Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human
by Erika Moen & Matthew Nolan
“Let’s Talk About It,” published in 2021, is in the crosshairs of book banners. School libraries and, increasingly, public libraries are being asked to remove the book or require parental approval before allowing teenagers to check it out. The objections are the standard ones for sex ed books of this type: the images of naked people it contains are too graphic, as are its depictions of people engaged in various sex acts; the messages the text conveys about sex are too permissive and adult for the book’s intended teen audience.
The book is pretty much exactly what its title says it is: a teen’s guide to sex and sexual relationships. A lot of the advice it gives seems to presuppose we live in a West Wing & NPR-ish world where differences in sexuality and gender are normal and everyone’s fine with it. A world where boys and girls (or combinations thereof) can pair off and have honest, frank, and intimate conversations about their bodies and their sexuality, and then, with a partner’s consent and in a careful, caring, and responsible way, try out various sexual activities.
I don’t think teenagers have changed much from my day, nor have the pressures adults and most of all fellow teens impose on kids who are the least bit different. Different in appearance from what is perceived as normal, different in body type, different in feminine or masculine characteristics, different in sexuality … different in any damn way. To pretend that in the social pressure cooker of middle and high school one can be different, yet be understood and accepted and not bullied, is just not realistic. How to respond to and live with bullying and hate should have been one of the illustrated conversations in this guide.
Perhaps young people find it easier to talk about sex and sexuality among themselves these days. I suspect they don’t, though, and that they keep such thoughts private. But as a way to get important information across to teenagers, the conversational format of this guide, where fictional boys and girls do sit down with one another for frank and intimate discussions of sex and sexuality, might work well for real boys and girls. I wish we’d have had books like this when I was a teen.
I would not say the illustrations in this guide are pornographic, but many are explicit: naked people, detailed drawings of genitalia, even a few graphics depicting sex acts and toys. It goes way, way beyond the National Geographic photos of bare-breasted indigenous women boys of my generation whacked off to.
I honestly wouldn’t know how to debate a book-banning Karen waving around scanned pages of “Let’s Talk About It” at a school board meeting. I could argue that this is the kind of information teens seek, that we should encourage young men and women to learn about sex and sexuality before they start to engage in it themselves, and if some of the illustrations in this guide inspire kids to masturbate, so what, everyone does and it’s normal … but I’d be debating parents and prudes who believe the exact opposite, and I fear there’s no way to reconcile these differences.
Some reviewers argue that the authors soft-pedal the risks and consequences of sexually transmitted diseases. I say they soft-pedal the risks and consequences of coming out and/or expressing nonconforming sexuality or gender identity. I will also argue that they soft-pedal porn … they should have, at the very minimum, warned teens that what they see on porn sites differs vastly from what they’ll experience in real life, and that they shouldn’t expect their partners to want or enjoy many of the things actors do on screen.