Asex Ed? – Carnival of Aces Submission June 2017

[This post as a part of the Carnival of Aces, a monthly blog carnival centring around topics relating to asexuality. This month’s  carnival is hosted by Writing Ace on the topic of Asexual Education.]

For this topic, I am focusing on one of the specific suggested prompts: “How should asexuality be taught to children? Where and when should asexuality be taught to children?”

I have a lot of thoughts about the ways in which we teach (or don’t teach, as the case often is) children about sexuality. Sexuality really can be much simpler than we make it most of the time, if we manage to look past the strange moral filters and anxieties so many of us carry around these topics.

For instance, lots of parents have a dread of the day their children first ask where babies come from, because that means they need to tell their kid about the s-e-x word now. Except it doesn’t mean that at all, as it turns out!

My favourite book about baby-making for children is  Cory Silverberg’s What Makes a Baby? In the book, you learn that babies are made when you put together sperm with an ovum (some bodies make sperm, and some don’t; some bodies make ova and some don’t), and give the blastocyst this creates somewhere to live (a uterus! Some bodies have ’em, and some don’t!)

Ta-da! Simple as that, and sex doesn’t enter the conversation. I mean, for the record, it’s not that I think we need to avoid taking to kids about sex, it’s just that not all babies are made from people having sex anymore, and honestly, when children innocently ask about where babies come from, they don’t really want to know about what a man and woman do when they fall in love. In some cases, they’re probably more worried about whether their body might start growing a baby inside of it than anything else. It’s ok.

So, when do we talk to kids about sex? This is something we do need to talk to children about implicitly from a very young age – as young as possible really, simply because of the shockingly high rate of childhood sexual abuse. We need to teach children about their bodies and the ways it is and isn’t ok for other people to touch them. But the explicit conversation is less important, really.

And, if it were up to me, that standard birds-and-bees talk would be massively different as well. And yes, it would include asexuality, at least implicitly!

Something along the lines of this:

Sometimes grownups like to touch each other in special ways! [Talk about touching genitals, what genital arousal and orgrasm (generally) look like, various kinds of intercourse etc.]  We usually refer too all of these things as “having sex”. Sometimes people just touch themselves in ways that feel this way, too – we usually call that masturbation, but it’s a part of our sexuality too!

Having sex is normal, and can be really great if all the people involved want to do it, but this kind of touching can also carry some risks [talk about stis, pregnancy, and what acts do and don’t carry those risks. Note that pregnancy is only a risk for certain combinations of genitals etc].

Most people like to have sex because it feels really good to them (and some people have sex for other reasons, like if they want to get pregnant, or to make someone else feel good), but just like not everyone loves chocolate, not everyone likes sex either, and that’s ok! And some people only like certain kinds of sex, and not others, or only like to masturbate, and that’s all ok too.

Sometimes having sex can also make people feel more emotionally close to each other. In fact, lots of people have strong emotional reactions to having sex in different, but some don’t. Sometimes being in love with someone is what makes a person want to have sex with another person, but sometimes people have sex with each other just because they like how each other looks, or because they enjoy spending time together!

Not everyone falls in love or wants to have romantic relationships, but they can still have sex if they want to and if someone else wants to have it with them! And not everyone likes to have sex with anyone ever! All of these things are ok, and only you can decide how or when or who you want to have sex with, or if you even want to have sex ever at all!

If you really wanted to, you could mention that some people only ever want to have sex with people who are of a specific gender (some women only want to have sex with women, and some women only want to have sex with men, while others might want to have sex with people of different genders), but I think that if you manage to talk about sex in a gender-inclusive way and if children actually internalize the idea that it’s ok to want to have sex with people of whatever gender, no matter what gender you happen to be, then it kind of doesn’t matter if they are only attracted to one gender or another?

Anyway, yes, that’s my ideal way of framing what sex is, (with the existence of asexuality built right into the discussion!) not just to kids, but to literally anyone!

6 comments

  1. I actually have some critical thoughts about this, and I really don’t want to, I want to just love it because it’s so positive and simple and happy and true… BUT…

    Well like: “and some people have sex for other reasons, like if they want to get pregnant, or to make someone else feel good”…

    I guess I’m reminded of the sentiment in Coyote’s post here: https://theacetheist.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/your-sex-normative-ideas-aint-news/ and I recently saw some other tumblr posts i hadn’t seen before that kinda had me thinking again about this stuff. Also this post: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/you-dont-need-to-be-a-mirror/ (which I ended up writing a whole response blog post to).

    The biggest thing to note maybe is that there probably should be some acknowledgement at some point in the process that if you’re a minority sexual orientation, yes even less well known or fully understood ones like bisexual or asexual that people don’t think will be hard for you to live… this is complicated and will be difficult. Not everyone in the world is going to be accepting. But if the kid you’re talking to is straight, helping make them the best ally they can be starts with them really understanding the nuance that these other kids out there have unique struggles and really this applies to any kid because everyone needs to be an ally to different identities. And if you are talking to a large audience about this kind of sex ed – such as on a YouTube video even – remember to really keep in mind providing extra resources where kids or teenagers can learn more like what the names of the sexual orientations all are or even what the slurs or myths are and their history and why they shouldn’t say some things!! I mean… this is such a great start but…

    Well also “if children actually internalize the idea that it’s ok to want to have sex with people of whatever gender, no matter what gender you happen to be, then it kind of doesn’t matter if they are only attracted to one gender or another?”

    No matter what you do, your kids are growing up reading and watching fiction and nonfiction that normalize mainly straight couples. They know biologically that making babies happens only one combination of ways. They are very likely to internalize, despite best efforts of any one person or one set of parents, that even if it’s ok to want sex with someone of any gender, that wanting it with certain genders “means something significant” or that not wanting it at all is really unusual and not like the rest of their friends. As some examples.

    I was looking at a bunch of stories from adult adoptees a few days ago and one theme I saw there was that as much as parents try to make adoption a purely celebratory or happy thing, making a kid feel like they have no right to feel sad or confused or any other not perfectly happy feeling often ends up being the result. Denying that reality is messy and unfair by saying “everything is simple and totally equal” can feel like gaslighting to some kids.

    If I only ever hear some people never ever want to have sex from one person in my life – health class, my parent, whatever it is – I’m unlikely to internalize asexuality is real even as an asexual person myself. That was my experience growing up with no representation in fiction, knowing of no asexual people around me, never having heard of it from anyone until one person on twitter mentioned having asexual friends, I asked them what they meant, and found myself reading the AVEN FAQ. I probably knew deep down it was me but I still dismissed it for years and tried not to think about it, which was pretty easy when asexuality was literally no where else.

    It’s been less than a decade and already the landscape here in the USA is so different, some percentage of ace kids in middle school might be hearing everything I needed to.

    But the explicit harsh anti ace stuff is growing stronger too, people insisting all 13 year olds are ace so you’re a pedophile if you consider otherwise, or telling kids that the idea that someone can be different romantic and sexual orientations is homophobic – in circles where being homophobic is very very much not ok to be. This is a new set of challenges for a questioning 13 year old to have to navigate.

    I mean my sex ed was so woefully inadequate that I was devouring sex ed websites in my twenties and learning stuff for the first time while after high school, not even understanding what sex was after two sex ed classes (age 11 and 13, 5th and 7th grade), because they were in actuality reproduction & puberty ed.

    This kind of proposed sex talk is an amazing start. This is just a bunch of thoughts that this post of yours inspired in me, rather than much real criticism. I think this is all good and I would mainly try to add to it, over a series of conversations and not in one sitting or anything!! I might just… leave out the content about making other people feel good. Because often aces, and a lot of non-aces too, feel pressure to have sex when they don’t really want to because the other person does want to, and they don’t want to deprive them, they don’t want to be the reason they can’t feel good right then. Rape culture is everywhere. Etc etc. Especially if the kids are young, now is the time to prepare them for the fact that it’s extra ok to not want to and leave the “some people have sex just to purposely get pregnant despite not wanting sex in and of itself” conversation for a really different day lol… ??

    1. Thank you for all of this – yoru points about context are well put and well taken. To some extent I just feel into the trap of encouraging people to ignore sexual orientation, and I definitely know better than that shit – I’ve written about it with respect to gender and race and all. So thanks for reminding me :)

      And yeah, there is definitely a lot to unpack around the reasons people have sex, and the fact that, yes, having sex for someone else’s pleasure is often actually coercive and potentially traumatic. But I also don’t want to act like it’s never a legit reason, and um, bleh. Maybe I would leave it out of a kid-oriented sex ed talk after all.

      1. Maybe… “but some people have sex for other reasons too, and we can talk about that if or when you want to!” ? I mean it depends on a lot of factors of how this came up too or how much the kid already seems to understand. :)

  2. I think you’ve got a very good outline here. I especially like that your approach validates all forms of sexual desire and expression without the compartmentalising language of “orientation”. If we were taught sex this way, we wouldn’t need to have the conversation about what asexuality is and isn’t; we’d just understand that people can have all sorts of desires – including lack of desire – and that they should all be respected equally!

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