If you’ve been anywhere near a teen in the last year, you have probably heard about “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (first an adorable YA book series by author Jenny Han then a break-out, beautifully shot Netflix Romcom that’s spawned one newly-released sequel and one more in the works). If you’ve yet to get roped into a viewing, the first movie follows Lara Jean Song-Covey (played by the stunning Lana Condor) whose love letters to crushes past and present accidentally get sent out to said crushes, including to Peter Kavinsky (the Internet’s loveable Taurus boyfriend Noah Centineo) and chaos and fake dating ensues before we get our much-deserved happy ending.
The sequel, dropped on Wednesday on Netflix, follows Lara Jean and Peter’s relationship as they navigate a few firsts as a couple and deal with the introduction of other potential love interests. But beyond the love triangle and adorable outfits and tiny swoon-inducing acts between the high-chemistry leads, there’s actually a bit of really smart, empowering and exciting advice for young people getting ready to make their sexual debuts. If you’re looking for a pain-free in to have a real and non-excruciating conversation about sex and pleasure (one of the many you should be having as your kids grow into teens) this might just be it.
Basically, Lara Jean and her best friend Chris (played hilariously by Madeline Arthur) are chatting about whether or not the couple, now established and comfortable in their relationship, are going to have sex. Playing on the teen movie trope of first-time sex as a major plunge or something that one partner (disproportionately the teen girl) is unsure or deeply anxious about whether it’s a thing they even want, they instead take a turn to the less-covered ground: How to make The Sex™ actually feel good.
“Before you go too far with Kavinsky,” Chris says, “make sure you are 100%—no, 1,000%—sure—”
“That it’s something that I want,” Lara Jean answers. “I know. Trust me, I’m not—”
“Actually I was gonna say something else,” Chris corrects her. “I am trying to make sure you know how to rev your own engine before you let anyone under the hood. I’m just saying: Make sure you know how to look after you.”
First of all: How great is it that teens get to grow up with this kind of thing modeling first-time sex? It feels infinitely less gross than anything John Hughes’ movies or even the mid- to late- aughts TV and film produced. And, yet, It’s that last bit that is something that at-times feels so impenetrable when it comes to talking to young people about having healthy and satisfying sex lives: You gotta get real about masturbation and help normalize it as a regular part of becoming an adult sexual being.
We already know that talking about sex in a shame-free, science-based way is necessary. In addition to helping teens make the right decisions for themselves and their bodies from a health perspective, it’s vital to helping them build out a vision of what sex can be and can mean to them as they get older and forge the connections and partnerships they’re going to have. If they know that partnered sex (which isn’t a thing they ever need to engage with if they don’t want to) is an activity that is supposed to be done with and not to another person and is supposed to feel good, it can cut through a lot of the cultural shame narratives and rape culture narratives that make it harder to keep encounters both consensual (at the bare minimum) and not awful.
“Make sure your child understands that masturbation, like many other things, is a private activity, not a public one. If you observe him touching his genitals in a public place, you might say to him [or her]: ‘It is not appropriate for you to be touching your penis [or vagina] here. It should be only done in the privacy of your room when no one is with you,’” guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advise. “As you discuss masturbation with your child, do not label it as bad, dirty, evil, or sinful. This will create a sense of guilt and secrecy that may be unhealthy for his sexual development.”
And studies show that despite stigma, masturbation is incredibly common among older teens. In an overview from JAMA Pediatrics, one study from Australia examining teens 15 to 18 showed that of the people surveyed, 58 percent of people who identified as males and 42 percent of people who identified as females reported masturbating at least once. In the United States, masturbation is reportedly more common among 14-17 year olds than partnered sex. And, best of all, women report that having positive experiences with masturbation while growing up led to more positive sexual experiences later on and healthier self-image.
So, odds are, if this is a topic your teen is open to broaching (definitely be as respectful of their boundaries as you can be), there’s a benefit to making sure they know that it’s a good thing to get to know your body — and all the better to start that journey of getting to know their bodies before you start fumbling around with an equally-inexperienced partner.
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