Monday, January 25, 2010

Sex words in your dictionary?

The Internet is abuzz with a story from The Press-Enterprise about the Menifee school district in Riverside County CA, which has banned the dictionary because it has an entry about "oral sex."

I'm not kidding! Here's an excerpt from the newspaper's Menifee local news:

After a parent complained about an elementary school student stumbling across "oral sex" in a classroom dictionary, Menifee Union School District officials decided to pull Merriam Webster's 10th edition from all school shelves earlier this week.


School officials will review the dictionary to decide if it should be permanently banned because of the "sexually graphic" entry, said district spokeswoman Betti Cadmus. The dictionaries were initially purchased a few years ago for fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms districtwide, according to a memo to the superintendent.

"It's just not age appropriate," said Cadmus, adding that this is the first time a book has been removed from classrooms throughout the district.

There are so many things we could discuss here that my mind is reeling. But let's look at this from the perspective of those of us who had a heck of time getting accurate, meaningful information about sex when we were growing up.

Did we look in the dictionary? Of course! Did we find anything? Nada. "Clitoris" wasn't even in the dictionary or in any part of my sex education. I didn't know I had one -- or, for that matter, how to have an orgasm -- until a fellow college student named Alan showed me what he had learned with a previous girlfriend.

Do children look up sex words? You bet they do -- didn't we? Should children be able to look up "clitoris" or "oral sex" or whatever other permutation of sex or street name for a sexual act that interests them? 

Of course they should! How are we even needing to discuss this in 2010? Of course the dictionary can't be the complete resource, especially as children become teenagers. Thank goodness books like The Guide to Getting It On by Paul Joannides exist.

Here's a job for you -- grab your printed dictionary, old or new, and look up a few sex terms. Comment here to tell me what dictionary you used, its edition or publication date, what words you looked up, and what you found.

(Thank you, Carnal Nation, where I read this story first.)

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