“Sex” is a funny word, but it’s no funnier than “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Mr. Snuffleupagus,” both of which are common words to most children.
Kids usually laugh when they hear the word “sex,” whether they understand it or not. That’s nothing new. What is new, though, is the giant leap in literature to help teach kids about sex in real, responsible and relatable ways. Sex Is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings and You won’t hit bookshelves until June, but it’s already making waves in the parenting community.
Author Cory Silverberg and illustrator Fiona Smyth, the creators of What Makes a Baby, have teamed up again, this time with a book for eight- to 10-year-olds. Think of it as the Our Bodies, Ourselves of kid lit—it even includes a glossary and notes for adult readers. Or, rather, think of it as the literary Magic School Bus of sex ed, if you will. It features four kids who react and respond in their own charming and realistic ways (including one who just wants to talk about something else because he’s bored).
Sex Is a Funny Word breaks things down into sections and covers quite a bit of territory—it’s definitely not an all-at-once read. The book teaches kids that people have different ideas about sex and that no one can learn about it all at once. It also discusses different ways that people relate to the word. Sex Is a Funny Word talks about how not everyone responds to kids knowing about sex or words related to sex in the same way. It broaches the subjects of bodies, nudity, privacy, gender and gender identity. It talks about touching, including sexual abuse, which is handled delicately and clearly (without ever using the words “sexual abuse,” I might add). It talks about crushes, love and relationships. And, much like the updated sex-ed curriculum in Ontario, it mentions masturbation. The book is transsexual inclusive and provides children with the proper language when talking about someone who is transgender or gender variant.
What I applaud Silverberg and Smyth on most is their inclusion of key concepts like respect—something that’s often not part of the school discussion. Healthy sexuality includes respect, trust and consent, and there are many reasons for kids to know about these things now, beyond the added bonus of being able to apply them in more mature contexts later on. Here’s what the book does not do: It doesn’t talk about penetration. It doesn’t talk about reproduction. It doesn’t talk about pleasuring others through touching—with hands, mouths or genitals. It doesn’t display diagrams of what goes where during sex. It touches on puberty, but it’s not discussed as an exhaustive list of ways that young bodies change. It certainly doesn’t encourage eight- to 10-year-olds to have sex—another ill-informed concern of parents who are protesting changes to the Ontario sex-ed curriculum.
The fact that Sex Is a Funny Word bears similarities to the new Ontario sex-ed curriculum is no coincidence. It’s beyond time for kids to learn about respect, consent and the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching. It’s time for kids to let go of the shame concerning their own bodies and the fear of asking questions about sex and gender identity. My hope is that we’re creating a world where there’s no shame for our kids to shed anymore. Sex Is a Funny Word is timely, important and engaging—and, as many parents will agree, a step in the right direction.
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a four-year-old. She started off as a single mom by choice and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.