For Fonda, healthy sexuality starts with self-reflection and a commitment to become the good, kind people she assumes her teen readers want to be when they grow up. She stresses that a good relationship is “healthy,” “committed,” and defined by trust and honest communication. “Ideally, any amount of physical intimacy should be matched with an equal amount of emotional intimacy.”
While Fonda largely downplays her celebrity in Being a Teen, WiseGuyz, a boys-only sex-ed program in Calgary, relies in large part on the charisma of the ones teaching it. In fact, as Rachel Giese writes in a recent cover story for The Walrus, part of the WiseGuyz program’s success comes from giving boys likable male role models whom they can trust with embarrassing problems like ill-fitting condoms.
Like Dating Matters, the WiseGuyz program focuses on boys entering their teens. The weekly sessions in Calgary intermediate schools cover many of the topics Fonda does—anatomy, bullying, sexual identity, healthy relationships—but the emphasis is different.
From the start, WiseGuyz parent agency, the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, saw a connection between trends in violence and sexually transmitted infections and “cultural and media messages about what it meant to be a man.” Thus, WiseGuyz director Blake Spence tells Giese the program both challenges and affirms traditional masculinity. As with many of these approaches, the WiseGuyz program doesn’t yet have data on long-term results, but Giese reports that anecdotal feedback from past graduates has been positive.
If there’s one sex-ed source we have researched, it’s that unsanctioned, but ubiquitous teacher: porn.
In an article last year describing his research for the British Channel 4 documentary Porn on the Brain, former “lad’s mag editor”-turned-father Martin Daubney reported that teens’ knowledge of porn shocked him.
When he sat in on a class led by a “sex-education consultant,” Daubney said “it turned out that the children's extensive knowledge of porn terms was not only startling, it superseded that of every adult in the room—including the sex-education consultant himself.”
While Daubney’s story turned on a compelling anecdote, the authors of a detailed 2013 research review for the Children’s Commissioner for England found that “a significant proportion of children and young people are exposed to or access pornography.” (As a review of more than 400 studies, the report focused more on general themes in the literature than specific numbers.)
In their section on how porn “affects children’s and young people’s beliefs,” the authors note, “Some of these studies have also found links with less progressive gender role attitudes (e.g. male dominance and female submission).”
Fonda warns teens that those for whom porn is the “main source of sex education … risk learning from porn how to be in a sexual relationship, what is sexy, how to look and act.” Yet though she stresses the mutuality of healthy relationships (contra the fictions of porn), Fonda’s section on “girls … who don’t have an orgasm” concludes with men’s sexual problems:
“If a man has not had an orgasm but his partner has and wants to stop, the man can masturbate himself (or ask his partner to masturbate him) until he reaches orgasm. (Or he can simply allow his erection to subside.) A woman could do the same.”
For help teaching mutuality in healthy sexual relationships, educators and parents might have to consult religious advice on sex. While said advice often assumes a married audience, books like The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy (written for conservative Orthodox Jews) offer far more specific, practical advice on ensuring both partners’ pleasure.