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caption: Peggy Orenstein on Boys & Sex 
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Peggy Orenstein on Boys & Sex
Credit: Flickr Photo/The People Speak! (CC BY-NC 2.0)/

How to break the ice with boys and girls on the 'birds and bees'

If your to-do list includes “Talk to X or Y about sex”—especially if X or Y has a pair of XY chromosomes — but you can’t seem to get around to it, listen up.

Back in 2016, Peggy Orenstein gave a great talk at Town Hall Seattle about her book Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. Complicated, yes — but Orenstein has a disarming way of talking about her research. Something in her manner softens the blow of her touchy subject matter.

Why is it touchy? Because she writes about a culture permeated with sexism, sexual innuendo, and objectification that is also terrible at talking about sex! That’s us.

Orenstein’s new book is Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity. Surprisingly enough, she says she didn’t see the boy book coming. Ultimately, her deep research into the lives of girls finally lead her to address the other side of the equation.

This talk and topic has layers and layers, but perhaps contains one overriding message: As much as we may want to avoid the subject, we have to better understand sex and gather the tools to talk about it with young people, from an early age.

“It’s not about having this big talk. It’s about a lot of small conversations throughout boys lives, that are about sex but not just about sex, that are about consent but aren’t just about consent, that are about emotional connection and disconnection, that are about media, that are about making gender dynamics visible to them, that are about personal accountability," Orenstein said.

"Boys, by the way, were clear to me that they wanted to hear more from the men in their lives on these subjects, whether it was fathers or uncles or step-fathers, whomever the male role model was in their lives.”

Peggy Orenstein is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and AFAR. The Columbia Journalism Review named her one of its 40 women who changed the media business in the past 40 years. She spoke at Town Hall Seattle on January 23. Town Hall provided our recording.

This episode of Speakers Forum aired originally on January 30, 2020

Please note: This recording contains unedited language of an adult nature.