“Remember, the conversation is already happening. Your kids are talking about sex all the time. It’s a matter of whether or not you join the conversation”
Author Al Vernacchio is a high school English and Human Sexuality teacher whose honest-to-goodness, grounded approach to complicated and sensitive topics in the classroom translates well into this very usable, good-humored guide for parents who want to do right by their kids but are understandably nervous or stuck when it comes to talking about sex.
Mr. Vernacchio isn’t afraid to spell it out and won’t sugar-coat the importance of this subject. His work is informed by over twenty years of interacting with and learning from diverse teens, and he demonstrates an undeniably balanced and humble understanding of the real challenges and risks teens face. He also addresses the ways in which their world might look a bit different from and also the same as his and many parents’ experiences from other generations and backgrounds. In doing so, he creates a feeling that parents and their kids might feel very distant and feel a lot of fear about navigating this topic, but that ultimately we’re all on the same side.
Sometimes sex educators can sound like over-enthusiastic cheerleaders, as if big problems like shame and misinformation around sexuality are best addressed by being even bigger with the loudest, proudest cheer. But this kind of bubbly sex-positive voice isn’t always helpful or necessary. Al Vernacchio’s sex positivity is just as charming, but in a very moderate, genuine way. As your teenager might say, he’s ‘for realsies.’ To get a good idea of what we mean, check out his TED talk (or Chapter 3 of this book) about replacing the baseball metaphor for sex with a pizza metaphor–brilliant, hilarious and helpful. Mr. Vernacchio is the kind of teacher many of us remember for our entire lives, the kind who has earned the respect of teens by respecting and listening to them.
Many parents will appreciate his inside out model for teaching healthy sexuality: he begins his class and the book with a “Values Clarification” discussion and exercises. Body parts and explicit acts don’t come in until we start building a framework for making decisions and discovering a strong sense of self. He models ways to foster a non-judgemental, open, ongoing conversations with teens that encourage authenticity and teaches critical, independent thinking they can apply on their own. He shares teaching devices he uses in his class, including real questions students have submitted to his anonymous “Question Box.” He also includes customizable scripts and pointers for handling specific topics and situations like body image, gender, masturbation, love, break-ups, and everything in between. We highly recommend this book to any parent or caregiver who wants to help guide their teens down a progressive, empowered path to safe and happy relationships and sexuality.
Suthor: Al Vernacchio. 2014. 272 pages.