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The Answer Blog

Sex Education Resources

The “N” Word

July 24, 2008

Most people around the world—a lot of children, too, no doubt—know by now what the Rev. Jesse Jackson recently said about what he wanted to do to two important, private body parts that belong to Senator Barack Obama.

The Times ran a recent column on the reasons why the paper did not use Jackson’s “n” word (for “nuts”) when first reporting the story. I was concerned with the column’s quote from a Washington state reader, who said that the paper is edited by “prudish kindergarten teachers.”

I beg to differ; most early childhood teachers are not prudish. The kindergarten and early childhood teachers I have trained are very familiar with young children’s body parts, particularly those that have to do with “peeing” and “pooping.” Many have to answer such questions as: Did her penis fall off? Will mine? What hole does poop come out of?

Not only are these teachers not prudish about body parts, many are comfortable talking about birth and babies. Kids in the early grades want to know: How did I get out of Mommy’s tummy? How do Mommy and Daddy make a baby?

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‘No’ Means ‘No’

July 16, 2008

I sat by a pool recently, watching a father frolic in the water with his two children, a boy around five and a girl around seven years old. The father, smiling broadly, would pick up each child in turn, raise him or her high in the air above his head and then let go, letting the child hit the surface, making a big splash.

For a while, both children squealed with glee, until the little girl landed, seemingly painfully, in the water. When her father reached out again, to repeat the activity, she called out, “No, please no!” But her father, still smiling, pulled her out of the water anyway, while her screams got even louder.

“No, no, no! Please, Daddy!” she called.

He whirled her over his head.

As her body hit the water, I heard her mother and several women nearby call out in alarm: “No means no!” He smiled back and said, “Oh, but she really wanted it.”

These are often the words that young women (and men) recount when reporting date rape or other sexual assault. Teen girls who’ve been assaulted often say, “But I said ‘no,’” and the teen or adult men who’ve assaulted them often retort, “But she really wanted it.”

The poolside tableau convinced me that we’d better start educating young people—particularly young men—much earlier about the true meaning of “no.” And by earlier, I mean when they are children.

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That “L” Word

July 11, 2008

If the “S” word dominated the first episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager—as 15-year-old Amy gets pregnant after one-time sex at band camp with a boy named “Tricky Ricky”—the “L” word reigns during the second one. In it, Amy and 16-year old Ben fall in love.

After Ben tells his friends that he wants to marry and have children with Amy, they warn him that he’s too young and should see other girls. But Ben is satisfied with the nonverbal girl he calls “my little Amy.”

He doesn’t care about the gossip that she had sex with “Tricky Ricky.” At the end of a call, he says wistfully, “Now we can end our phone calls the way adults do, by saying ‘I love you.’” They do.

All this talk about love wouldn’t have interested me if I hadn’t just read Maureen Dowd’s recent Times column “An Ideal Husband.” It featured a long quote about marriage from Father Pat Connor, a 79-year-old, celibate Catholic priest from Bordentown, NJ.

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No Real Help for Teens

July 8, 2008

We all agree that teens need honest, accurate information about unplanned pregnancy and its consequences in order to avoid it. Yet I doubt most will find this information in the new ABC Family miniseries The Secret Life of the American Teenager. It features high-school freshman Amy Juergens, who gets pregnant even though she isn’t sure she’s had sex.

After the first hour of the first episode, I found my head reeling as it was bombarded with many stereotypes about teen sexual behavior. For example, I learned that

  • the one and only subject on teens’ minds is sex,
  • “nice” 15-year-old girls don’t have sex—unless they have a one-night stand that might also be date rape,
  • all Christian girls and guys wait to have sex until marriage…
    …but if a Christian guy is seduced by the school “slut,” God will forgive him,
  • abortion? Don’t even go there, especially in a miniseries,
  • guys only like “nice” girls, so don’t wear suggestive clothes that show your navel,
  • if you’re a guy whose father has sexually abused you, you will seek revenge by having constant, indiscriminate sex,
  • if guys can’t have sex, they will become sterile, and
  • willpower and self-esteem are the only answers when it comes to sex

The first episode has one sensible moment. It’s when the actress playing Amy steps out of character and says to the audience: “Teen pregnancy is 100% preventable.” She is 100% correct.

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Body of War

June 27, 2008

Most of the audience at a recent screening I attended of the movie Body of War saw it as a terrible indictment of the Iraq war. I did, too, but as a sexuality educator, I also found myself riveted by several scenes that focused on the body portion of the film.

The film is about Tomas Young, a 25-year-old from Missouri who enlisted in the Army after watching President Bush swear vengeance through a bullhorn at ground zero after 9/11.

Young is permanently confined to a wheelchair after having caught a bullet the first week he was in Iraq. The bullet hit him just beneath his left collarbone, causing severe and permanent spinal cord injuries. He was instantly paralyzed from the chest down.

In the first part of the film, Tomas is getting married to Brie and all seems to be going well. But then the film focuses on the unexpected: a very detailed description of the effects of Tomas’s injury on his penis, and how it damages his ability to have erections and sex with the woman he has just married.

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