We were delighted to read the news this week that funding for abstinence only education has been cut drastically and that a large grant now exists for a more (and in some cases a much more) comprehensive sexuality education. These new research-supported programs strengthen young people in many aspects of their lives – including work, general education, and life skills.
While we are delighted that these programs are expanding their purview, we feel there is an even better way to approach sex education. This country already places plenty of emphasis on its work ethic – what we feel what is missing in our education as a country is an ethic of pleasure. We imagine a world in which every person feels entitled to having and giving pleasure. A world in which each person is also taught to take account of other’s pleasure and make sure we are sharing pleasure with others instead of taking it from them without regard for their needs or feelings. Sex education, without pleasure education, is empty and leads to huge, lifetime disappointments around sex in our culture. When it comes to young people, as a culture, we fear talking about pleasure because we fear that it might encourage young people to have sex. However, young people get messages about the pleasures of sex everywhere – except those from whom they really need it, namely parents and teachers. What people don’t realize is that an ethic of pleasure is also protective for young people. Research on young girls’ sexuality found that those who were told that they had a right to pleasure actually ended up making more conscious and communicative decisions around sex, were more likely to wait longer to have it, and were more likely to use protection when they did. We hope someday to live in a world that is based on an ethic of pleasure – having it, giving it, and receiving it – and we hope that sex education for people of all ages will have pleasure at its foundation.