I understand the outrage over Teen Vogue's tutorial on a specific type of sex.
Not because I'm outraged by the tutorial – I'm not.
But because I am often outraged by the stuff magazines throw at teens – stuff that causes them to daily, hourly, question whether they're skinny enough, popular enough, flawless enough. (More on that in a minute.)
First, a recap: Teen Vogue recently ran an article headlined, "Anal sex: What you need to know." The tone is dispassionate, bordering on clinical, but it still manages to be accessible and nonjudgmental. The perfect – and not easy to achieve – delivery for all things sex ed.
It's written by Gigi Engle, a well-known sex educator, and it includes such essential passages as, "When it comes to your body, it's important that you have the facts. Being in the dark is not doing your sexual health or self-understanding any favors."
And, "It's important that we talk about all kinds of sex because not everyone is having, or wants to have, 'penis in the vagina' sex. If you do have 'penis in the vagina' sex and are curious about something else, or are finding that that type of sex is not for you and you'd just like to explore other options, it's helpful to know the facts."
Also this, "If you're not comfortable reading about anal sex, that's perfectly OK, too. We have plenty of other articles around a variety of issues and wellness."
Many parents were incensed. A blogger known as Activist Mommy posted a link on Facebook to a video of her burning copies of Teen Vogue that's gotten more than 8 million reactions. Teen Vogue digital editorial director Phillip Picardi went on Twitter to defend the article after the backlash continued to mount.
I get it. It's frustrating to feel like the culture is feeding your kids stuff that doesn't line up with your value system. I feel the same way when I watch the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" movies, at least 50 percent of the Disney princess movies and every Barbie movie ever made.
I feel the same way when I flip through women's magazines – which a lot of teenagers read – and see article after article instructing readers to curb cravings and blast calories and lose flab, always under the guise of health.
The Teen Vogue piece, on the other hand, might actually provide a valuable service.
Researchers have found that teens in 10 countries, including the United States, find their school sex ed classes to be "moralistic," "cringe-y" and too narrowly focused on heterosexual relationships. They'd prefer to get their information from a sex educator than a teacher they have to see in the hallways later, and they disengage from information that doesn't match their own experiences.
We don't want teens to disengage. We very much want them to engage. Comprehensive sex ed is linked to fewer teen pregnancies, lower rates of sexually transmitted infections and delayed initiation of sexual activity.
For teens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, who have never felt like sex ed at school speaks to them, who feel like Google is their best source for questions (it's not), who would sooner die than ask a parent or a pediatrician about a type of sex they know is highly stigmatized, the Teen Vogue article could be a lifeline – and the difference between engaging in sex safely or riskily.
Same goes for straight teens who might be curious about various types of sex, or who might be dating someone who is curious about various types of sex. The article provides clear-eyed information, plus safety tips.
"Condoms are also nonnegotiable," the article points out. "There is no risk of pregnancy during anal sex, but STIs are widespread and abundant. Protect yourself and practice safe sex every single time."
Think back to when you were a teenager. Was there ever a question, any question, that you wanted to ask but couldn't for fear of being labeled a freak? Imagine if the answer was suddenly presented to you by a knowledgeable, unbiased grown-up who didn't know a single one of your classmates or your parents.
Pretty great, right?
I would never pretend to know the best way to raise someone else's kids. Every parent gets to carve out – and live out – his or her own values.
But before you direct another angry screed at Teen Vogue or cheer on the fire-setters, consider whether the article might help a kid – maybe not your kid, but someone's kid.
I believe there's a strong chance it will. And that's more than I can say for any of the Barbie movies.