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Book Review: For Goodness Sex

Book Review: For Goodness Sex

By Cynthia Pizzulli, L.C.S.W., Ph.D. | From the February 2015 Issue

While there is no shortage of publications aimed at helping parents "talk so teens will listen," there are few that tackle the task of teaching parents how to talk to them about sexuality—and even fewer that do so as eloquently and humorously as Al Vernacchio. In his new book, For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health, this veteran sex educator challenges parents, teachers, and just about anyone else lucky enough to get a copy to reject the abstinence-based approach created by a "repressed" society and instead embrace a model of sexuality education that sees sex as a "force for good" instead of evil.

As the title suggests, Vernacchio's book is aimed at changing the way we talk to teens. But what it actually does is change the way the reader feels about himself and his own sexuality. Instead of giving parents an "everything you've ever wanted to know about sex" menu of terms and definitions, it tackles the foundation of sexuality by addressing relationships—with oneself, others, and even our cell phones—and the roles those relationships play in the development of healthy sexuality.

It's about time we had a book written for parents that emphasizes the fact that sex is not simply about sex, but about relationships.

Mr. V. (as his students refer to him) also presents social commentary on controversial topics like teen sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, which should open the minds of even the most opinionated of readers. By presenting the material in a way that is unassuming and respectful, parents who were previously petrified of discussing sexuality with their kids will be comforted and given a new sense of confidence.

One of the aspects of For Goodness Sex that makes it so valuable is the abundance of real-life examples of how to handle the tough subjects. Each chapter provides the reader with new additions to the repertoire—conversation starters one can use with a teen. Yes, you will find the answer to, "What should I do if I walk in on my teen masturbating?" 

But this isn't just a how-what-when type of book. It takes the reader on a journey through the process of connecting with one's child. Vernacchio encourages parents to share their own feelings and experiences in order to enable the development of healthy sexuality in their teens. He is generous in that he urges us all to borrow his words and his sense of humor. (I'm still laughing about his father's use of the term "mastication" instead of "masturbation!")

As a sex therapist who is also an eating disorders specialist, I was particularly moved by Vernacchio's chapter on body image. This male author shows extraordinary insight into the inner world of girls and their relationships with their bodies. It is crucial that parents understand the importance of helping their sons and daughters have positive body images despite society's quest to destroy them. Vernacchio challenges us to be sensitive and mindful of this as we guide our teens through the minefield of puberty.

This near-perfect book disappointed me in only one regard: it does not teach parents how to talk to daughters about the importance of being aroused enough for penetrative sexual intimacy. While the author does discuss the relational and emotional foundation for being "ready" for sex, there is no mention of the fact that girls (and women) tend to engage in penetrative acts before they are aroused and therefore sufficiently lubricated. Could it be that Vernacchio doesn't cover this important "when to know you're ready" point in his sexuality education classes? With this omission, I believe he missed a wonderful opportunity to improve the awareness of both young men and women about a crucial aspect of fulfilling sexual intimacy.

I have already recommended For Goodness Sex to a dozen of my patients and they report, overwhelmingly, that their relationships with their teens are the better for it. There may not be a manual for parenting, but this book should definitely be required reading for all parents. Which leads me to say what his students and their parents have been saying for decades: "Thank goodness for Al Vernacchio!"  

Cynthia Pizzulli, L.C.S.W., Ph.D. is an AASECT-certified sex therapist in practice for over 20 years. She received her doctorate in clinical social work from New York University and is board certified by the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work. An experienced lecturer, Pizzulli travels and speaks widely to deliver workshops and educational programs on sex, relationships, eating disorders, and parenting adolescents. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, New York Newsday, and on several media outlets, including HBO, Lifetime, and Oxygen.

It's about time we had a book written for parents that emphasizes the fact that sex is not simply about sex, but about relationships.