My three-year-old knows there are certain words that are inappropriate for him to use, words like "stupid" and "idiot." Whenever he hears them, he is proud to proclaim, "That is not a nice word." The other day, however, he overheard a conversation about the sex of a baby and promptly informed the speaker that "sex" wasn't a nice word. Since we have certainly never discussed "sex" with him, we had to wonder where a three-year-old, without older siblings or playmates, picks up an idea like that! What should we, as parents, do about it? We wouldn't want our child to grow up thinking that sex was inherently bad, but isn't age three a little young for the birds and the bees? Deborah Roffman, a certified sexuality and family life educator, addresses this and countless other issues of pressing concern to parents who want to raise sexually healthy children.
The book is built upon a set of six basic beliefs:
- Sexual knowledge is good for our children.
- Too little sexual knowledge too late should be our concern, not too much too soon.
- Sex means more than just intercourse.
- Values education is at the heart of sexual education.
- Sexuality means more than just sex.
- Parents and schools have a moral responsibility to educate children about sexuality.
Throughout the book, Roffman emphasizes the power language has to influence and mold our thinking, and she offers language to help readers rethink sexuality. For example, to use the word "sex" to mean only intercourse implies that the same responsibilities do not necessarily apply to the whole range of other sexual behavior -- a topic quite relevant even to presidential politics in the '90s. She points out that "sexuality" involves more than just a broad view of "sex" and includes health, values, intimacy, sensuality, gender, and development. Although the emphasis on exactly which words to use may seem trivial to some parents, the author's discussions of why particular words and phrases are unhelpful contain very practical information and advice for the parent or teacher struggling over what to say and how to say it.
Despite the serious and potentially uncomfortable topic, Roffman uses an efficient, conversational tone that gets to the heart of the issues and takes time for a laugh or two. As she explains that she never set out to be in the field of sex education, she writes, "In one recurring nightmare, I run into an old boyfriend from college. When he learns what I do for a living, he can be heard laughing uncontrollably. They finally have to sedate him to get him to stop."
This is not an encyclopedia of facts about sexuality -- the reader will not find out how long it takes to get a 100 percent accurate result from an HIV test. Instead, Sex and Sensibility attempts to help us reshape the ways in which we deal with our children, from toddlers to 20-year-olds, with respect to sex and sexuality. It offers ways to see, ways to listen, and ways to talk and behave so that our children learn how to make wise and happy choices about all things sexual.