Book Review – Making Sense of Sex
* Making Sense of Sex: A Forthright Guide to Puberty, Sex and Relationships for People with Asperger’s Syndrome was purchased by me, with my own funds.
My husband and I made the decision years ago to be as open and honest with our children as possible when they began to ask questions about puberty, love, and sex. Children today are exposed to so much communication and misinformation from friends, television, and the Internet, and we prefer they receive accurate information from us. Having two very inquisitive boys means we have faced several (often very uncomfortable) conversations and detailed questions on everything from sexual intercourse to tampons to homosexuality. Aside from clarifying that our personal sex lives are off limits, the boundaries have been nearly unconfined. If they have a question, we answer, or we find the answer for them.
Raising two boys who are more comfortable talking to mom than dad has been frustrating at times. There are some questions I cannot answer, some experiences I have never lived through. When our Aspie son was 11, I realized it was time to find more ‘expert’ advice. After speaking with some friends who are also raising sons with Asperger’s, I found Making Sense of Sex: A Forthright Guide to Puberty, Sex and Relationships for People with Asperger’s Syndrome by Sarah Attwood. I was immediately drawn to the fact that she is the wife of Asperger’s expert Tony Attwood and, after looking into the description of the book, I ordered a copy online.
My son has glanced at the book in the past couple of years, and I have used it as a reference source when he has had some difficult questions, or I wanted to be sure the wording I was using would be effective for him. Recently, however, I decided to read the book cover-to-cover in order to feel safe recommending the book to others. I was pleasantly surprised to find a comprehensive guide to sex, relationships, hygiene, puberty, diet, exercise, emotions, and sexual health and reproduction. Attwood’s book is unambiguous and unbiased. Her explanations are direct and incredibly descriptive, written perfectly for her audience, who will appreciate the lack of obscurity in describing topics relating to sex and development. Illustrator Jonathon Powell provides simple but descriptive drawings, particularly of human anatomy.
While I am comfortable letting my teenage son read the book on his own, I can appreciate that there are sections of the book that some parents may want to sensor or read along with their teen or pre-teen. The drawings can be very graphic, including some that depict sexual positions. Some vernacular is used to help teens understand modern language, including referring to testicles as ‘balls.’ No topic is off limits in the book, including passages discussing masturbation, homosexuality, sizes (and diagrams) of erections, premarital sex, and other potentially controversial topics. None of the writing or drawings are gratuitous, but they are likely to cause some discomfort for some parents and children and are worth a forewarning.
All in all, I have almost nothing to criticize about this book. There is one huge issue that is worth mentioning, as my son and I found it frustrating and inaccurate. In the chapter on friendships, there is a section discussing bullying. While the majority of the section is well written, at one point Attwood literally describes bullies as ‘heartless’ and says they ‘don’t feel sorry about what they are doing.’ Professionally, I have worked with bullies and bullied children and find those statements to be both inaccurate and dangerous. My son provided another perspective after he read a follow-up paragraph explaining why being a bully is unacceptable. If, as a black-and-white thinker who is reading this book, a teen Aspie realizes he may have been participating in bullying behavior, he then will think himself heartless and unapologetic. While this section certainly doesn’t negate the quality of her book, I think it would be a good point of discussion for readers.
I enjoy and respect the style of the book, which I think is perfectly written for tweens and teens with Asperger’s. As a parent, I very much appreciate Attwood’s position regarding the importance of parents not only being open to discussing the ‘facts of life’ with our kids but also not being afraid to include our own values and beliefs about sex and reproduction. I highly recommend Sarah Attwood’s book to parents and teens and pre-teens who are ready to explore and discuss human development and sexuality. It is well-written for its audience and is a valuable reference book for topic-specific discussions.
About the Author
Tara O’Gorman, MSW, is an independent consultant and advocate for individuals and families living with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and provides consulting for organizations working within the ASD community. She is a group facilitator for adolescents and young adults with ASD and is a proud mom to two sons, including an Asperger’s teenager.