Sex Is a Funny Word: An Intelligent and Inclusive Illustrated Primer on Sexuality
By Maria Popova
“If only I could feel about sex as I do about writing!” young Susan Sontag wrote in her diary. “That I’m the vehicle, the medium, the instrument of some force beyond myself.” Cultivating such a symphonic relationship with one’s sexuality is a lifelong struggle for many, with a score composed during our earliest experiences of getting to know our bodies in relation to ourselves and others. To imbue those formative years with confident and friendly curiosity rather than shame and judgment is perhaps the single most important factor in becoming that instrument.
Half a century after two Danish schoolteachers published the first honest and intelligent guide to teenage sexuality as “a protest against the Victorian/authoritarian school system,” sex educator Cory Silverberg and illustrator Fiona Smyth offer a magnificent contemporary counterpart in Sex is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings, and You (public library). A follow-up to Silverberg and Smyth’s marvelous illustrated guide to the modern family, this candid, inclusive, stereotype-defying, and absolutely wonderful primer on sexuality and gender identity embraces diversity in all of its dimensions.
The book’s four protagonists, who represent a colorful range of ethnicities and fall on various points of the gender-identity and orientation continuum, guide the reader through the complexities of crushes, kissing, touching, puberty, masturbation, and many more mazes of the sexual ripening journey. With the playfulness of the comic genre and the solidity of thoughtful sex education, Silverberg and Smyth strip this universal coming-of-age process of its cultural baggage and celebrate the openminded, openhearted spirit of discovery so vital to fostering a healthy relationship with sexuality and a lifelong respect for one’s own body.
Most boys are born with a penis and scrotum, and most girls are born with a vulva, vagina, and clitoris.
But having a penis isn’t what makes you a boy. Having a vulva isn’t what makes you a girl.
The truth is much more interesting than that!
Maybe you’re called a boy but you know you’re a girl. You know how girls are treated and what they do. That’s how you want to be treated and what you want to do.
Maybe you’re called a girl but feel like a boy. You know how boys are treated and what they do. That’s how you want to be treated and what you want to do.
Maybe you aren’t sure, or don’t care that much. Maybe you feel like both. Maybe you just need some time to figure it out, without all the boy and girl stuff.
Because everyone’s bodies are different, all our feelings are different too.
Part of being a kid is learning what you like, what you don’t like, and who you are. That’s part of being a grown-up too. We never stop learning or changing.
Touching isn’t just something we do with other people. We also touch ourselves.
We touch ourselves all the time, in all kinds of places, for all kinds of reasons.
Touching yourself is one way to learn about yourself, your body, and your feelings.
You may have discovered that touching some parts of your body, especially the middle parts, can make you feel warm and tingly.
Grown-ups call this kind of touch masturbation.
Masturbation is when we touch ourselves, usually our middle parts, to get that warm and tingly feeling.
A crush is a special kind of feeling you have for another person. You can have a crush on any kind of person. You can have a crush on a friend or on someone you just met. You can even have a crush on someone you have never met.
Not everyone has crushes. If you do, the first time can be surprising, and can feel a bit strange.
You might think about them a lot. You might want to spend all your time with them if you could.
Just thinking about them can make you happy and nervous. When you are around them, you may feel excited, or awkward, or both.
There’s no right or wrong way to have a crush.
Complement the intelligent and inclusive Sex is a Funny Word with Kurt Vonnegut’s favorite vintage illustrated guide to sexuality and these wonderful LGBT children’s books that help kids make sense of their orientation and identity, then revisit Silverberg and Smyth’s equally delightful What Makes a Baby.
Artwork courtesy of Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth
Published November 5, 2015