>Let me say this upfront: when I found this spring that my friend Logan Levkoff was writing a book about how to talk to your kids about sex, I nearly burst with anticipation. Logan is like the super cool older sister that everyone wishes that they had in their life. She grew up in Long Island (not far from Husband, actually), became a sex columnist in college (although unlike me, she was successful), and went to NYU's prestigious PhD program in human sexuality. Thus when the chance to offer CUSS as a site for Logan's virtual book tour arose, I nearly fell over myself. Her book, Third Base Ain't What It Used to Be, not only tackles the really tough questions and topics about sex and sexuality, but it also totally cracked me up when Logan described her own experiences with puberty and sex. (This woman so needs to write a memoir next.) Here, Logan tolerates a few of my lame-ass questions:
Suzanne: The book is sort of ironic because your main point is extremely "conservative" - the best place for kids to learn about sex is from their parents. How does this idea work with the need for comprehensive sex ed in schools?
Logan: Technically, there is no reason why parents can't be the best sexuality educators (if they step up to the plate and start being realistic about the importance of sexuality and the contradictory sex messages in our culture). I suppose what makes this the antithesis of "conservative" is that by no means do parents have to be the only educators. I am a staunch advocate of comprehensive sexuality education and think that it can be a tremendous supplement to at-home education. Of course, if parents aren't doing any sex-ed at home, what a child gets at school becomes their only education. While I believe that parents should give both values and facts - often times parents just give the value-part - comprehensive sex ed can give the factual element. Hopefully, after reading this book, there will be so much high quality sex ed going on that our children are in the best shape possible.
S: You say that parents need to be honest about controversial topics like abortion and masturbation, but also stick to their values. How can parents whose values conflict with the facts find a way to properly convey information to their kids?
L: I believe that its okay for parents to teach their kids about their values, but that doesn't mean a child will share those same beliefs. And though values are important, I do stress in the book that parents MUST give facts, too. For example, a parent can say that he/she doesn't believe in masturbation (though that to me is always counterintuitive - it is a safer, very healthy sexual activity), but he/she cannot tell their child that bad things will happen to the body if they do.
S: In your experience working with young adults, how do gender roles influence how teenagers use their sexuality?
L: My goodness...where to begin? Gender roles (or more importantly, what is expected from a particular gender) has a tremendous impact on how teen behave sexuality. Sadly, the double standard still exists (though I spend all my life trying to change that) and both boys and girls suffer. Girls are taught that they can't own their sexuality and their innate desires (for fear that they will be branded a "slut") and boys are convinced that there is something wrong with them if they are not sex-crazed players devoid of emotional attachment. The fact is, sexuality is important to both genders. In many cases, when teens buy into this, they use drugs or alcohol to justify the feelings that they have - or don't demand protection because they fear that speaking up isn't something they are "supposed" to do. Also, girls are still "servicing" boys orally - this on its own isn't a problem - but the fact that there is very little reciprocation and a disgust of their own bodies is! We need to stress that expressing sexuality is different for every individual - there is no blanket expression that works for an entire gender; we do a disservice to our children and teens when we don't give them that information.
S: On page 49, you wrote, "Most children are desperate to 'avoid' puberty..." Have truer words ever been written? (Sorry I know that is really not a question, but as someone still trying to recover from puberty, the line particularly resonated with me.)
L: I too remember the angst of being an early developer - which also meant that I "stopped" developing earlier than everyone else too. Many of my students are consumed by the anxiety surrounding puberty - even though it's the most natural thing. Parents can ease this by talking about their own experiences (both fathers and mothers should be talking - not just one gender with the same gender child) and explaining that though this is a confusing time, it's pretty amazing what the body can do.
S: What is the most important message you want to give parents (and other concerned adults, like aunts, godparents, educators, and "role models") about helping kids develop into healthy, sexually responsible individuals?
L: Stress to your kids that sexuality is an important, pleasurable part of their lives - it is not separate from their overall health; it is a part of it. Kids who know this (and feel empowered to ask questions, challenge media messaging, and respect all people regardless of their gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation) won't act irresponsibily. They will make deliberate, educated decisions about how they choose to express their sexuality and when they choose to become sexually active.
Last, our culture currently makes sex and sexuality something dirty, gratuitous and exploitative. If we teach our children to challenge this (and encourage them to do so), we may start seeing more healthy and positive representations of sexuality and gender!
S: As an aside, I also want to say that the reason I thought this book worked so well is that you bring in your personal and professional experience, making an uncomfortable topic into something that I related to and even laughed along with. It's very accessible. Anyone who has kids or who, like me, is not a parent but a committed godparent and future aunt, really should read this book. It's just great.
Logan's book, "Third Base Ain't What It Used to Be" is on sale now.