Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Sex Word

Tonight at a church fundraiser the subject of teens and sex came up over dinner.

First you have to know, I'm a Unitarian Universalist. UUs (as we sometimes call ourselves)  are part of a community with shared principles about democracy, respect and the inter-connected web of life where people who hold many different faiths (Christians, Buddists, Jews, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, etc.) come together.

One of the things our church is kind of famous for is our Our Whole Lives program, which is a comprehensive sexual and relationship education course that our congregation created with the United Church of Christ. We offer a "how babies are made and taking care of my body" version for first graders, a "puberty" version for upper elementary and a year-long version that is quite comprehensive for eighth graders and later high schoolers. Classes are even offered for adults focused on relationships and sexuality as we age.

With all this focus on education, it was an interesting conversation to say the least. One person at my table was concerned with the idea that some parents let their kids start birth control "just in case". She felt this would practically guarantee that they would start having sex. "It's like writing them a blank check," she said.

But I couldn't help but offer up my point of view. That we are all born sexual beings and that only consistent, strong and positive healthy dialogue where teens feel safe will make any difference. The authentic teen experience often includes sex. But nobody wants to talk to teens about birth control, the importance of being in an emotionally safe relationship before jumping in, ensuring the selection of a safe physical location or even, sometimes, how to decide what kinds of birth control to use and figure out how to make them work.

Since there was no internet, or at least none I could access, when I was a teen I turned to Judy Blume for guidance. I combed the book Forever for advice and information. I suspect today's teens are turning to YA literature to help them figure all of this out, too.

At conferences I've been to over the last few years I've heard many different attitudes among editors and agents about the topic of sex in YA literature. But John Green knows it is part of the genuine teen experience and includes it in Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines and The Fault in Our Stars. It's not what his stories are about, he's not trying to preach to anyone or teach any lessons. He just recognizes it's a universal truth in a universal experience and I assume he knows he can't be real in any sense that teens connect with if he skates over it, excludes it or pretends it's not really happening.

I wonder what would happen if all grown-ups started thinking this way. Would millions of teens find themselves in situations where they could actually finding living people willing to help them understand this important topic? I wonder how many teens would find this a welcome and refreshing turn of events...