Navigating the Complex Landscape of Human Sexuality for Teens

Emmalinda MacLean, More Than Sex-Ed Program Director and Gregory Carrow-Boyd, More Than Sex-Ed Coordinator, lead a sex education course for teens. Photo courtesy of More Than Sex-Ed

Parents and caregivers of junior high school age children who need help understanding the complexities of teenage sex will want to attend a talk being given in the Topanga Library Community Room on Sunday, April 28, at 3:30 pm.

An adults-only discussion, organized by the non-profit group, “More Than Sex-Ed” (MTSE) will have experts on hand to answer any and all questions you may have about healthy sexuality. “We support parents and caregivers in their role as the primary sexual health educators for their children,” said Emmalinda MacLean, co-founder, program director, and lead facilitator of MTSE.

“We’ll be sharing a broad overview of how we teach human sexuality and why; some of the most common questions we get and how we respond; and answering any questions parents have about how to talk about or handle certain issues with their children.

“Young people are receiving messages from all around them, every day, about love, sex, bodies, relationships, and power. Parents can’t prevent these messages from affecting their children, so it’s crucial to be able to discuss them in a way that centers your values.”

MacLean says the latest data about teens and sexual behavior is a mixed bag. “The age of ‘sexual debut’ has been getting older and rates of teen-pregnancy are pretty close to an all-time low, but part of this is because risk-taking sexual behavior has moved to online and digital spaces. Concerns about pornography and sexting are valid, and it’s something we spend a lot of time on.

“Sex Ed in schools is also a mixed bag. Since the California Healthy Youth Act took effect in 2016, the legal requirements are pretty thorough, but implementation varies widely. Lots of schools still offer little to no real-life information, and many still spread messages that are rooted in guilt, fear, and shame. That’s not our style,” says MacLean.

“Healthy and positive teen sexuality involves a clear ability to articulate their own values and priorities, and to be open to communicating with parents and caregivers. Active, ongoing communication from your teen, including telling you when they make poor choices, is the best a parent can hope for.”

The adults-only discussion on April 28 also serves as an introduction for parents and caregivers of a 12-week program MTSE is holding for eighth and ninth graders beginning in September to help them navigate the complex landscape of human sexuality.

Topanga mom, Jessie Zaud, has been working hard to get MTSE back to Topanga for another teen class after the success of the first one, almost two years ago. “It was a great class for us and our eldest son, Miles. We moved here 12 years ago to raise our family because of its lovely authentic community and, super important, it’s safe for kids,” said Zaud.

MacLean understands that some parents may feel that the amount of content they cover is a lot for an eighth grader but research shows that more information encourages waiting, not experimenting. “Youth who have comprehensive sex-ed are more likely to delay sexual debut and are more likely to use protection when they do become sexually active,” said Maclean.

MTSE uses the term ‘“sexual debut” rather than the concept of “virginity” because it’s more inclusive of the kinds of sex that different kinds of couples might have. “When I teach, I point out to students that there are a lot of firsts in growing to adulthood and [one is] choosing to have a romantic or sexual partner. Everyone gets to decide which firsts are meaningful and worth celebrating for them.”

More Than Sex-Ed welcomes donations from the community so they can offer a few scholarships for the teen workshops to qualified families. “At $375, the teen course is expensive for some community members but we hope all interested can join regardless of finances,” said MacLean.

The 12-week workshop begins Sunday, September 8, 3.30-6.30 p.m., at Rosewood in Topanga, 1111 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290.


To register for the parent discussion on Sunday, April 28, at 3.30 p.m. or enroll your eighth and ninth graders in the September workshop series, and for more information about MTSE,  visit


Claire Fordham

Fordham worked for the BBC, ITN and Sky News in the UK and wrote a weekly anecdotal column for Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper, The Sun. She currently writes regularly for Huffington Post, The Malibu Times and the Messenger Mountain News. See "A Chat with Claire Fordham" on this website under Podcasts.

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