to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex
by Judith Levine
by Joanne Alcantara
to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex is a brave book.
In it, author Judith Levine advocates for children's rights and discusses child
sexuality without condescension. She argues for the development of a radical,
leftist sex education and challenges us to trust children and teens with making
their own decisions about sex and sexuality.
Levine celebrates the incredible
access to information that children have. She speaks out against alliances between
some feminists and conservatives to censor sexually explicit content on the internet.
Levine points out that the consequence of most internet filters is to block pornography
along with a wealth of information about sexual health, contraception, and pleasure.
Harmful to Minors challenges educators and parents to teach children to
be media-savvy consumers.
For adults who parent or work with children,
Harmful to Minors asks us to put our fears away and understand child sexual
exploration as we do other types of learning. Levine argues that the skills children
need to grow in a healthy way, such as confidence, integrity, trust, kindness,
and compassion, are the same skills they need to become sexually mature. She argues
that we cannot and should not protect children from sex, but we can help them
make better decisions for themselves by building their sense of self-love and
A good decision about sex, Levine argues, does not imply abstinence.
She is critical of the mainstream sex education in our schools that touts abstinence-only
or abstinence-plus safe sex and does not openly discuss sexual pleasure. Levine
is adamant that we need to be fully honest with children about sex and why we
enjoy it, to meet them where they are at, and to give them the privacy they need
to learn from themselves and other young people.
While I fully agree with
the sex-positive attitude that Levine advocates for, her discussion on statutory
rape, child sexual assault, and abuse is lacking. Levine's strong belief in child
sexual agency threatens to dismiss the possibility of child sexual coercion and
assault. She plainly states that child sexual encounters, like adult ones, cannot
escape the realities of social hierarchies and uneven power relations. Levine,
however, provides little commentary on these inequities and seems to simply trust
that empowered children will not be sexually harmed-a difficult idea for anyone
concerned with children to swallow.
What is missing in Harmful to Minors
is a discussion on how adults can better serve as sexual role models for children
and how we can get past the language of consent. We cannot teach children to be
sexually mature unless we are able to be honest, celebratory, and critical of
our own sexual selves. Additionally, unless we can talk about sex as an act appropriate
only when mutually desired, rather than one party initiating and another consenting,
I do not believe we can encourage or have for ourselves equitable, pleasurable
Still, Harmful to Minors is an absolutely compelling
book. It is well written and challenges conventional ideas about child sexuality
and what is appropriate for minors. It pushes adults to communicate in a radical
way and allow children access to all the information we have. It asks us to teach
children and then to trust them with the decisions they make for themselves.
most violent element in society is ignorance"
- Emma Goldman
Feminist Women's Health Center