The starting point for talking to kids about sex.
So many adults are fearful that telling kids that sex is pleasurable will simply encourage young people to have it before they are physically and emotionally ready for the consequences. Better, they imagine, to emphasize that it’s important to wait and to stress the risks. But as it turns out, centering pleasure is a great way to minimize the chances that a teen will be pressured into doing something that they don’t want to do.
When we tell girls that sex is something people do when they love each other, it sets them up to believe that sex is sacrificial. So when Jassie falls in love with Bobby, and Bobby pushes for intercourse, she’s conditioned to focus on “giving it up” for him rather than on thinking about what feels good for her. The more she’s taught that her pleasure matters, the less likely she’ll be coerced into going farther than her body is ready to go. “It’s supposed to feel good”, she may remember, “and right now, being rushed and pawed doesn’t feel good. So I want to stop.” Centering pleasure gives young women a power that centering love doesn’t.
The same is true with boys. When we teach them that sex is about feeling good, we remind them that it isn’t about “losing it.” We think of adolescent boys as hormone-addled horndogs, and many of them are. There are some pretty damn horny teenage girls too, though we’re less comfortable acknowledging that. But what drives so many boys to focus on having heterosexual intercourse isn’t the pursuit of pleasure for either themselves or their partners. It’s the longing to “become a man” or to “score” in a competition that’s really about winning praise and validation from other men. Pleasure becomes less important than being a “stud” in other boys’ eyes. That’s not a lot of fun.So Cooper got it exactly right. While there are other reasons why people have sex, the desire to give and share pleasure is perhaps the most basic. And the more we center pleasure in our discussions with children, the more we equip them to say no to what hurts, what’s coerced, and what’s unwanted. And the more we empower them to say “yes” only to what feels good.
All I can add to this is that, just perhaps, we can then focus the rest of our energy on teaching them what a balanced relationship looks like, what it means to defraud another and what it means to only awaken that which the time has come for it to be awakened. In other words, empower them to really keep the hearts of everyone safe.