[For Forward Thinking. See, this time I'm not writing it at the last minute so I can actually be in the blogaround thing!]
Giant-Ass Caveat: I am not a parent. The closest I’ve come to being a parent is teaching a girl scout troupe, occasional babysitting, and researching Montessori homeschooling. Actual parents should feel free to laugh at my idealism in the comments.
The prompt is “What would you tell teenagers about sex?” which I feel is already misguided. To me, sex education begins when children are very small.
Sex education begins with consent education and a fundamental respect for bodily autonomy. Obviously, for children, bodily autonomy cannot be inviolable (sorry, kid, you’re getting your vaccines no matter how much you protest) and if your child is very small then it’s difficult if not impossible to tell if they consent to be touched. But there are a lot of times in the average child’s life where they are forced to hug or talk to someone they’re scared of, or be tickled by their parents even when they’re screaming no, or otherwise have their consent violated for the amusement or convenience of their parents. How can we teach kids that no one should touch them without their consent if we touch them without their consent?
It’s also important, I think, to demystify sexual anatomy. It’s not “down there” or “your weewee,” it’s a “penis” or a “vulva.” Furthermore, while you’re explaining penises and vulvas, you can also take the opportunity to explain that some girls have penises, some boys have vulvas, and some people with penises or vulvas are neither girls nor boys.
I wouldn’t necessarily expect my children to come to me to talk about sex as they got older. Therefore, it would be important for my children to have access to adults who share my sexual values and whom they could ask questions of. (Those adults could also discreetly take my children shopping for a vibrator/dildo/Fleshlight/whatever, if my child wants one.) In return, I am happy to be the adult who answers questions for my friends’ children.
In addition, every child I have is getting a copy of What You Really, Really Want by Jaclyn Friedman around puberty, and a link to Scarleteen or whatever sex education websites are available at that time. Seriously. What You Really Really Want is fucking awesome, everyone should buy it for their teenagers and also for themselves, Jaclyn Friedman is my sex-positive feminist idol. [/plug]
If my children (or somebody else’s children) asked me about sex, this is what I would say. Not as a giant lecture though! Because dear God can you imagine getting from “what is sex?” to “condoms!” in one lecture? I imagine this would be spread out over multiple conversations, paced by the child’s interest and readiness.
For many people, touching their penis or vulva feels good. Because it feels good, sometimes people want to touch each other’s penis or vulva. There are lots of ways people can touch them. We call all the ways people can touch each others’ privates “sex.” Boys can have sex with boys, girls with girls, boys and girls with each other, and nonbinary people* with boys or girls or other nonbinary people. As long as everyone involved wants to have sex and likes each other, there is no wrong way to have sex.
One of the ways people can have sex can lead to having a baby. It’s when someone’s penis goes inside someone else’s vagina. When this happens, cells called sperm can come from the penis through the vagina and into the uterus, which is a space behind the vagina. Sperm cells combine with egg cells to form a fetus, which will grow into a baby.
When people have the kind of sex that leads to making a baby, they can use birth control medicine or put a condom over the penis to make sure they don’t have a baby. You shouldn’t have a baby unless you are ready to take care of it.
Some diseases called “STIs” are spread through having sex. Getting an STI doesn’t mean you’re dirty or bad, but you can still do things to make sure you don’t get sick. When you’re having sex, you should get tested regularly to make sure you don’t have STIs. If you use a condom or other barrier, the germs can’t spread.
You should absolutely not have sex unless you want to have sex. Remember how I said that people shouldn’t touch you unless you want them to? The same thing goes for sex. If someone is trying to get you to have sex you don’t want, tell me or another adult. Some adults are bad people who will try to get you to have sex you don’t want; if an adult is trying to get you to have sex with them, you should tell me or another adult.
Some people want to save sex until they get married or are in love; other people don’t. Some people never want to have sex at all. Whatever you do is fine, as long as it makes you and anyone you have sex with happy.
You shouldn’t have sex until you are ready to have sex. You shouldn’t have sex if you feel doubtful or about wanting sex, or if you’re uncomfortable or scared in any way, or if you’re trying to hold a relationship together or get something out of sex besides sex. You shouldn’t have sex if you’re not able to talk to your partner about what you like or don’t like. A lot of times people feel big emotions after sex– anything from disappointment to suddenly falling in love with their partner– and you should be prepared for those feelings when you have sex. If you feel like you want to have sex, you can talk to me or [Trusted Adult X] about birth control and STI prevention.
*They’re my kids, they’re going to know what a nonbinary is.