FAIRFAX COUNTY, Virginia—Virginia Beach City Public Schools has decided to keep a book teaching about masturbation and gender identity in their college libraries. While the book was in two college libraries when it was challenged in July, a third college acquired it and featured it in the newly added book collection.
“Sex Is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings, and You,” written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth, includes images of a child touching herself in the bathtub.
“You may have discovered that touching certain parts of your body, especially the midsections, can make you feel hot and tingly. Adults call this kind of touching masturbation,” the book says. It mentions also that the nipples and anus can be pleasant to touch.
The author offers virtual and in-person reading conferences and school tours for elementary and middle school children, according to his website. He is also a founding member of a sex shop cooperative in Toronto. The store’s website said it had a “fundamentally anti-capitalist and feminist approach to sexual pleasure, health and education”. The Epoch Times has contacted Silverberg for comment.
The book also encourages children to explore their gender identity, stating that sex at birth is not for the “whole body”.
Virginia Beach City School Board member Victoria Manning issued a challenge in July, asking the school district to reevaluate “Sex Is a Funny Word” because of its content about masturbation and sexuality.
Kipp Rogers, director of studies at Virginia Beach City Public Schools, told Manning Sept. 21 that the school district had decided to keep the book in college libraries. Rogers said the book was an elective for students and won national awards. The book was among the American Library Association’s Top Ten Picks in 2016 and won an LGBTQ Book Award the same year.
Additionally, he said the book was “inclusive.” “For example, the drawings include children with disabilities and children with different body types,” he wrote.
The letter also stated that the committee’s parent reviewer thought the book was “informative” and “liked the questions at the end of each chapter as they provide topics for students to discuss with their parents or guardians.”
According to Rogers’ letter, the committee consisted of a student, a parent, school staff and central support staff.
Bayside and Corporate Landing Middle Schools had the book when Manning submitted his challenge in July. Now a third school, Larkspur Middle School, has acquired the same book. Lisa Castellano, media specialist at the school library, did not respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.
Manning told The Epoch Times the reason for his challenge: “I want reasonable restrictions that provide age-appropriate materials in our schools. Sexually explicit content should not be recommended or provided to minors, at least not without parental consent.
“There are restrictions on the types of films that can be shown to minors. Yet children receive these extremely explicit and pornographic materials without their parents’ permission,” she added.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Virginia Beach City Public Schools for comment. As the fourth largest school district in the state and the largest outside of northern Virginia, Virginia Beach City has 63,675 students and more than 80 schools, including 15 colleges.
“Teach my child the basics”, not masturbation
Lindsey has three children studying in the Virginia Beach City school district. Her son, the middle of the three, is a college student. She does not want to divulge her last name for fear of being doxed.
“Teach my child English, math, science, basics. I don’t need you to teach my child how to masturbate or have anal sex,” she said of school. “That’s not why I’m sending my child to school.”
According to Lindsey, parents who want to teach moral values to their children are already struggling with social media and other influences to which their children are exposed. And walking into a college library and finding sexually explicit books bothers her deeply.
“We have a right to know what will shape our children’s minds,” she told The Epoch Times. She emphasized that she was not a book banner; she did not believe the book was appropriate for public schools.
A middle school teacher who taught for 30 years, 22 of them in public schools in Virginia Beach City, echoed Lindsey’s sentiment. This year, she teaches 120 students social studies and English, two subjects “hit hard by inappropriate subjects or subjects”, according to her.
“Parents need to be sure that when they send their children to school, it’s a safe place. As teachers and as adults in children’s lives, we all have a responsibility to be a gatekeeper to prevent harm,” she commented on condition of anonymity for fear of losing her use.
“Unfortunately, many administrative officials and school board members are allowing adult materials into schools, which is why school board elections are more important than ever,” she told The Epoch Times.
A 2017 study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University found negative outcomes associated with early sexual initiation, defined as having sex at age 14 or younger. These findings included a two to three times higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and showing symptoms of depression in young adults.
And a 2020 study (pdf) from the Department of Health and Human Services identified exposure to sexually explicit media as a risk factor for early sexual initiation. Protective factors include bonding with parents, parental monitoring, and parental values that disapprove of adolescent sex.
Virginia enacted a new law in April that requires public schools to notify parents if sexually explicit content is included in any educational materials. School boards must adopt the state Department of Education model policies or a broader version by January 1, 2023.
However, library books are considered resources and not learning materials unless they are used for school assignments or projects.
According to the Virginia Code, “sexually explicit content” is any description or visual representation of “sexual arousal, sexual conduct, or sadomasochistic abuse.”