Depending on your view, the answer to that question might seem really obvious or very tricky and hazy.
At a recent conference I was part of in London, Alan McKee presented Healthy sexual development: a multidisciplinary framework for research. What McKee and his colleagues determined to be the core parts of healthy sexual development had me jumping up and down in my seat with joy (literally: I may have disturbed my fellow attendees with my bouncing). It summed up the things we try to support, encourage and inform our users with and keep core at Scarleteen so well, and so much of what I think -- after many years of thinking hard about and working with these issues, and being fully and broadly immersed in them with a very diverse population -- truly is central to healthy sexual development.
I'm delighted to have permission to excerpt and reprint this framework here.
When it comes to sex and sexuality, I was a very, very, very late bloomer.
Raised in a Pentecostal Christian home where sex and sexuality were rarely discussed beyond, "No sex until you are married," as a teen I assumed I would not have sex until my early- to mid-twenties, after I had finished undergrad.
I assumed any boys/men I met would share my religious beliefs about sex. I assumed my values would never change. And I assumed my husband and I would know how to sexually please one another, in spite of having no sexual experience before our wedding night (which, of course, would be a night of unbridled passion and ecstasy).
When we're quality sex educators; when we are or aim to be inclusive, forward-thinking and do sex education in ways that can or do serve diverse populations, we will tend to define sex very broadly, far more so than people who don't work in sex education often tend to, even if and when their experiences with sex and sexuality have been broad. Often, the longer we work as sexuality educators, and the longer we also just live and experience our own sexual lives, the more expansive the definition becomes. If we live and/or work on the margins, like if we or people we serve are queer, gender-variant, culturally diverse, have disabilities, the diversity in our definitions of what sex can be will become even greater.
I'm a 19-year-old virgin and I don't know enough about sex, period. I went to Catholic and Christian schools with terrible sex-ed classes (I learned the basic biology but virtually nothing about actual sex, condoms, safe sex, or anything like that). I looked at your list of books to read and I've browsed through the questions, but I still don't know where to start....
Anyone who knows me or who knows anything about me usually knows that my pre-teen and teen years were incredibly difficult. I dealt with neglect and abuse in my family, starting from about the time I was 10. I was sexually assaulted twice before I even became a teenager. I was queer. I was suicidal and was a self-injurer. I struggled to find safe shelter sometimes. Few people seemed to notice, even though after I gave up trying to use my words, I still used my eyes to try and tell them constantly.
I'm 40 now, and in a whole lot of ways, I felt older at 16 than I feel now. Some days, I am truly gobsmacked that I survived at all, let alone with my heart and mind intact and rich.
A lot of why I survived is about having gotten support.
"In this life, things are much harder than in the afterworld/ In this life, you’re on your own!" —Prince
High school is a laugh riot. It’s a jolly funhouse where the unpopular and the unusual are punished for their crimes against conformity with a topsy-turvy ridicule. Here, overweight boys have “due dates”, homely girls are proposed marriage by homecoming kings, underwear waistbands are wedgied into easy carrying handles for Special Ed students, and exchange students, (regardless of country of origin) are addressed in mock Chinese. In this swarming mosh pit of ha!rassment, powered by sweaty insecurity and raw, smelly fear, homophobia stands as the indisputable height of hilarity. At least that’s how I remember it.
We're just getting caught up with the myriad of fantastic blog entries that are part of the blog carnival that's been going on over the last three weeks as an effort to help cultivate support for Scarleteen. We've been reprinting some entries here at our blog, and will keep up with that, but here are a handful we can link right to for you to take a look at:
From Cory Silverberg at About.Com:
Sex ed. We hear that word a lot, but who really knows what sex ed is? It’s short for “sexual education,” but what’s that?
According to my handy dandy dictionary, sex education is: “education about human sexual anatomy, reproduction, and intercourse and other human sexual behavior.” Lots of words, but it’s pretty much learning about the human body and its reproduction. Pretty much straightforward, right? Wrong.