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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

It's normal for parents to object to graphic sex in kids' books

Aymann Ismail thought book-banners were prudish hysterics, he writes on Slate. Then a librarian gave him a copy of one of the most-challenged books, It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender, and Sexual Health.

When he got to the "Making Love" chapter, which shows three graphic images of adults having sex, he "began to wonder if I had been a little too dismissive of the parents at the root of this fight."

Note that Slate has prefaced his piece with a warning: "This article includes explicit images from a sex-education book for teenagers." But that's not quite true. It's a sex-ed book recommended for ages 10 and up, fourth or fifth grade.

Ismail, the father of two young children wonders: "Is it so crazy not to want them to be able to find this in the library?"

On Pages 20 and 21 are illustrations of 20 different bodies of all types, sizes, and ages, all completely naked, Ismail writes. It bothers him.

Then you turn to a page of a teenage girl bending all the way over and holding a mirror between her legs to inspect her genitals. And to another page that shows both an adolescent boy and girl masturbating alongside how-to instructions.

Ismail "struggled to identify which illustrations felt necessary, and which felt gratuitous and inflammatory to parents who might be even more prudish and queasy than I am."

He talks to a sex educator who urges him to "unlearn" his discomfort, and he tries. I don't think he succeeds.

Via Nellie Bowles on The Free Press, who adds: "If you can't read the sexy kids' book in Congress without grossing people out and having them tell you to please stop, Dad, maybe children shouldn’t read it."

She's talking about Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA, who read aloud from Gender Queer and All Boys Aren’t Blue, two contested books, in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "book bans." The explicit descriptions of oral and anal sex "shocked the audience," writes Brad Polumbo in the Washington Examiner. One anti-banning witness called it "disturbing."

But Kennedy's stunt "raised an important question," he writes. "If it’s too outrageous to read these books out loud in a room full of adults, why on Earth are they freely available in some middle school classrooms?"

Many of the challenged books are "extremely sexually graphic," Palumbo writes. We're not just talking about gay penguin dads. For example, This Book is Gay discusses "fetishes that involve eating feces and urinating on your partner," and "includes a how-to guide instructing readers how to use sex hook-up apps that are meant for adults only." Gender Queer "includes depictions of a simulated blow job and much more."

Not all efforts to influence library or curriculum decisions are reasonable, he writes. It depends on the content, the age of the students and so on. But there's nothing wrong with parents trying to have a say.

The top 10 books actually removed from school libraries "all contain sexually explicit passages," write Max Eden and Jay P. Greene in Education Week. Half depict heterosexual sex. "Children under the age of 13 (and possibly under the age of 17) would certainly not be permitted to see visual depictions of this matter at a movie theater without parental accompaniment."

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