In the morning, I finished reading Nikol Hasler’s Sex: A Book for Teens: An Uncensored Guide to Your Body, Sex, and Safety. In the afternoon, NPR aired a segment on teen pregnancy; among the findings of the featured study were the points that an increasing number of teens feel that pregnancy outside of marriage is acceptable and even desirable, and that an increasing number of teen girls are using the rhythm method for birth control. Few parenting issues are thornier than the omnipresent specter of adolescent lust. Regardless of religious, moral, or social beliefs, most of us (despite the promises made by our teenage selves to be much cooler about sex when we became parents) experience squirming discomfort, shades of anxiety, or outright hostility at the notion of teen sexuality. Despite the polarizing effects of campaign ads and protests outside Planned Parenthood clinics, I suspect there is a common ground between those of us who provide our teens with condoms and instructions and those of us who teach our children that sex is reserved strictly for marriage. We all want our kids to be healthy, safe, happy, and fulfilled. And we all hold the memories of the rampant confusion of our own adolescence. We see the dark forest our children must cross, and we’re all a little scared.
Admittedly, I lean toward the liberal end of the parenting spectrum. In that vein, I wish, I wish, I wish that my parents had been possessed of a book such as Hasler’s. Being handed Sex: A Book for Teens would have been far less confusing than my mother’s awkward mumblings about flowers and eggs, and would have involved less pre-Google research through Judy Blume’s books and Harlequin romances. I don’t want my kids to have sex as teens; heck, I don’t want to think of them having sex before 30! However, I realize that regardless of my wishes, the odds and hormones favor experimentation on their parts. I’d rather they journey into the forest armed with the facts.
Sex is matter-of-fact, smart, funny, occasionally smart-ass, incredibly informative, and, as the subtitle warns, uncensored. Hasler doesn’t hold back. Her chapters cover everything from the expected topics such as the body, birth control, dating and STDs to the more controversial issues such as sexual identity, masturbation, kinks, fantasies, and fetishes. Very little seems to be out of bounds, and Hasler presents her information with a breezy, practical objectivity that should appeal to teens with its absence of adult judgement. While the first chapter, “Your Body: How It Works and How to Treat It,” may strike some kids as overly reminiscent of health class, Hasler spices up the anatomy lessons with some very non-boring side bars on subjects such as “The Biology of Boners” and “What’s In a Name” – a rundown of slang terms for genitalia. Lest parents be turned off by the apparent frivolity, these sections exist in order to draw kids through the essential information that they may have tuned out during the aforementioned health class – information critical to the maintenance of proper reproductive health.
Each chapter closes with “real life” questions and answers, and with one mildly snarky “There Are No Stupid Questions – Except for This One.” Cartoons that range from silly to explicit also dot the pages. I’m not certain about the appeal of the cartoons to teens; part of me wonders if older teens might view the drawings as too juvenile. However, the cover silhouette of humping bovines is just funny regardless of age.
While Sex addresses the issue of readiness for the title activity, it is decidedly not an abstinence-based manual. The book operates on the assumption that most people at some point will engage in some form of sexual activity, and in many places that assumption plays out as a “how to” and “how not to” guide. I may be woefully naïve, but it does appear that Hasler, the host of the online Midwest Teen Sex Show, covers just about every type of sex possible between two humans, and she does so with a forthright approach that is refreshing in this neo-Victorian era of mixed prudery and prurience.
Sex: A Book for Teens is indeed a book for teens, though parents could pick up a few tips, too! However, the book is likely to instigate some soul-searching on the part of a parent. How far are our kids likely to go? What do we want them to know? Will they view our acceptance of the book as an endorsement of pre-marital sex? For my part, my plan is to keep talking openly with my kids, and when my oldest hits puberty (sometime in the next five minutes) to start leaving Sex lying around her room. Because, really, at some point, she will need some pointers, and there are some that I’d rather not be the one to give. I think I’ll let Nikol Hasler do it for me. With her research and wit, she seems to have it covered.