All of the opposition to comprehensive sex education and the attacks on sexual health and women’s reproductive rights from the Conservatives or “Pro-life-rs” surrounding the debate over funding Planned Parenthood reminds me of the beginning of chapter 6 from Judith Levine’s book Harmful To Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex.

Abstinence education is the good cop of conservative “family planning”, by which human relations are restored to what the Right views as a “traditional” structure (dad on top, mom next, kids below that) and sex to its “traditional” function, procreation. But if a teen cannot be persuaded to tarry in celibate, parent-controlled childhood and insist on being both young and sexual, the Right has a bad cop. Its job is to barricade the option of abortion. This imposes a sentence of immediate and irrevocable adulthood on any “child” who crosses the sexual line and makes a mistake. Compulsory motherhood can be affected in two ways, legally and culturally.

That was published in Ms. Levine’s book in 2002.  It’s amazing to note that nearly 10 years later things haven’t gotten better… they’ve perhaps gotten worse.

I’m in no way advocating that young people go out and have tons of unprotected sex or anything conservatives would go nuts over.  On the contrary, I’m pleading for common sense.  Sex is not only for procreation… most adults I know do it because it feels good!  We have to realize that young adults are going to have sex too.  It’s just a question of when.  The approach now is sort of another version of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.  As parents we position ourselves in a “don’t ask me anything about sex and don’t tell me you are having it either” stance.  And from the teen’s perspective the same applies – “don’t ask me if I’m having sex and I won’t tell you”.

Are the people who oppose these things so traumatized by or regretful of their own sexual behavior when they were young that they fear for the safety of their own children (or grandchildren since most of these legislators seem to lack elementary school-age children of their own)?  Try as we might we CANNOT put our children in a bubble until such time when (if) our children marry, it just wouldn’t be practical.  We CAN do the best job we can as parents to give our children the tools they need to succeed – in anything they want to do (operative word “they”).  We CANNOT be there for our children in every situation where they need to make a really important decision for themselves.  We CAN help them to develop critical thinking skills to be able to make solid decisions for themselves.  Both of these points call for complete and open sex education for our children and this includes discussion of pleasure and fantasy.

It is our responsibility as parents to give our children the information they need to make healthy decisions on their own. And if we can’t give it to them ourselves agencies like Planned Parenthood must be there to help us when we are not comfortable or knowledgeable enough.  We adults must also make sure our children have the info they need to protect themselves if and when our children decide to have sex.  Again, this is where the experts at Planned Parenthood can help.  We must also be realistic about the relationship we have with our children around these topics.  Chances are if we haven’t been open or honest our children are not going to be comfortable opening up to us.  Who can they go to?  Planned Parenthood.  What if we have unwittingly shown judgement about sex related topics around our children in the past (“I can’t believe Jane had a child out of wedlock!  I sure hope YOU never do that when you get older”)?  They FOR SURE won’t be coming to us for help for
fear they will be judged by us too.  I’d like to know that a place like Planned Parenthood could be there to help in those instances as well.

I think we adults have the ability to change this…through educating ourselves about the services agencies like Planned Parenthood provide with an open mind/heart.  Of course we are scared for our children but the approach we have been taking so far clearly is not working.  Comprehensive sex education will help, as will protecting free access to valid sexual health information and protecting women’s reproductive rights.

About the Author

The MamaSutra

Dr. Lanae St.John is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sexology and certified sex coach with a background in sexology and a passion for helping people improve their sexual health and relationships. She is the author of "Read Me: A Parental Primer for "The Talk"" and the upcoming "You Are the One: How stopping the search and looking inside will lead you to your romantic destiny," and is committed to staying up-to-date on the latest research and trends in the field. Dr. St.John aims to share her knowledge and expertise in a relatable and approachable way through her blog on

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