Should sex education include information about pleasure and orgasm?

couple-in-love
The dilemmas of how to talk to adolescents about sex plague many a parent and politician. As one might imagine, sex education varies considerably from culture to culture. Quite a few schools and families commonly teach adolescents about the pleasures of sex during the same sex education programs that they also use to teach adolescents about the risk of sexually transmissible infections (STI), HIV/AIDS, how to use condoms, how to understand one’s birth control options, and more.

Though this is common in some cultures, it is less common for American and British school systems to highlight information about sexual pleasure or orgasm as part of a sex education curriculum, leaving students with many questions and a clear sense that adults want to scare them about sex rather than talk with them openly about it.

Recently several reports have suggested that there has been controversy related to a brochure about sexual pleasure by a UK health group that has purportedly been handed out to adolescents. Apparently the brochure suggests that, just as eating well and other health behaviors can be health promoting, sexual pleasure and orgasm can be health promoting as well. It’s been said that the line “What about sex or masturbation twice a week?”

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the actual brochure online. Given the number of reports about the brochure, and the apparent controversy, reading the entire would be helpful and informative. It may be that the brochure is simply one of many about sex or health that students have the option of taking. It may be, too, that the health educators in charge of the program realize something that many people don’t: namely that many people (adolescents included) prefer to learn about sex from a place of pleasure rather than risk. In some of the research I’ve been involved in, our team has found adults mainly ask sex questions about pleasure rather than risk (e.g., “which condom feels the best, or the most like sex?” rather than “which condom will offer me the best protection from STIs?”). When I’ve worked with colleagues on presentations related to sex, and seen them lay their health brochures on the table for college students to take, students rarely if ever take the brochures marked “Herpes” or “Sexually Transmissible Infections” but many reach for the ones titled “Sexual Pleasure” or “Oral Sex.” Perhaps the UK group has noticed a similar trend and has found that the inside of the brochure can include high quality information – and a balanced view about pleasure and risk.

What do you think? At what point should parents or teachers start talking to children or teenagers about the pleasures of sex, and not just the risks?

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

  • Bobertbobert

    Why should sex be like making one’s way through a blacked-out room or be a road full of nasty surprises? Tell ‘em at an early age(well, look for opportunities to educate) so they can be comfortable making choices, timing, consequences(good,surprising and bad), how to have some fun but avoid hurting another or raising unwanted expectations;HEY, there’s lots of opportunities if you are of a mind to fore-warn your kids about coming changes/attractions. Some things can be ruined by not being aware.

  • Bobertbobert

    Why should sex be like making one’s way through a blacked-out room or be a road full of nasty surprises? Tell ‘em at an early age(well, look for opportunities to educate) so they can be comfortable making choices, timing, consequences(good,surprising and bad), how to have some fun but avoid hurting another or raising unwanted expectations;HEY, there’s lots of opportunities if you are of a mind to fore-warn your kids about coming changes/attractions. Some things can be ruined by not being aware.

  • Debby

    Loved your opening line…

    You make a good point, too, about looking for opportunities to educate. When children ask questions, parents can try to answer honestly without going overboard with too much information at one time. There are chances all around us to inspire conversation about love, loss, lust, sexuality, birth, pregnancy, infections, HIV, and more.

  • Debby

    Loved your opening line…

    You make a good point, too, about looking for opportunities to educate. When children ask questions, parents can try to answer honestly without going overboard with too much information at one time. There are chances all around us to inspire conversation about love, loss, lust, sexuality, birth, pregnancy, infections, HIV, and more.

  • http://stacycat.com/ StacyCat

    If teenagers (girls specifically) were taught that sex was supposed to be enjoyable and pleasurable for them, then perhaps they would be less willing to have bad sex.

    Yes, sex can be dangerous physically, but it can be dangerous emotionally as well. It can also be extremely pleasurable physically and bring individuals closer together emotionally. By teaching girls that sex can be fun and pleasurable, and not just something that can get them killed or pregnant, we can empower them to take care of their bodies, and enjoy it.

  • http://stacycat.com StacyCat

    If teenagers (girls specifically) were taught that sex was supposed to be enjoyable and pleasurable for them, then perhaps they would be less willing to have bad sex.

    Yes, sex can be dangerous physically, but it can be dangerous emotionally as well. It can also be extremely pleasurable physically and bring individuals closer together emotionally. By teaching girls that sex can be fun and pleasurable, and not just something that can get them killed or pregnant, we can empower them to take care of their bodies, and enjoy it.

  • Debby

    Yes! Plus, it seems that when teenagers know you are being truthful with them about sex, they may be more likely to believe you when you talk about the risks as well as the rewards. Thanks for adding your insights to the conversation.

  • Debby

    Yes! Plus, it seems that when teenagers know you are being truthful with them about sex, they may be more likely to believe you when you talk about the risks as well as the rewards. Thanks for adding your insights to the conversation.