Raising sexually healthy kids

Abstinence programs and ominous TV commercials are turning American children into nut cases.

Published October 30, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

For the next month, I'm on the road promoting my new book, "Full Exposure," which is about creating your own sexual philosophy and erotic perspective. As I travel across the nation with a trunkful of erotic books and my Hitachi Magic Wand, people who come to my readings ask me a lot of questions, and some queries come up over and over again, so I've been answering them in my recent columns.

Those of you with burning questions who can't make it to one of my appearances (but please do try, I'd love to meet you) can drop me an e-mail.

In your recent travels from sea to shining sea, what are the latest sex trends you see either in the underground or in the mainstream? Could there be anything new under the sun?

I detect that you share my exasperation when people talk about sex trends, as opposed to actual sex lives. Many of the wildest erotic controversies of the moment will doubtless seem rather shallow in several years. I've know more than a few sexual fashion victims who pierced themselves one month, took hormones the next and now they don't know whether to invest in Depends (infantilism might just be the next big thing) or shake their Kabballah-maker.

A few years ago, S/M sex play was considered pathological at best, and yet today, for many, it's simply a foxy maneuver in black leather. Have we approached the zenith of erotic acceptance, or is this the prelude to ennui?

Personally, I will always be a serious erotic trend-watcher -- I don't dismiss any of it easily. I don't believe you can call yourself a cultural maven unless you're thinking about how people feel about such issues, publicly and privately.

I've encountered two big, and fairly new, topics in my current travels. Everywhere I went, people asked me about the sexual aspect of raising kids, and they also asked me my thoughts on polyamory. I'll discuss the kid part in this column, and poly-sex in the next.

The most affecting image of my entire tour this year was seeing parents bring their children, or the young people in their lives, to hear me speak. One teenage girl said to me, "My mom gave me all your books when I was 15, and she said, 'This is your sexual survival kit.' At first, I was, like, 'Ma, I don't think I need to read all this right now,' but a year later, I'm all, 'thanks, Mom!'"

I didn't ask exactly which story of mine inspired her ("Story of O Birthday Party"? "Pregnancy Sex Tips"?), but I do remember that one year might as well have been a century in my sexual development when I was 15.

I was a little puzzled at this parental endorsement because, after all, my accumulated writings are not technique manuals, and they're not illustrated. If I had to categorize them, I'd say they espouse an open, thoughtful and joyful attitude about sex, and it 's true that joy is a sentiment that is completely absent in today's public policies regarding sex.

I have recently been very pessimistic about the vilification of young people's sexuality. I was overcome to see that there are, indeed, lots of parents who don't want their kids growing up to think that sex is sick or stupid. Not everyone is buying the public service messages that tell young people that sex is an impediment to a successful career or a fatal blow to any future marital happiness. I discovered that there are families other than mine who are terrified of the "abstinence" agenda, and the constant adult use of teenagers' images as sex objects we must either regulate or fetishize. I'm not the only one who wonders what the plan is for coping with the next generation of adults who have been "scared straight" about sexual desire. I don't want to meet those nut cases in a dark alley -- or the state legislature.

Everyone on the road asked me, "So are you going to write a book about sex for parents or young people?" The answer is yes. It's obvious that there's a passionate audience seeking support, advice and inspiration on how to raise a family that isn't sexually dysfunctional. Yes, we've all heard the joke about putting the fun back into dysfunctionality, but the truth is that the real fun and pleasure of sexual health only comes when you aren't lying your head off, keeping secrets or brutalizing your sexual feelings. If I hear one more story about kids who are beaten for masturbating, or electric-shocked every time they wet the bed, or humiliated for hiding an erotic fantasy image under a mattress ... I'll want to do something more than just cry again, and that's where writing a sex-positive book for families begins for me.

The number of people who have been physically abused, and/or mentally destroyed because their families couldn't cope with sexual feelings is just incredible. Then, you have those who feel that becoming the parental unit has made having an adult sex life impossible. Last but not least, there are the young people who, on one hand, want some sexual privacy, but on the other would also like to have some basic sex-positive information and nonhypocritical advice. There is no such book at present that addresses their feelings, and there is no public advocacy for young people's sexual rights or support for families who don't want to kowtow to sexual ignorance.

I intend to write a book to take this on, and now all I have to do is organize it. Should it be addressed to parents, or to kids? Should it start with pregnancy and end at adolescence, a sort of "What to Expect When You're Horny"? Or should it be more direct, hitting the basic, natural issues of sexual desire -- the erotic parallel of "Everybody Poops"? What questions would you like to see addressed in such a book? I'm so glad there are plenty of people who aren't buying the sex-is-bad dogma. (Thank you, "South Park," for calling this trend early!) Maybe the reverse slogan ought to be my new title: "Sex Is Good: A Guide to Growing Up." That's an idea that will never go out of style.

I have a new book and audiotape out -- "Full Exposure: Opening Up to Your Sexual Creativity and Erotic Expression" -- and I'll be touring all over the U.S. through November. I hope I get to meet some of you in person, and connect with old friends. "Full Exposure" includes my stories about what I think it takes to make, admit and live out your own sexual philosophy. Interested? You can read the first chapter here. And when you do read my new book, write and tell me what you think of it.

By Susie Bright

Susie Bright is the author of the new book "Full Exposure" and many other books, and the editor of the "Best American Erotica" series. For more columns by Bright, visit her website.

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