Teaching Sex Ed: Making it Easier with Ariel Saint White
Did you know that sex education programming varies widely across the United States?
According to Planned Parenthood, only 39 states and the District of Columbia mandate some kind of sex education and/or HIV education. Less than half of high schools cover all the 20 topics recommended by the CDC in their comprehensive sex education programs.
There's a huge gap between the sex education that children need and what they're taught. Children are innately curious and when they lack sex education in schools, they turn to the internet as a resource. Hence, parents play an important role in teaching their children about sex education to prevent them from being misled by inappropriate resources. However, it can be difficult to teach your children if your knowledge about sex ed is a little lacking.
Ariel Saint White, an author, entrepreneur, and the founder of My Little Yoni takes even further in breaking down taboos and giving parents and kids quality body-positive education. Ariel shares how to make the sensitive subject matter easier to talk about and the importance of parents having open conversations with their kids in connection with the broken state of sex-ed in the US. Read on the interview of Abbey from Mimosas of Moms with Ariel Saint White.
Tell us about how My Little Yoni started
I've worked in the field of sexual wellness for over 15 years and it originally started off working with women and helping women have a more connected relationship with their sexuality and with their pleasure. Moving away from the culture that's all just centered on the man's pleasure.
A lot of my clients were moms and as I went down this path, I realized that parents struggle to talk to their kids. And more than that, how great would it be if there were more resources for kids to just grow up knowledgeable and feeling comfortable and shame-free. So that's when I took a turn into sex education, supporting parents by having these conversations directly with their kids. That is the ultimate reason why I created My Little Yoni - a nonprofit organization centered on spreading accurate quality sex education in a way that makes these conversations easier and fun.
Teaching sex ed, when should it begin?
So we always say that it's never too young to start these conversations in the same way kids are learning about everything else in life.
Why wouldn't they be learning about their body? You're naming body parts, name all the body parts including the genitals. But because of the culture we live in, it can be very easy to skip over that or to give really “cutie” names.
"It's important to know accurate anatomy that helps kids grow up not only feeling more comfortable but also more able to be their own advocates because they actually have the right names."
And so sex ed, it starts there. It starts with accurate anatomy and generally around age three is a good time to introduce that. That's why we have a 10-book series and our first two books are for the age range of three to five. And at that point, it really is just a conversation around anatomy. Kids don't have any shame or taboo and they're totally open to everything because they're discovering what it means to be human here in a body. But from there developmentally, generally, things like self-pleasure start coming up. So it's totally normal if that starts coming up around five sometimes earlier, sometimes later.
The next book series focus on self-pleasure and that is actually a doorway into the beginnings of the consent conversation. It is totally normal to touch your body because it's interesting and might feel good, but do that in private. And only you should be touching your body, your body belongs to you and you always need to ask before touching anyone else's body. That's one thing I like to help parents remember if your kid is touching their own body, their genitals, that's totally natural and it's not sexual in the same way.
How are we having conversations like self-pleasure?
Noticing your own child's development is really helpful. So if your kid is masturbating in the living room, that's a good opportunity if they're not disturbing anyone. Let them have their experience and then pick up that conversation. Tell them that it’s totally normal to touch your body, but it's something you want to do in privacy. The main thing is we don't want shame to come into the conversation. It's normal to explore your body but then at the same time, we want our kids to be safe. And that's where conversations around privacy and even cleanliness come in washing.
At what point should you start talking about puberty, intercourse, or being intimate with partners?
I think it's important that even though there are guidelines of what subject matter and how to introduce it at which age kids develop at different rates, the main thing is thinking out this whole subject matter is a series of ongoing conversations. It's not a one-time conversation. You need to establish yourself as the trustable go-to adult in your kid's life just so they feel comfortable bringing anything.
What can say about sex-ed in the United States?
We've had innovation and improvement in so many other areas, but not really in sex ed. So that same repressive shame-based abstinence-focused education is still what's broadly accepted and there's also nothing required at the federal level so it comes down to states. And if you do look at where the federal government has spent money, it is generally in the abstinence-only approach which we know doesn't work.
When you look at other developed nations that have more encompassing comprehensive sex education, teen pregnancy rates and instances of sexual assault are much lower. Here in the United States, teen pregnancy rates are off the chart and so abstinence-only education doesn't actually work. The other thing is because it comes down to just the state level, sex ed is only even required in 29 states, it's only required to be medically accurate in 23 states and then consent education is only required in seven states.
Some parents think that schools will handle but once you know, you would probably say I do need to take this on a bit more. Sex ed is not just protecting your body against STDs or unplanned pregnancy. It's about consent, protecting yourself in different relationships, and knowing your boundaries.
What advice can you give parents especially when it comes to having open conversations with their kids?
Even if you're initiating these conversations and establishing yourself as a trusted go-to adult, that doesn't mean you have to have it all figured out yourself. It's more about having those conversations, bringing in ideally tools and resources, and then learning alongside your kids. If they're getting this great education from the ground up, you might be in all likelihood reeducating yourself probably in the process. It's okay to not have all the answers during the conversations but make sure to get back with them.
Can you talk to us about what each book is in the series?
We have the 10-book series, the first 2 books - The Amazing Truth and Spectacular Truth focused on the female and male anatomy for ages three to five. Then we have, What's the M word, masturbation book to focus more on vulvas. The next one is All About Consent and that's ages five to eight+.
We have a range because it's all about empowering parents and recognizing that ultimately you're seeing how your child is developing. As parents, you can review the material and you might see that there is some topic that you might think your child is not quite ready to know about or ready for things earlier than what we're recommending.
The next in the series is Creating Life and that's ages six to eight, then Loving LGBTQ, a book focused on love and sexual orientation. And then we have a book called Breaking the Binary which is all about gender identity. The book Beyond the Birds and the Bees are for ages eight to 10, that's where we start getting into intercourse, partner sex, and going a bit further. The Power of Periods is really great for anyone who is having their period. It’s also a good book for boys to understand periods. The last book in the series is called a new baby is coming, it's all focused on pregnancy and helping a child understand what their pregnant parents going through. It’s also emotionally preparing to become an older sibling.
Where can we find these books?
You can find every book at www.mylittleyoni.com and we have also dolls that are companions of the books. For every book series we sell, we donate a book to at-risk youth and then we also operate as a nonprofit.
Your kids might be aged out of this or you might not have kids, but you still understand how important it is to get this education out more widely. And that's why we created the nonprofit part and are able to receive donations because our mission is to get accurate, positive sex ed out to as many families as possible, as widely as possible.