Sex Books Every Family Should Read

“I bristle at the language of liberals and progressives because I sincerely try to write books for as many people as possible. Some people might think the books will contradict their values, and what I can promise to anyone is that in some places they will, and in others they won’t. If your values ​​are that homosexuality is wrong, the books will contradict that. But they will also never say that you should go have more sex. They will certainly never say that being religious and having a healthy sexual and gender identity are incompatible. And they will never say that sex is good. I think a life that does not include sexual activity, whether for religious reasons, moral reasons, or reasons that have to do with your body, can be a completely fulfilling life.

It took Silverberg and Smyth seven years to complete “You Know, Sex”, their book for children entering puberty. The four main characters of “Sex Is a Funny Word” are now in middle school, and “Mr. C,” their sex-ed teacher, leads them in discussions about body changes, gender, and sexual decision-making. Dozens of pages are devoted to limits and consent, exemplified by comic strips of young people in different genres – at the movies, on picnic blankets, at parties – asking permission to do things like hold hands or kissing, talking to each other about what feels good or bad or meh. Examples of language to negotiate physical intimacy abound. “Do you want to go check upstairs?” right now?” “Let’s slow down.” “Are you still okay?” “Let’s take a break.”

Reading “You Know, Sex” I remembered that when I first spoke to Silverberg they mentioned some of the issues they were struggling with as they incorporated a lot more factual information – about biology of reproduction, anatomy, birth control, sexual assault – which they had in the previous books. Questions like, how do you define a sexual feeling as opposed to other feelings? Should this new book have some kind of illustration of sex? I had thought of these questions as technical questions about what body parts and sexual activities to show, what definitions to use during what I basically imagined as a big blob of information. I hadn’t considered the possibility that humor, metaphor, and surrealism could make a book about puberty feel like anything more than an instructional text. I certainly hadn’t imagined a group of kids in bathing suits discussing their experiences with menstruation in a swimming pool filled with bright red blood. I also hadn’t imagined that a couple of anthropomorphic lemmings could demonstrate how social pressure leads us to initiate or accept physical intimacy that we don’t really want.

As for the question of how to depict sex, Silverberg continued to opt for less graphic detail rather than more, settling on the idea of ​​stick figures. The inspiration came from a groovy 1970s novelty item that Silverberg remembers seeing in souvenir shops as a child: posters showing grids of silhouettes in different sexual positions, each corresponding to a sign of the zodiac. Loosely based on Silverberg’s recollections, Smyth drew half a dozen cheerful, genderless, genitalia-less stick couples, assuming iconic poses. “Most people think having sex is like this,” reads the accompanying text.

When I got to this panel, I fell through one of those time traps, and for a split second I read like my childhood self. I eagerly watched the next panel for myth-busting truth. Someone would finally, finally tell me what sex really looked like. But – of course – Silverberg is not one to stage a big reveal with claims to definitional authority. “Having sex can look like a lot of things,” reads the text in a second panel, where the same smiling people, solo or in pairs, do things like make eye contact, hold hands, massage feet , sit in front of laptops and have fantasies involving the torso of a hunk with broad shoulders and a hairy chest.

This kind of open-ended phrasing, a Silverberg signature, is something they developed years ago during a conversation with an early reader of “Sex Is a Funny Word.” Silverberg is still working on ongoing books with audiences of different ages and backgrounds to get their perspectives, and this reader — a trans-male person who was raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family — said something that made a strong impression on Silverberg. “In the first draft of ‘Sex Is a Funny Word’,” Silverberg recalls, “I wrote in many places that people feel good or bad about certain things – a touch can make you feel good or make you feel bad, and soon. But this reader said, ‘Some things don’t make you feel anything at all, but that’s also a feeling.’ Silverberg was electrified and seems electrified again remembering the moment, “It was this idea of ​​neutrality! I had done the typical thing, which was to come up with two options. But even though there had been ’15 options says Silverberg, the problem was “to make a finite list of things that a reader might feel. Because if they don’t feel any of the things on the list, they think, well, that’s not me, and I lose them.

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