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There’s a big taboo around pleasure, particularly sexual pleasure. People worry that teaching children how to seek pleasure in their relationships will encourage them to have unprotected sex before they're ready. That can seem scary as a parent or educator. Thankfully, there is a lot of evidence showing the positives of including pleasure in sexuality education. Not only are students who are given comprehensive sex education choosing to have sex at a later age, but they’re also more likely to use birth control when they do have sex.

So, what is pleasure-based sex education? When comprehensive sex education is ‘pleasure based,’ it emphasizes that sexual activity should be pleasure-focused. It normalizes the idea of giving and receiving pleasure not just in sexual activity, but in relationships as a whole. When sex education is pleasure-based, students develop healthier relationships both with themselves and their partner, increasing their overall life satisfaction and happiness.

The truth is children and teens are already taking in messages about sex all the time, whether they know it or not. Advertisements, TV shows, and peers are constantly bombarding kids with information on sexuality. If they’re getting messages on pleasure and sexuality anyway, the responsible thing to do is ensure they have the best chance at happy and healthy sex lives. Pleasure is inherently about feeling happy and fulfilled.

What is ‘sex-positive’ and ‘pleasure-based’ sex education? 

Sex-positive sex education stresses consent and pleasure. Instead of scaring students away from sexual activity with shame and exaggerated statistics, sex-positive sex education arms students with knowledge on how to have a healthy, safe and fun sex life. It also emphasizes healthy communication, birth control, protection, and pleasure. Sex-positive sex education understands that our sexuality is an integral part of who we are, and is  is healthiest and most developed when explored with trust, respect, and curiosity. Sex-positive sex education is free of the guilt, shame, and secrecy, thus fostering communication and healthy relationships.

The best place to start talking about sex-positive sex education is to talk about what feels good. Education is most powerful when it’s age-appropriate. Sex education can be tailored to meet the needs of the students you’re working with. For younger students, a good activity is having them list the things they do that feel good, like taking a bubble bath or playing in the park with their dog. By focusing the conversation on normal pleasure-seeking, you begin to normalize seeking pleasure in sexual relationships. We also get children and teens used to seeking people and activities that bring them joy and fulfillment! This will help them foster positive and healthy relationships later in life.

How to Have Sex-Positive, Pleasure-Focused Sex Ed with You Kids

By centering conversations on what makes us feel good--physically, mentally, or emotionally--we get to focus more of our time and energy on the positive aspects of the world. Here are some concrete ways to ensure the sex education your kids are getting is sex-positive and pleasure-focused:

  • Thorough anatomy lessons. Yes, that means the female body too. Can you tell the difference between a vulva and a vagina? In order to seek pleasure, you need to know what you’re looking for and where to look for it.

  • No shame in the game! If we continue shame-based education, students will be scared to talk about sex with their parents and their partners. When children and teens are unable or unwilling to talk about sex, they're more likely to participate in risky sexual behaviors or remain silent when sexual assault or abuse occurs.

  • Embrace pleasure yourself. It’s hard to educate your students and kids on pleasure when you’re not 100 percent on board with the idea, or are struggling to find it yourself. Figure out what feels good to you and you’ll be better equipped to help students figure out what feels good to them. But remember, everyone is different.

  • Get resources! In the sidebar of this post is a list of recommended articles and books that talk about pleasure. Some are geared toward educators or parents and some are geared toward students. Having a direction to go in is already a helpful way to ensure sex-positive sex education!

We’re constantly growing and learning as educators for the next generation. No one has the right answer to every question. It’s ok to ask for help! Hopefully, you understand why this kind of sex education is not only the most fun, but also the most effective when it comes to reducing teen pregnancy and increasing healthy communication skills among young people entering relationships. Everyone deserves to have a healthy, safe, and fun sex life!

Tags: talking to parents, comprehensive sex education, sex education, talking about sex, pleasure

References:

CDC. Sexual Risk Behaviors and Academic Achievement. Atlanta, GA: CDC (2010); last accessed 5/23/2010.

Kim, J. L., & Ward, L. M. (2012). Striving for Pleasure Without Fear: Short-Term Effects of Reading a Women’s Magazine on Women’s Sexual Attitudes. Psychology Of Women Quarterly, 36(3), 326-336.

Kirby D. “Sex and HIV Programs:  Their Impact on Sexual Behaviors of Young People Throughout the World.”  Journal of Adolescent Health 40 (2007): 206-217.

Lamb, S., Lustig, K., & Graling, K. (2013). The use and misuse of pleasure in sex education curricula. Sex Education,13(3), 305-318. doi:10.1080/14681811.2012.738604

O’Sullivan, L.F.; Byers, E.S.; Brotto, L.A.; Majerovich, J.A.; Fletcher, J. (2016) A Longitudinal Study of Problems in Sexual Functioning and Related Sexual Distress among Middle to Late Adolescents. J. Adolesc. Health Off. Publ. Soc. Adolesc.

Recommended Reading:

Allen, L., Rasmussen, M. L., & Quinlivan, K. (2014). The politics of pleasure in sexuality education: pleasure bound. New York: Routledge.

Resources: