I know this isn’t my standard review faire, but as a sex-positive parent, I’m happy to find sex-ed resources I can recommend. Sex Is a Funny Word was written by Cory Silverberg, who boasts an impressive sex-ed resume, and Fiona Smyth, whose gorgeous illustrations brilliantly represent bodies of literally all colors, genders, abilities, shapes, and sizes. I requested it via interlibrary loan at our local library. It was worth the wait (there are few copies in my big city).
Youngest is 9 years old, and proudly a girly girl. She can tell you what a period is, but still thinks the Mona 2 is a back massager. She insisted we read the book together, so we incorporated it into our homeschooling. She knows my job has something to do with teaching people about sex.
Sex Is a Funny Word was written for children around ages 8-10. The attention-grabbing pages walk kids through various topics of age-appropriate curiosity. Colorful comics are mixed in with text. Its 6 chapters span roughly 160 pages, with an index.
What it Covers:
- 3 very basic definitions of the word “sex”
- Respect, Trust, Joy, and Justice as perspectives
- Body diversity and self-acceptance
- Privacy & nudity
- Body parts that change during puberty
- The internal clitoris
- Erections in both the penis and clitoris
- Gender beyond the binary
- Consent basics (as children would understand)
- “Secret Touching” (identifying molestation)
- Family dynamics
- Words related to sex, including many references to “sexy” in music
- Different types of love
- Different types of relationships
- Sexual orientation
What it Doesn’t Cover
- In-depth reproduction
- Internal reproductive structures (uterus, prostate, etc.)
- Physical sexual acts with others
- Hormone cycles/science of puberty
- Birth Control
- Porn/looking for sex on the computer
The chapter we spent the most time on was about bodies. Youngest had lots of questions about boobs (she asked to touch mine, but I declined). The anatomical diagrams are cartoonish yet accurate, with non-gendered, varied representation. For example, nipples are depicted with and without breasts, with 3 nipples, with one breast and one surgical scar. Youngest was most curious about that one, so we talked about breast cancer.
The penis page was just as diverse, from short, almost hidden penis to intact penis to micropenis to erect, circumcised penis and she got to say “PENIS!” as loud as she wanted. The formal diagram and text assume the penis is intact, but it does define circumcision without being graphic.
The book acknowledged many people confuse the vulva with the vagina. It explained the clitoris and how touching it could sometimes feel warm and tingly. To this, Youngest said, “When I touched my clitoris before, it hurt. It’s very sensitive.” I wasn’t really sure how to answer that.
The “Crushes, Love, and Relationships” chapter was Youngest’s favorite. She has a crush on a friend that’s moved away to Germany, but when she thinks about him, she feels all happy and nervous and smiley.
The gender chapter gave us a chance to talk about Daddy and why their pronouns are different. It’s been a struggle to deal with the binary-focused messages she’s inundated with daily.
Sex Is a Funny Word is definitely as sex positive and inclusive as I’d heard. It expertly navigates the child’s perspective and pays close attention to how children feel at this age. Our culture can be extremely confusing to them – simultaneously sexually obsessed and repressed.
One of the things I appreciated most was that it often deferred back to parents and the child’s community for guidance. While even sex-positive parents can feel awkward about talking about sex, we don’t necessarily want someone else to do it for us. It’s our job to pass on our values and knowledge, and make sure our kids see us as a resource they can approach.
I have a few minor nitpicks. First, on pp. 154-155, Joy and Respect speech bubbles are swapped (I predict this will be amended in later editions). Second, and proof that I’m getting old, I found the text font is too small. The comic letters are large enough, but the meat of the content was hard for me to read. Third, they didn’t address porn or looking up sexy words on the computer, which I think is far more likely than the depicted scenario of staring over a fence into a nudist colony. It’s happened with Oldest when he was her age. Finally, poly folks should know polyamory family dynamics aren’t represented, at least, not that I can see. Like I said, though, these are minor nitpicks.
I’m going to invest in our own copy of Sex Is a Funny Word. I’d like to have it on hand as a reference. There’s also a lot of detail in the illustrations, allowing kids to make up stories about the characters.
There will be questions! Be prepared to answer the mundane and the ridiculous. At one point, she asked how chickens fertilize eggs and if we got a rooster could it fertilize the eggs in our fridge. Your kids will be watching you, too, when you read this. They’ll be waiting for you to flinch when they say “vulva” out loud. They’ll be checking for any sign it’s not ok to say the words they’re saying. Don’t flinch. Don’t giggle. Smile and be straightforward. Embrace the internalized sex-negativity, and let it go. Your kids need this information. It makes the world a better place. Sex is a social justice issue, after all.
You can probably find a copy at your local library, like we did. If you prefer to have your own copy, it’s available and affordable at Amazon.com, where you should definitely buy books (but never, ever sex toys).