwanted (or wanted!) messes.  While any mattress pad could do the trick, items made for play such as the Liberator Fascinator Throw, or the Funsheet can make the playspace feel less sterile and more sexy. Think about what kind of material makes you feel best in these situations. Throws like the Fascinator absorb fluid without leaking through, whereas items like the Funsheet do not absorb fluids (which can potentially feel overwhelming for some folks). Regardless of your preference, when sexy time is over, just toss your sheets/throws into the washer and you’re good to go. Anxiety surrounding incontinence can feel like a lot, but try to remember that honestly all sex is messy and that’s often half the fun.

Lube & Barriers

Lube is f*cking important! This is true for everyone, but especially when stimulating a part of the body that has limited or no sensation. Apart from wanting to avoid general injury, many conditions can make it difficult for a body to produce its own lubricant. Find a lube that works well for you and your partner and use that lube generously.

I won’t go too ham in talking about barrier methods, but I will note that there are a lot of options to consider, from a proper fitted condom on penises and dildos/vibrators, to dental dams, and the very poorly named “FC2 female condom.” Be sure to be conscious of sensitivities to frequently used materials such as latex (and less commonly allergenic) nitrile/neoprene. It’s best to stay clear of barriers with added flavoring or spermicides. Always remember to check your lube is safe for use with the barrier method you’re using!

Positioning

There are an infinite number of ways to get two bodies to connect in just the right way. Shaking things up and exploring the way things feel best not only ensures you and your partner’s comfort, it’s also just hot and fun. There are gender- and sexuality-inclusive online quick guides like this one from The Mighty that may help get your creative juices flowing. There’s also positioning harnesses and slings like Sportsheets’ Super Sex Sling and Doggie Style Strap that can help take some of the pressure off of strenuous positioning. Sportsheets is a disability-inclusive brand also offering items like shower suction handles and foot rests, and other positioning tools that can aid in accessible play.

If your partner needs help transferring out of a chair or another assistive device, let them guide you in helping them properly. Don’t ever lift or move a partner without being asked to, and don’t ever move assistive devices to unreachable places unless your partner asks you to.

Harnesses

For some with limited mobility, spasticity or pain in the pelvic/hip region, standard harnesses may not be an option for strap-on sex. Fortunately, there are multiple harness options for those looking for accessible ways to engage in penetrative play, and getting creative in the harness department can be just as hot as it is practical! Sportsheets offers a thigh harness and the La Palma from SpareParts offers a gloved hand option. For folks with penises using strap-ons, SpareParts Deuce is a great option. Designed to be wearable regardless of ability to achieve erection, the harness has an upper ring for use with a dildo, and a lower ring for penis access.

Toys

This is the part where I might as well start by throwing my hands in the air praising the Hitachi Magic Wand. As a stubborn contrarian I’d love to find a reason to tell you why it doesn’t live up to its hype, but I’d be lying. Apart from being probably the greatest sex toy on earth, with its strong vibrations, large head, and versatile modification options, it’s also probably one of the most accessible. There are hitachi toy mounts like this one from Liberator, various head attachments, speed controllers (which do need to be plugged into the toy/wall, but also extend the range quite a bit), and good ol’ DIY mic stand setups. The rechargeable wand does away with the need to stay plugged in and is worth every penny for the upgrade.

For anal stimulation, b-vibe offers a wide selection of remote vibrating anal toys in a variety of sizes and shapes, eliminating the need to reach down to adjust or change settings on the toy during use. For comfortable wear in seated positions, try options with a thin base like the snug plug or the pleasure plug from Fuze.

For folks with penises who may be experiencing what sex expert Joan Price refers to as erectile dissatisfaction or unreliable erection due to paralysis, but want to engage in penetrative sex, ppa/extenders like Vixen’s Ride On paired with a comfortable harness can be helpful in achieving penetrative sex with a partner. The Pulse 3 Duo is also a great partner toy option for folks with penises of varying functionality.

If you can, skip the ableist toy manuals that come with most sex toys and instead, talk to a sex educator at your local progressive sex shop about your prospective products and how to use them safely and care for them. It’s well-documented that there’s historically been (and continues to be) a problem with unfavorable language in a LOT of sex toy user manuals and packaging. If you don’t have access to local progressive sex toy shops, shops like The Smitten Kitten, She Bop, Early To Bed, and Babeland all have online stores and customer service options that can be really helpful.

After Care

Lastly, be sure to check in. After care isn’t an option; it’s a major part of play. Talk to your partner about what feels good for both of you when play is over. Maybe you or they need to be held, or like a glass of water when things are winding down. If incontinence is a concern, it may help to have a course of action pre-planned for cleaning up in a way that helps to relieve stress or discomfort.

Ultimately, there are plenty of tools and tips to achieve the sex you want, but the bulk of the work relies on successful communication. Remember to think beyond speaking, and consider how you’re listening. Are you doing what you can to create a connection that supports your partner in voicing their wants and needs? Supporting your partner through the vulnerable parts paves way for the creativity that comes with engaging and fun sex.

A few quick references:

The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability

Disability After Dark Podcast

Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, & Liberation

Complete Article HERE!

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Talking about sex is awkward, so how can teenagers ‘just ask’ for consent?

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The topic of sexual consent seems to be in the news on a daily basis, especially since #MeToo went viral one year ago. From posters to podcasts, there are endless resources promoting the importance of getting and giving explicit consent. Many suggest that a “yes” must always be enthusiastic, and that partners should “ask first and ask often”.

In principle, these are good messages. But my research with more than 100 young people aged 13 to 25 indicates that they understand the importance of consent, yet find it hard to put this advice into practice. They want opportunities to figure out how to manage desire and rejection. But very often conversations about consent – especially in schools – tend to start and finish with legal definitions and very black and white examples.

A key finding from my research is that doing explicit and verbal consent is awkward. It is important to acknowledge and talk about this awkwardness, rather than simply present ideal examples of consent, as though everyone will suddenly be able to “just ask” or “say no” without doubt or confusion.

It’s important to talk about the “grey areas”; those contexts where differing assumptions mean getting and giving consent can be confusing or difficult. For example, when sex doesn’t follow the progression often portrayed in porn, films and series, or when young people are learning to navigate the different dynamics that emerge with people they know well, and people they don’t.

This is especially important for people who have little or no sexual experience, and few opportunities to discuss the complex and emotional sides of sex without fear of judgement. Clearly, navigating sexual intimacy is more complicated than mainstream media and educational messages would suggest. Especially when many people (women in particular) aren’t well practised at saying “no” – even in situations that aren’t sexual.

The difficulties with saying ‘no’

It’s well evidenced that – particularly in middle class British society – it’s rare for people to say an outright “no” to anything. From a young age, people are encouraged to be polite, avoid making situations awkward or embarrassing and to please people in more powerful positions.

If we do say “no”, we are encouraged to say “no, thank you”, smile sweetly and more often than not to provide a reason for the “no” so that the person doesn’t feel upset or rejected. And it’s clear that people fear rejection in romantic and sexual situations.

It’s all very well to encourage people to “just ask” someone if they want to do something sexual. But the realities of doing this are complicated and go against the societal and cultural norms that make talking about sex awkward – if it’s even discussed at all.

If only things were always this simple.

One young person, Becs, said: “You do want consent, but you’re too scared to ask for it.” There were comments about “ruining the moment” and seeming like you “don’t know what you’re doing”. Jamie noted:

It’s really hard for someone to actually upfront ask someone if they want to do specific things with them … it might be a really massive impact on your self-esteem.

I don’t for one moment think that anyone should go along with sex they do not want for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings. Yet it is understandable that people who are earlier on in their sex lives might worry about getting it wrong, or avoid a situation where they invite rejection. These worries are a problem when they stifle open communication between sexual partners, such that it becomes difficult to express readiness and desires, and to establish the readiness and desires of a partner.

Discuss and demystify

The young people I worked with related genuine and understandable arguments about why it was not socially safe or acceptable to explicitly seek or express consent to sex. But they all expressed the importance and value of what we might term “mutual consent” – even if they did not use that specific phrase themselves.

While everyone needs to be taught about consent, it needs to be done in a way that focuses on how more communication – although awkward to begin with – is likely to enable more pleasurable experiences in the longer run, rather than simply teaching that consent is important so that you don’t get in trouble with the law.

Talking and teaching about the grey areas may seem a difficult task, but this research shows that by engaging with young people’s uncertainty and awkwardness about wanting, being ready or being open to sex, society will be helping them build the skills they need to be able to be clear and to communicate their choices.

It’s crucial for young people to discuss, learn about and demystify the actions, emotions and experience that might fall into the grey area. And the discussions need to focus less on whether these experiences should be considered legal or illegal, and more on how they can be navigated in an ethical and communicative way, resulting in positive pleasurable experiences, or positive decisions to change or not pursue sexual interaction in that moment.

It’s quite right that we, as a society, seek to improve the way that young people learn about sex and relationships, and to have more open conversations about consent and sexual negotiation. But campaigns and sex education might have more meaningful impact if they address the awkwardness of sex and intimacy, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist.

Complete Article HERE!

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The New Birds and Bees:

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Teaching Kids About Boundaries and Consent

What we can learn from the Dutch: Talking openly about bodies helps keep shame at bay, and may help a child speak up if there is a problem.

By Bonnie J. Rough

As a growing number of #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport stories have put a new focus on childhood sexual abuse, parents may have an urgent sense that they should frame conversations with their children about their bodies as safety lessons.

But doubling down on warnings is the opposite of what children really need. In researching my new book about how gender equality begins with great sex ed, I learned that teaching what’s good about bodies, sex and love is actually what gives children a secure sense of body sovereignty, boundaries and consent.

Children who feel confident in their body knowledge may be quicker to identify when something is awry, and those who learn empathy and egalitarianism less likely to cross another person’s boundaries.

Here are three essential lessons parents of children under 6 can follow to help kids stay safe, confident and shame-free in their skin.

Begin with body positivity

When my oldest daughter turned 3, a certain worry started to keep me up at night. I sensed that her risk of sexual abuse was increasing with her age, and I needed to teach her more about her body in order to keep her safe. Here’s what I know now that I didn’t see then: My motivation to start the birds-and-bees talks was fear.

But after living in the Netherlands with my family and learning how the Dutch approach to sex education in homes and schools produces some of the world’s best sexual health outcomes and highest levels of gender equality, I discovered the problem with fear as motivation: When children learn that certain body parts are dangerous and invite trouble, they learn sexual shame. And shame, in turn, is the mechanism that perpetrators of sexual violence rely upon to keep victims silent.

According to the Dutch approach (and many American sexuality educators), risks and warnings should not dominate our body conversations with kids. Instead, teaching body positivity — the joy, fun and privilege of living physical human lives — helps keep shame, secrecy and silence at bay.

“Tell your children sexuality is something beautiful and should be enjoyed but only if both people want it in the same way,” says Sanderijn van der Doef, a Dutch psychologist and the author of a series of children’s books on bodies and sexuality popular in the Netherlands. “For young children, you should be clear that sexual intercourse and sexual relations are especially for adults.”

Teaching body positivity means letting babies and toddlers freely explore their own bodies. It means avoiding grossed-out faces and language (try calling a diaper “full” instead of “dirty”) in teaching hygiene. It means talking about reproductive body parts cheerfully, with correct language and affirming tones. And it means helping children discover what they like and don’t like: Is tickling on the arms O.K., but not the feet? At bedtime, does this sleepy preschooler like her back rubbed, scratched or traced over? Does the toddler want to be picked up by Grandpa, but not Auntie? We can help children to recognize the gut feelings that reveal our individual boundaries.

Don’t treat body parts as shameful

Shame about body parts, Ms. Van der Doef says, comes from a child’s environment: they learn from their caregivers when to be squeamish and embarrassed. By normalizing all body parts and speaking of them regularly and straightforwardly with correct language, we send the message that every part of a person’s body is healthy, wholesome and worthy.

As I learned from the Dutch example, normalization goes beyond talk: day-to-day nonsexual nudity — in homes, picture books, mixed-gender school bathrooms, kids’ television programs, and public changing areas and wading pools — reinforces the tenet that bodies are nothing to be ashamed of and nothing we can’t discuss (in words any caregiver, teacher or health provider will recognize) if need be.

As we respond to kids’ natural, healthy curiosity about the human form, we can instill in them the idea that all people are born with wonderful bodies capable of feeling pleasure and pain.

Teach the importance of consent

It can be daunting to explain the emotional and relational aspects of human sexuality. Yet this is our richest opportunity to instill empathy, consent, inclusiveness and egalitarianism.

Preschool is the age to teach children the hallmarks of a healthy, trusting friendship. Children at this age can be made aware of the gender-role stereotypes they’ve absorbed (for example, girls like pink and boys have short hair). A simple role-play with stuffed animals in which a “girl” teddy bear wants to play football and a “boy” animal wants to wear a dress can teach it’s hurtful to limit one anther’s opportunities.

Preschoolers and even toddlers can learn rules for playing contact games with friends such as tickling, chase and “doctor”: everyone must agree happily to the game; no hurting allowed; anyone can say “no” or change their mind. As adults, we can model the importance of consent when children want to climb on us by reminding them to ask first. We can model respect for the importance of consent, too, when a child is reluctant to give a high-five, hug or kiss — especially to an adult, and this does include Grandma — by suggesting a contact-free alternative like a verbal greeting or a wave.

Elsbeth Reitzema, a sex education consultant and curriculum author for the sexual health institute Rutgers in the Netherlands, says it’s impossible to warn children of every scenario and impossible, too, to protect them 100 percent of the time. Specific scenarios such as the lap-patting relative or lollipop-offering stranger can be good to mention, but it’s most important to instill an understanding of consent. This goes for friends, relatives, teachers and even physicians. When children expect to ask, give and deny consent at their own discretion, sexual transgressions stick out as clear violations.

Teaching consent has a protective effect against child sexual abuse by showing children that they can trust their instincts: When a grown-up or anyone else touches them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, they don’t have to cooperate. They have the right to say no.

Even a young child, Ms. Reitzema says, can tell the difference between a safe secret like a sister’s birthday surprise and an unsafe one that must be told to a trusted adult: Bad secrets don’t feel fun or happy.

Adults who promptly respond to a child’s report of abuse by believing, guarding and reassuring them they did nothing wrong help protect young victims from long-term trauma. One of the most supportive messages parents can give to kids, at any age, is: “If anyone touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you can always tell me. I’m here to help.”

If you have concerns about possible sexual abuse, resources include the National Child Abuse Hotline, 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453); the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-HOPE (800-656-4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Kavanaugh allegations show why we need to change how we teach kids about sex

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By Sarah Hosseini

When I was 13 years old, I met a guy at the gas station right outside my suburban neighborhood in Upstate New York. Other neighborhood kids and I would go there to buy sodas and smoke cigarettes behind our parents’ backs. He was a friend of a boy I went to school with. He flirted with me and said I looked “so mature.” He was 20 years old.

He started regularly showing up at my house after school while my mom was at work. I don’t remember ever inviting him there. I told him my mom didn’t allow boys in our house. “But I miss you. It will just be for a few minutes,” he pleaded.

I shared a red metal bunk bed with my sister. We had matching comforters and stuffed animals neatly placed next to our pillows. He crouched under the low beams and jerkily groped me up and down, including beneath my underwear and training bra. I implored him to stop and pushed his hand away, but he whined, “A few more minutes.” He wouldn’t take no for an answer. And so, these encounters continued for weeks. I never told anyone until typing it for this article.

There were more violations of my body, with different boys and men, in varying situations. One was when I was as young as 7, and they continued all the way up through adulthood. Some were more terrifying than others.

While watching and listening to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, my own sexual attacks played in my head. The harrowing details she recounted are familiar to many women: nonconsensual groping, mouth-covering, the fear of rape, the fear of death and the laughing. The indelible memory of laughter.

This is the sexual landscape faced by girls and women in our country, but it doesn’t have to be. We have unprecedented access to information about sex thanks to the Internet, yet sex is still a taboo topic, especially with children. As a mom of two daughters, ages 7 and 8, I used to cringe thinking about sex talks with them. Now, I can’t think of anything worse than not starting the conversation.

“Parents sometimes think they’re ‘protecting kids’ innocence’ by avoiding sexual topics and questions when they come up. Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t mean kids don’t get sexual information; it means they get it from less reliable sources like peers and unhealthy sources like pornography,” Connecticut-based marriage and family therapist Jill Whitney says in an email. Whitney also writes for the website Keep the Talk Going, which provides “talk starters” and tips for parents.

One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). One in five women in college experience sexual assault, as reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“When young people are taught by omission that prowess on the sports field is more valuable than negotiating a mutually fulfilling sexual relationship, we realize we have our priorities wrong and women bear the brunt of such disorienting tactics,” New York City-based therapist Cyndi Darnell says in an email.

Many experts have ideas on how to combat sexual violence, but one particularly compelling option is the call for more comprehensive sexual education. A 2014 study from Georgetown University shows that starting sex education in primary school reduces unintended pregnancies, maternal deaths, unsafe abortions and STDs. Several psychologists, clinicians and educators also believe early sex ed could perhaps help reduce sexual assaults and rapes.

So where do we start?

Fundamentally, we must believe access to sexual health information is a basic human right, as outlined by the World Health Organization. We must also believe that sexual health extends beyond reproduction and disease. It needs to encompass the physical, emotional and social construction of sexuality. And it has to start when kids are young.

“The power and majesty of human sexuality must be respected and taught with the same reverence we use to teach children about how electricity works. It can be used to power our homes or destroy lives, it’s the user that determines its outcome,” Darnell writes. She believes that in our culture, the burden is unfairly placed on the individual to know better, rather than on society to support, care and educate.

“This is a systemic problem that must be changed,” she adds.

The current standards for sexual education in America leave much to be desired. Only 24 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and the curriculums are highly variable. Many programs are abstinence-only and omit crucial information about contraception, sexual orientation and consent. They don’t even touch the topic of pleasure.

“Unfortunately, sex education is largely approached in a fear-based, sex-negative way in U.S. schools, and the curricula are rarely honest with children about the reasons people have sex,” says Brianna Rader in an email. She’s a sex educator and founder of the sex and relationships advice app Juicebox. “We teach young girls that they are more responsible for sexual mistakes and that men are going to one day give them their sexual pleasure instead of empowering them to claim it for themselves. We don’t even discuss the clitoris,” she writes.

The United States has a long way to go toward establishing an all-encompassing model. In the meantime, there are great private sector and nonprofit resources to help parents fill in the gaps. Scarleteen is a website providing inclusive sex information for parents and teens, including message boards where users can anonymously ask questions and seek advice. The site is also highly dedicated to gender identity and sexual orientation topics. Our Whole Lives, or OWL, is a sex education program founded by the Unitarian Universalist Association, which operates under the belief that informed youth and adults make better and healthier decisions about sex. Their curriculums and workshops start in kindergarten and continue to adulthood.

Preparation is great, but what if you get caught off guard by a curious little one?

“When little kids ask about something sexual, they’re just trying to learn about the world. They’re curious about how bodies work, just as they’re curious about everything. We adults may freak out — omg! this is about sex! — but for young kids, it’s just a matter of fact,” Whitney writes.

She suggests answering their questions with simple but honest facts. Which is really the basis of all sex talks, no matter the age.

I can’t say for certain whether more comprehensive and honest sex education would’ve prevented what happened to me. But I can say that I wish I had been empowered with self-knowledge, because it would’ve given me what I didn’t have in those moments: assertiveness, alternatives and options. I deserved more, and our kids do, too.

Complete Article HERE!

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6 sex-positive YouTube channels you need to follow

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By Emma Elizabeth

These YouTubers are giving the progressive, inclusive and sex-positive sex ed we never got in school. A huge chunk of (majority straight!) women today are not having orgasms- partly because they never learned how to masturbateor that they should. Having these awesome, sex-positive resources available to young people is revolutionary. Of course we’re here for it.

Without further ado… 

1. Hannah Witton 

Sex, masturbation, sex work, contraception- when it comes to the human body, there’s little that Hannah Witton won’t discuss. Hannah works to educate her viewers about sex, relationships, and feminism. 

2. Melanie Murphy 

Melanie is your Irish Internet big sister. She’s been making quirky and awesome videos on YouTube since 2013, sharing her thoughts on body positivity, sexuality, mental health, and much more.

3. Chelsea Nichole 

Chelsea is a breath of sex-positive fresh air. Sex toys, STIs, oral sex, masturbation, period sex…homegirl covers all the bases in a way that is both matter-of-fact and judgment-free. 

4. Grace Victory 

Grace is a writer/speaker/YouTuber who discusses everything to do with sex, body-positivity, mental health and self-love in her videos. This queen started her channel because she wanted to see more people like her represented in the media- and she really wanted to make these subjects less taboo.

5. Stevie Boebi 

Stevie Boebi is a modern-day gift to us looking for progressive/sex-positive/inclusive sex ed. Stevie makes epic (and hilarious) queer, educational, and sex-positive videos about sex, dating, and relationships.

6. Rose Ellen Dix 

Married and hilarious Youtubers Rose Ellen Dix and Rosie Spaughton have captured the hearts of hundreds of thousands, and are quite literally #CoupleGoals. Rose and Rosie’s natural way of talking comfortably about sex in their relationship really shows their audience what it’s like to have a healthy sexual relationship with open and honest communication. Swoon.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Puberty Book Embraced by Preteens, Parents, and Sex Educators Alike

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Since its publication 20 years ago, The Care and Keeping of You has taught young girls about their bodies in a uniquely forthright and approachable way.

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I first learned about periods from a cartoon. Just before I started middle school, my mom handed me a large white book with three cartoon girls on the cover, each wrapped in a towel, dripping wet, as though fresh out of the shower. The book, which was published by American Girl, was called The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls. On the opening spread was a letter to readers: “The more you know about your body, the less confusing and embarrassing growing up will seem—and the easier it will be to talk about.”

The head-to-toe guide started by explaining that “everybody” goes through puberty, and then broke down into sections on everything from regular body hygiene to getting your period for the first time. Each page featured smiling cartoon girls of all races and sizes demonstrating everything from how to shave your legs to how to shop for a first bra. As my mom and I read the book together, I remember feeling a little less afraid of what my body would become. But after we finished reading about the difference between training and underwire bras, my mom closed the book. “We’ll read more when you’re older,” she said.

I couldn’t wait. I snuck the book off of her dresser that night, and, crouched next to the night-light in my room, I read about periods and vaginas, and the hormones that would change my body from “little girl to grown-up woman.” I came back to the book many times in the coming years, including when I eventually got my own period two years later.

I wasn’t the only one who found solace in The Care and Keeping of You. The book, which turns 20 years old in September, has sold more than 5.1 million copies since its initial release. And as recently as 2016, it was still spending time on the New York Times best-seller list. It has been embraced by preteens, parents, and sex educators alike for its approachable tone and gentle introduction to big bodily changes.

“In terms of just a good, basic, ‘This is your body and this is how it works, and this is what’s going to happen to it,’ this book is one of the best there is,” says Heather Alberda, a sexuality educator with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health in Michigan.

The book was an immediate best seller, and Barbara Stretchberry, the executive editor at American Girl, who has been with the company for 20 years, remembers letters pouring in from tweens offering thanks for the book. In 2013, the company updated the book, featuring even more diverse illustrations, and released a second book, The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls, which delved more into emotional changes felt during puberty and is meant for readers ages 10 and up. (The original and its updated counterpart are meant for ages 8 and up). American Girl has also released several other advice books on topics ranging from understanding feelings to friendship troubles, and last year it came out with a puberty guide for boys called Guy Stuff:The Body Book for Boys.

But all of the books are meant to be approachable to young readers, which is why the company says there’s no mention of sex. The intended audience, the authors say, is readers “on the front end of puberty.” The majority of girls begin to go through puberty between the ages of 9 and 13. But many medical experts agree that today’s kids are going through puberty at younger ages than before. A study published in the medical journal Pediatrics in 2010 found that about 23 percent of African American girls, 15 percent of Latina girls, and 10 percent of Caucasian girls had marked breast development at age 7.

Early-onset puberty is what inspired American Girl to publish the book in the first place. The company was—and still is—largely known for its expensive dolls and accompanying books featuring young girl characters living in different eras of American history. It has also published a bimonthly magazine for preteens since 1993. After the magazine debuted, the company quickly amassed a giant folder of handwritten letters from young readers inquiring about their changing bodies. Some letter writers asked whether they were pretty. Others wondered why they hadn’t grown breasts yet, or whether they needed to lose weight. Then in 1997, American Girl’s founder, Pleasant Rowland, read a New York Times article about early-onset puberty and sensed an opportunity.

“These are very difficult things for girls to talk about,” says Valorie Lee Schaefer, the book’s author, who had previously been a copywriter for the American Girl Doll catalog. “We were thinking, ‘We can normalize this conversation. We can give girls words to use, we can tell them some of the things they’re thinking about are absolutely normal, all the things that make young girls feel like, I’m a freak.’”

The company held focus groups, and found that tween girls were curious not only about their periods, but also about when they should start wearing a bra and how they should deal with pimples that popped up out of nowhere overnight. Schaefer says the company took this feedback, as well as the letters, and used it to develop the book’s structure, targeting it explicitly toward younger girls about to experience puberty, not preteens already in its throes. It begins with friendly tips on hair care, and then slowly progresses to more advanced physical and emotional changes and other challenges encountered by this age group, including how to identify the onset of eating disorders. “A girl of 7 doesn’t wonder about the same things a girl of 12 or 14 does,” Schaefer says. “So just meeting a girl right at that place—7, 8, 9—was what we tried to do.”

The company consulted a pediatrician to make sure the information was medically accurate, and Schaefer wrote the text in a deliberate, reassuring tone, one she called the “trusted, cool aunt.” “It wasn’t your mom or dad’s older sister,” Schaefer says. “It was probably their younger sister, someone with a few years under her belt, but also someone who wasn’t so out of touch with her adolescence that she couldn’t remember what a confusing time that was.”

That cool-aunt tone was also reassuring to parents. Many parents I spoke with for this article said they chose to give the book to their daughters because they recognized the American Girl name and thought the book was age appropriate. Lisa Goldschmidt, an attorney who has two daughters and lives in Wayne, Pennsylvania, remembers standing overwhelmed in front of an adolescent-health section at a bookstore, looking for a good resource for her then-9-year-old daughter. Some books, she says, were written for parents and were too clinical. Others didn’t seem detailed enough. But The Care and Keeping of You “struck the right note between chatty and serious in an approachable way.” She gave it to her elder daughter, who immediately handed it back to her. She had already read the book and giggled over the illustrations with friends at a sleepover.

Every woman I spoke with who grew up reading the book remembers something a bit different. Jensen McRae, a 20-year-old student at the University of Southern California, first read the book as a 10-year-old and, along with her friends, often flipped back to the breast-development page, which shows five illustrations of a topless girl standing in front of a sink. In the first, the girl is flat-chested, and in the last, she has round, developed breasts. When she learned about puberty at school, McRae remembers her teacher spinning a metaphor about how some students would have “grapes” and others would have “watermelons.” “So the book was definitely more informative than that,” she says.

Danielle Weisberg, a 27-year-old comedy writer living in Los Angeles, remembers the book’s lesson on shaving to this day. “There’s this part that says you don’t have to shave your thighs because that’s ‘an awful lot of leg to shave,’” she says. “And I think about that almost every single time I’m about to shave my legs above the knee.”

The illustrations, clever captions, and factual information are why Alberda, the sex educator in Michigan, continues to recommend the updated versions of the book to parents. Michigan mandates HIV education for school-age students, but lets individual school districts decide how to handle sex education, including lessons on puberty. Across the country, only 24 states mandate sex education, and even in those states it’s likely that many students learn about puberty outside of the classroom.

“When parents think about giving ‘the talk,’ their immediate thoughts often go to genitals and what we do with them,” Alberda says. “And I think The Care and Keeping of You is a great book to get away from the whole sex piece, and focus on what’s going to happen to your body, physically, mentally, and emotionally in regards to puberty in those early stages.”

Still, there were aspects of the book that some found to be inappropriate for its young audience, such as the two-page spread on how to insert a tampon, which broke it down into four steps, and included an anatomical diagram of the vagina. The company received feedback from many parents who felt the diagram was too advanced—if not graphic—for their young daughters. “That section, that spread of the book, is the one that gave everyone the most sleepless nights,” Schaefer, the original author, says. “When I think back on it now, I wonder, why were we so stressed about it? But it was a place many books for girls that age hadn’t gone before.”

Even though in 2013 the company made the decision to split the books by age, they overlap quite a bit, though the “older girl” book goes into more depth about eating disorders and the emotional changes of puberty. (It also features a more descriptive diagram of the female anatomy, including a labeled clitoris, something nearly every sex educator I spoke with noted was missing from the original.) But there’s another noticeable omission in the updated younger-girl book—the tampon spread.

“The tampon information was so critical, but I’m a believer in meeting kids where they are and giving them information they’re ready to take,” says Cara Natterson, a pediatrician and the author of the “older girl” version of the book. “Because when girls start their periods, the vast majority of them use pads, and there was really no pad information in the original book. So it wasn’t to keep the tampon information from the youngest kids. It was just to pace them and give them information for the stage they were at.”

But some sex educators say the books suffer from a pretty big blind spot. Perryn Reis is the associate director of Health Connected, a sex-ed nonprofit based in Northern California. Reis has encountered the book in some of the classrooms she’s visited, and appreciates some things about it. But, she says, the book is heteronormative. At one point, it says readers “may begin to notice boys in a whole new way.” It also frequently refers to changes that will happen to “girls,” a generalization Reis avoids when in the classroom so as to better include transgender students. “The language we use in the classroom is ‘a person born with a female’s body,’” she says. “We go into the difference between biological sex, sexual orientation, and gender in fifth grade. It’s really hard because puberty is about the physical changes of getting a period and growing breasts, but there is a lot of variation and variability in our world, and we want to be inclusive of that, and also careful with our language.”

The Care and Keeping of You was a formative book for many Millennial women who were in the target audience when it was first published, and for younger generations of girls, but it is just one of many such at-home guides to sex and puberty that kids have learned from over the years. The creators of the seminal Our Bodies, Ourselves, published in 1970 and known for teaching women about their anatomy and sexuality, published a teen version of the book in 1998, the same year as the first edition of The Care and Keeping of You. It went in-depth into topics related to puberty, including eating disorders, teen pregnancy, STDs, and relationship violence. Fictional books for teens have also provided some practical lessons over the years — Judy Blume’s classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., a coming-of-age novel published in 1970, tackles puberty, crushes, buying a bra, and, yes, periods.

Then there are books like It’s Perfectly Normal, which has been frequently banned from school libraries since its release in 1994. Written by Robie Harris, the book is intended for children 10 and up, and covers puberty, pregnancy, STDs, and sexual orientation, while also featuring full-color pictures of naked people. In 1999, Harris published It’s So Amazing, a book for younger children about pregnancy and childbirth. “Those have been controversial, but have some great, accurate information,” Reis says.

Many sex educators I spoke to also recommended Sex Is a Funny Word, a comic book for kids ages 8 to 10 released in 2015 that has reached acclaim for being trans-inclusive, and for using diverse representation across race, ability, gender, and sexuality.

Even with all of these options, Alberda, the Michigan-based sex educator, says The Care and Keeping of You still stands out for the way it focuses on questions tween girls have about their bodies. She believes it helped pave the way for books like The Girls’ Guide to Sex Education, a question-and-answer book published earlier this year, and Puberty Girl, another illustration-heavy guide to growing up. Alberda also recommends HelloFlo: The Guide, Period., an illustrated guide to puberty that talks about periods, and also gives historical context for society’s changing attitudes about ideal breast size and pubic-hair grooming.

Of course, all of these books exist in a world where kids can easily find similar information on Google. But Natterson, the author of The Care and Keeping of You 2, still feels there’s a place for books that are introduced at just the right time. And she’d love to publish a book about sex under American Girl’s brand name. She just doesn’t see that happening yet. “I tell everyone I would love to write that book with American Girl, but that’s not what these books were meant to do,” she says. “It’s funny how this one book is sort of a safe reminder of what it was like to go through puberty. There’s something really comfortable about that.”

Complete Article HERE!

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