Bonnie J. Rough
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A look inside
Beyond Birds & Bees

Bonnie J. Rough never expected to write a book about sex, but life handed her a revelation too vital to ignore. Beyond Birds & Bees is her provocative inquiry into how we teach our children about bodies, sex, relationships and equality—with eye-opening, practical takeaways from the author's research and the world-famous Dutch approach. Scroll down to read an excerpt and discover more resources.

"Bonnie J. Rough has written a brilliant book about sex, gender, justice, and joy, and it's one that manages to be simultaneously sobering and buoyant. Her main ingredients for raising healthy kids--wonder, humor, and trust--constitute a kind of inspirational worldview, applicable to all aspects of parenting certainly, but even beyond that, to life itself. I'm so glad I read it (except for how I want to move to Amsterdam now)."
- Catherine Newman, author of Catastrophic HappinessWaiting for Birdy, and One Mixed-Up Night

"With care and clarity, Bonnie J. Rough breathes new life into our national non-conversation about sex. Taking her cues from other countries' sensible approaches, she guides us gently towards a saner and healthier future."
Michael Kimmel, bestselling author of Manhood in America and Guyland

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Excerpt from Beyond Birds & Bees

One afternoon, Dan and I took the kids to NEMO, Amsterdam’s science museum. Drifting together and apart among scores of other parents and kids, we spent the better part of a day exploring everything from kinetics to DNA. When we finally tumbled outside into the afternoon sunshine—one lucky stroke in an otherwise rain-soaked September—Dan dug out water bottles and handed them to the kids as they climbed into the boxbike. Then he turned to me, amazement on his face. “Could you believe that exhibit?” he asked.

“Which exhibit?”

Clearly, I’d missed something juicy.

“You need to go back in there,” he said. “It’s a huge display on the middle floor. Tons of pink and neon. You’ll want to take your time.” There was humor in his hazel eyes as he hopped onto the bike.

A few minutes later I was posing for a selfie next to a long, luminous tube like a giant emergency glow stick mounted on the wall. Inside, gooey strings and globules stretched and swirled in a thick, moon-white mix. It was a little like a lava lamp, but also nothing like a lava lamp, because the liquid was meant to be semen. Fifty-three liters, to be exact: the average amount a man ejaculates in a lifetime. How had I missed this?

With their usual composure, the Dutch families milling around seemed to barely register the sex-and-puberty extravaganza, a permanent feature of the museum. To them, it was apparently no more remarkable than the brain-science display upstairs or the engineering experiments on the mezzanine. But after reading how many orgasms a woman can have in sixty minutes (134) compared to a man (16—oh, well), watching two giggling women arm wrestling with giant tongue puppets in a French-kissing diorama, and taking a computerized quiz that revealed my abysmal “sexual assertiveness” score (the onscreen game-show host actually laughed at me), I was admittedly a bit red in the face. Despite all of my recent reading and my resolve to raise my kids with modern-minded openness about sexuality, I could feel in my burning cheeks that my hang-ups were alive and well. After all, there I stood: a married American mother in her mid-thirties, learning all manner of new sex facts from an exhibit designed for children.


"With humor, humility, and gentleness, Bonnie Rough takes us on her journey of discovery and leaves us somewhere surprising and wonderful. Along the way, her practical tips add up to a transformative rethinking of what it means to teach our children about sex. This is a book that can help everybody: parents who know what they’re doing, parents who worry they don’t have a clue, and the rest of us, too, who never got the loving, tender teaching we deserved."
- Lisa Wade, bestselling author of American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus

"What a gift! Bonnie J. Rough offers a much-needed breath of fresh air in her wonderful new approach to discussing sex, love, and equality with our kids. Her smart, vigorously well-researched, and funny book is a great guide for families to read and discuss as their kids grow up."
- Caroline Grant, Co-Director, Sustainable Arts Foundation
"Finally: a parenting book that abandons preachiness for a joyful and thoughtful inquiry into how we might guide our kids, and grow with them, as they become healthy, happy young adults. Bonnie J. Rough's experience in the Netherlands and her wide-ranging research offer an inspiring and practical alternative to help children (and their parents) become more comfortable in their own skins."
Sonya Huber, author of Pain Woman Takes Your Keys

Q&A with Bonnie

 

Q: How do I start this conversation with my kid?

A: Don’t even worry about how it goes the first time, or the second, or the tenth, or the hundredth. Keeping the conversation alive, open, and normal is way more important than finding perfect words. (Do those even exist?)

Q: What are we talking about when we talk about sex?

A: Sex is a tiny word that can signify something physical and specific. But in its most important sense, it encompasses a great deal more about what it means to thrive in our human bodies, relationships, and communities. When it comes to educating kids, we want this latter definition to rule. (In formal programs, that big-picture approach is called “comprehensive sexuality education,” or CSE.) The information we give kids about the biological side of sex should be thorough and accurate, of course, but that’s just one piece of a big, beautiful picture that also includes nurturing children’s body positivity, self esteem, assertiveness, and concern for others. This is how subjects such as friendship, love, consent, diversity, inclusiveness, pleasure and equality fit under the same three-letter umbrella as classic birds-and-bees fare such as puberty and reproductive facts.

Q: You say great sex ed builds gender equality. What’s the connection?

A: Illustrating this essential link has been one of the most exciting parts of writing Beyond Birds & Bees. It turns out that kids who grow up knowing they have:

  • a body that is normal, good, and wholesome

  • the right to body sovereignty

  • the obligation to respect and protect other people’s boundaries

  • the skills to be critical of gender-role and sex stereotypes

  • and good reason to stand up for freedom of opportunity for all of their peers

mature into adults with an evolved, egalitarian mindset—and better sexual health, which keeps life’s options open.

Q: Can you recommend more resources?

A: Gladly! Here are a few for starters, geared to a broad audience and general info:

For young kids
The Family Book by Todd Parr
What Makes A Baby by Cory Silverberg
What’s the Big Secret? By Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
My Mom’s Having a Baby! by Dori Hillestad Butler
It’s Not the Stork and It’s So Amazing by Robie Harris

For older kids
Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
amaze.org
New Moon Girls - Magazine

For teenagers
S.E.X. by Heather Corinna
scarleteen.com
Real Talk - App

For grownups
Talk to Me First by Deborah Roffman
For Goodness Sex by Al Vernacchio
amaze.org
advocatesforyouth.org
siecus.org
whysexed.org


Beyond Birds and Bees is a must-read for every parent. With humor and grace, Bonnie Rough invites readers to learn alongside her as she embarks on a journey to understand how we can create truly gender equal societies and raise happy and healthy children who celebrate their own bodies. I wish I’d read this book when my daughters were little, but I’m grateful for it now, because it is never to late to talk openly with our kids about sex, sexuality and our bodies. This book is validating, eye-opening and truly life-changing.”
Kate Hopper, author of Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers and Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood

“This book made me want to shed shame like an itchy sweater on a warm spring day. The conversation Rough starts about sexuality and gender equality in Beyond Birds & Bees is one we all need to be having—with our partners, our kids, our kids’ teachers, our legislators—well: everybody. Read it. Start talking.”
Jill Christman, author of Darkroom: A Family Exposure and Borrowed Babies: Apprenticing for Motherhood

 

Looking for something more specific?

Are you a young person or an ally in search of more resources? A parent wondering how to get started—or how to catch up? Maybe you’re an educator working to identify a great curriculum and articulate its value to the families in your community, or you’re an advocate or policymaker looking for ways to bring data colorfully to life with powerful stories. Tell us what you’re looking for!

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