For more than 25 years, Peggy Orenstein has broken new ground with her intimate explorations of adolescence. In her bestselling books “Girls and Sex” and “Boys and Sex,” she dives into the lives of young people to unravel the hidden truths, hard lessons, and important realities of their lives. This is her Brief But Spectacular take on talking to kids about sex.
Judy Woodruff: For more than 25 years, Peggy Orenstein has broken new ground with her intimate explorations of adolescence.
In her bestselling books “Girls & Sex” and “Boys & Sex,” she dives into the lives of young people to unravel some of the hidden truths, hard lessons, and other realities of their lives.
Tonight, she gives her Brief But Spectacular take on talking to kids about sex.
Peggy Orenstein, Author: When I was young — and I would not have thought of this as an advantage at the time — my mom used to always tell me how great her sex life was with my dad. And my response was to plug my ears and hum and say, stop it, stop it, stop it. I don’t want to hear it.
Because, really, who wants to hear about their parents’ sex lives?
However, it did give me a sense as a young woman that sex was for me, and that sex was also about female pleasure. And, P.S.., years later, when — after I was married and about 10 years into my marriage, my mom came into the living room and looked at me and kind of nudged me a little bit and said, “It doesn’t stop after 70, you know.”
After I had a daughter, I wrote “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” which was about the pink and pretty culture of little girlhood and the ways that girls learn to view themselves from the outside in, rather than from the inside out, and how they were being groomed by that culture to overinvest in appearance and to sort of commodify their sexuality.
So it was kind of only natural after all of that to start thinking about, well, what comes next? What impact does all of that have on their sexuality? And then it was only natural after that to start thinking, oops, only had one-half of the conversation. So now I’m writing about boys and sex.
Porn was one of the things that boys most wanted to talk to me about. I mean, they talked about it endlessly.And I think the reason for that is that nobody’s talking to them about it. Pornography has become the de facto sex ed, particularly in a culture that still is dominated by abstinence-only sex education.
The issue with porn is not the sex. It’s the sexism. Sex is for men and done to women. And female pleasure is pretty much there for male satisfaction.
My main advice to parents, especially to parents of boys, is, you have to talk to your kids. One woman that I talked to said that, in order to talk to her son about sex and relationships, they had to sit on either side of a closed door.
We American parents frame our conversations about sex with young people, regardless of whether they’re boys or girls, entirely in terms of risk and danger. And the Dutch talk about balancing responsibility and joy.
You really start talking about sex with kids pretty much from birth by naming their body parts and doing so correctly, what feels nice when you touch somebody, or by talking about families, or consent is a really great thing that you can start teaching from the get-go by saying, you need to ask permission to hug somebody on the playground.
There’s a lot of ways that you talk about things that you’re scaffolding in that really aren’t even about sex. They’re just about being a person who treats others with respect and dignity.
We tend to think about sex like it’s in this silo over here and it doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of life. It’s really important that, when we go into sexual situations, that we maintain that idea that how we behave in the rest of life and the expectations that we have of ourselves and the standards that we hold are exactly the same.
My name is Peggy Orenstein, and this is my brief, but spectacular take on talking with young people about sex.
Judy Woodruff: And you can watch all of our Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.