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Valley Parents: Let’s talk about sex

  • Sexuality educator Cindy Pierce poses for a portrait in her home in Etna, N.H., on Jan. 22, 2019. Pierce uses humor and storytelling to talk to students or parents about porn and other topics. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley Parents Correspondent
Friday, February 08, 2019

Etna resident Cindy Pierce is not shy about talking about sex. If you know her only as the innkeeper at Pierce’s Inn, you may be surprised to learn Pierce is the author of two books, Sex, College & Social Media: A Commonsense Guide To Navigating The Hookup Culture and Sexploitation: Helping Kids Develop Healthy Sexuality in a Porn-Driven World.

Pierce uses comedy and storytelling to address issues of sexuality, whether she’s speaking to high schoolers, parents, teachers or her own kids, who are now 16, 18 and 20. She spoke with Valley Parents about sexuality in the internet age and why it’s OK that talking about sex with your kids is awkward — even if you’re a professional.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Burch: In previous generations there was the concept of “The Talk” — a one-and-done sex ed primer that was a right of passage. Today, experts say that parents should have an ongoing conversation with children about sexuality, starting when they’re preschoolers. What does that look like?

Pierce: Everyone wants a script. They want to know what to say, how to say it and what to do when the kids ask questions. But we can’t give that. When I talked to my kids, it did not go smoothly! I was continuously going to resources to better prepare myself. A lot of parents feel that they are smart and should be able to figure this out, but actually, very few people can figure this out. You need all the support you can get.

As a parent, you want your kids to have healthy relationships with their bodies and to have healthy sexual relationships when they are adults. You have to think of talking about sexuality as a process of investing in that. You are layering those conversations. Absolutely, it will be awkward and painful, but you have to persist, even though it feels like you don’t want to for a lot of reasons.

Burch: When my daughter was born, I knew I wanted to use correct anatomical terms for her body, but I found myself stumbling over the words. When I bought her a book about reproduction, I was the one blushing. How can well-intentioned parents like myself get over their own awkwardness?

Pierce: A benefit of starting these conversations when kids are preschoolers is that they get used to hearing their parents say these words. When kids are little, they are much kinder to us when we make mistakes, or we stumble or get awkward and embarrassing, which will happen even for those of us who do this for a living. It’s as much as to inform kids as it is to get parents practicing. Kids are more forgiving when they are younger, but at the same time they get used to having these conversations, so when they are preteens and teens, it will be much easier.

Burch: Today, we can get answers to our questions instantly with a quick Google search. Has that made sex ed less important?

Pierce: When I started as a sexuality educator, I assumed this next generation had the internet and were really getting all of the information they need. I quickly realized there is so much information on the internet, that young people are more misguided than ever before.

Google, or the internet itself, has made it so that people think they should know more. They don’t admit what they don’t know — they just go online for answers. And while the good and helpful answers are there, what kids are reaching first is pretty misleading because porn is often the first result for any sexuality-related searches.

Burch: Porn is a huge concern for parents. Whereas our parents may have sneaked looks at Playboy, kids today can unintentionally fall into graphic and often violent depictions of sex online. What advice do you have for teaching kids about sexuality in the internet age?

Pierce: Basically, you want to talk to your kids about healthy sexuality before they get to the internet. While definitive data is hard to find, experts believe that the age of first exposure to pornography is getting younger and younger. Because the industry dominates the search engines, kids are finding porn when they are trying to get information.

Internet filters put parents’ minds at ease, but they’re not going to solve the problem because porn is accessible everywhere. Relying on a filter is a way to avoid talking about it, when what we really need is to have that conversation. Parents want to think ‘my child is too young or too smart to look at porn,’ but they use all those reasons to avoid giving their kid proper sexuality education. Instead, awkward conversations need to replace sending our kids online for education.

Burch: A lot of sex education focuses on preventing pregnancy and STDs. The reason most of us have sex — for fun — is often left out of the conversation. How can parents address pleasure?

Pierce: When we talk to kids about sex, the reason for sex is pleasure, intimacy and connection. And procreation, sure.

I hear from parents that they don’t want their daughters having sex for the benefit of someone else. Then if you don’t really want that, then you need to talk to your daughter about pleasure.

Female pleasure is highly complicated terrain. Everyone just hopes women and girls figure that out, but by not giving our girls education about how their bodies work and how pleasure works, we are reinforcing that their pleasure is not important. I’m very honest with all my kids about the clitoris and its role in female pleasure.

Burch: Perhaps especially when it comes to talking about pleasure, there’s an idea that if we talk to kids about sex they’ll want to try it. Is there any truth to that?

Pierce: It’s exactly the opposite. The research has been clear for a long time, but people don’t want to hear it. The reality is, informed kids actually make healthier decisions and start having sex later. It seems counterintuitive, but that’s how it actually is.