I do not remember getting The Talk when I was younger. Now, I don’t know if this is because I was sick that day, it was so traumatic that my mind simply blocked it out (which is entirely possible). But since I never received a discussion on the birds and the bees, my actual education had to come through more extra-curricular activities.
Now, way back when, porn was not as readily available as it is these days. I am old enough to remember trying to watch it on scrambled, late-night cable TV channels (‘Wait, is that a boob…or is that’s someone face?’) I also remember rushing to the mailbox after school to try and save the flyers or catalogs that would randomly arrive before my parents found them. Said flyers would advertise everything from the latest videos to toys to phone sex lines and the ever popular ‘massage parlors.’ So it was through these pilfered periodicals, and the videos I eventually borrowed from friends, that I came to learn about condoms, positions, the actual mechanics of sex, and at least some idea of how to please a partner. Porn is where I learned what I liked and what I was curious about. It also gave me damn good indicators as to how broad my sexuality truly was.
But please don’t misunderstand, I am in no way advocating for porn. I will absolutely take porn to task for a host of issues. It has real problems with how it depicts consent. It has a long history of creating unhealthy body images, it has a deep-seated issue with race and how it treats LGBTQ content. There are well-established, completely valid problems with porn.
But I also think that we can’t have a real conversation about porn without also discussing the state of sex education in this country, which is severely lacking.
I think most people who’ve had The Talk, whether it’s with their parents or a teacher at school, will tell you that it was an extremely awkward (some would even say traumatic) experience and when it was over, everyone was just glad to be done. This is because The Talk, when it happens at all, tends to be less about informing people and more about scaring them through dry biological facts about menstruation, pregnancy and STIs. The worst part about all of this is that once The Talk is done, there’s no follow-up. Most parents will look at their kids and say, ‘You had The Talk, I bought you that book, never speak to me about this again.’
If there is one thing I know, it’s that presentation is not education. Telling someone about something one time doesn’t prepare them for anything. For it is a universal truth, divinely writ, that children are curious and teenagers are horny, so all of the warnings in the world won’t stop them from seeking out the forbidden any more than it stopped us when we were coming up. And this is before we get to the problems that abstinence training presents.
Every metric known to man shows that abstinence training doesn’t work. Neither do purity rings or those creepy purity balls where teenage girls promise themselves to their fathers until they get married. In fact, all of these events only end up having the exact opposite effect of their desired intentions. For it is another universal truth, though less divinely writ, that between the islands of ‘No Answer’ and ‘A Skewed Answer,’ there lies an ocean’s worth of trouble.
Porn may be extremely problematic but leaving kids with no guidebook at all is just as bad. So if there really is no good reason why we shouldn’t be talking sex, then that begs the question of what actually talking about sex should look like.
To that end, I think I have an idea. In the film The Girl Next Door (2004), a former porn star and her boyfriend create a modern sexual education film, one that doesn’t try to scare viewers or bore them into disinterest, but also doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of sex. Now, this film within a film went on to make millions but in the eighteen years since The Girl Next Door’s release (God, I’m old) I can’t help but want to expand upon the idea.
Instead of just one film, why can’t we have a series of comprehensive, readily accessible tutorials? Miniature guidebooks, broken down by topic and expanded upon by people who actually know what they’re doing when it comes to sex (therapists, sex workers, adult film actors and actresses, etc.). Information sessions that cover pregnancy and STIs but also talk about masturbation and sex positions (which ones are actually fun and which ones are just for show). What if we had lessons which covered the range of genders and a helpline for those questioning their sexuality? What if we had a recurring segment where we rate sex toys the same way that America’s Test Kitchen tests out spatulas?
It’s a radical idea, I know, and you can call me crazy all you want, but hear me out all the same.
Because if the numbers of teenage pregnancies and STIs are any indication, it’s that our country is in desperate need of a comprehensive sex education program. One that isn’t a one-and-done but is something kids can look to if they have questions and return to again and again as they, and their sexualities, inevitably change. For when it comes to our own history, and the state of our kid’s futures, I think we can all agree that we’ve been drifting between the islands for far too long.