Let’s not talk about it–or even worse, read about it!

A few years ago, I wrote a blog about biologist Frances Hammerstrom (1907-1998). One thing that struck me when I read her biography was that when she and her husband arrived in Wisconsin to study prairie chickens, the local people shyly asked how they could be married and only have a couple of kids. Many Midwesterners of 100 years ago had no idea birth control was possible. Thanks to the Comstock Act, even talking about birth control, much less using it, had been illegal until 1915.

Birth control and sexuality taught in schools didn’t begin until the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. It became part  educating about sexually transmitted infections. Before that time people maybe read pamphlets or possibly a comic book in which sex or disease was discussed.  Confusion reigned. A roommate of mine told me that all her parents mentioned to her about sex was that her mom gave her a douche bag and told her she was going to need it after she was married. I recall being confused when someone gave me the finger and said it was what happens before babies are born. I thought a doctor had to somehow open a woman to release the infant. And let’s not forget the numerous tales, told by men, of those who got blue balls and were made gay because women who were lesbians wouldn’t have sex with them. Sexual coercion wasn’t discussed back then in case you were wondering.

It goes without saying until the 80s a lot of people were in the dark about sex and birth control. I went to school in the 70s and we all had stories about relatives or friends from high school or people we knew who were pregnant and didn’t even know it. One particular case involved someone who went to the hospital with pains nine months after prom and gave birth to a baby. Fortunately for her she thought it was somewhat humorous that her parents never told her anything about sex and she ended up with this surprise kid. 

Possibly people are familiar with the book or movie Carrie in which the main character gets her period and thinks that she is dying of this horrible disease because their parents didn’t tell her anything. Yep. There were people like that in school. It was the job of the PE teacher to tell them about feminine hygiene. Fortunately, around the mid-century point, science decided that sex was worth studying and people began talking about it as an educational compoent.

I was lucky. My mom wasn’t excited to talk to me about sex but she did give me the book Everything You Want to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask. As someone who had a stream of kids two years apart, she was more than happy to advocate learning about birth control. 

Studies of and information about sexuality exploded since the days of Hammerstrom. Sex education in schools has numerous advantages over the “self-taught” method including delaying sexual encounters, decreasing sexual risk taking, and improving academic performance. We’ve now reached the point in the US where most pregnancies are intended. We still fare worse than Canada and Europe for unintended pregnancies.

Sex is a part of life. Most people have sex. It’s satisfying at any age but those in their 20s have the most sex of any age group.  For men, teen boys are most able to have sex.

We need to ask ourselves, why is prudery suddenly rearing its ugly head politically? I’m not going to argue when people should have sex or who they need to have it with, but I do wonder why we have sudden interest in not talking about it.

In Indiana, the long established Kinsey Institute, is facing a funding cut.

Here in Iowa, we are doing everything from banning books containing sexuality to eliminating requiring health information about HIV and HPV

Here’s the thing about sex in a book: a good book will include emotional content as well as consequences. You can’t get that from a YouTube video or from peers which is probably where kids will go if information isn’t available in school. In fact, most teens have watched porn, some of which isn’t too wholesome. Just in terms of how long it takes to read a book vs watch porn, I’m going to say that a book with sexual passages is more healthy, although I have my concerns about rape as entertainment.

We can assume most parents will talk to their kids about sex. Around 20% won’t do it.  Why won’t they? Parents may carry their own traumas, embarrassment, and cultural taboos.  Some parents try but pass on unhelpful myths. Sex-ed can help start the discussion and lead to a better outcome. Those who want to “have the talk” do should start young and then add content as the child matures. Young as in age five. Here are some tips in case you need them. Good luck. Depending on your school district and the people in your town, you might be on your own.

3 thoughts on “Let’s not talk about it–or even worse, read about it!

  1. In Evangelical/Baptisty and conservative Catholic circles sex has remained a taboo subject (especially the sexuality of children) and now these folks are coming back into power and bringing their morays with them. For many of these folks even to entertain ideas about sex is in itself sinful, something most liberals seem to have a hard time grasping as we see with the debates around books and all. Jimmy Carter tried to teach us about lust in our hearts but we thought he was just being folksy…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought for Carter it was more the adultery. But it makes sense. There was once a group of students in a class (not mine) who would rebell against reading almost anything because it might make them lustful. It’s a good way to remain ignorant.If I had a story with sexual content in my college course, I’d always offer an alternative. Few people took the alternative.


      1. he was talking about sex “outside” of marriage but the broader point they take from that bit of scripture is that thinking about something is an action as much as acting out on an impulse and they do all they can to try and avoid ‘secular’ temptations including feminism and the like. The truth is education is going to make some group of people feel uncomfortable/unwelcome and it would be better if both/all sides of the culture wars could own that but so far that seems like too much to ask. Was good of you to try and be accommodating.


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