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.