Julie Metzger and Robert Lehman have been teaching classes on puberty and sexuality for more than 25 years through their company, Great Conversations. Metzger is a registered nurse, and Lehman is a medical doctor.
The Pair also just released an updated version of their book called Will Puberty Last My Whole Life? Real Answers To Real Questions From Preteens About Body Changes, Sex, And Other Growing-Up Stuff.
Metzger spoke with KNKX about the process of updating the book and what kinds of things they changed or added.
On becoming more sensitive to language around gender identity:
“For a long time we used to say that nothing changed in this topic, but actually when we went back and looked at the first book, my jaw was on the ground. I was so amazed at how [my colleagues and I] had evolved to a different kind of language around gender, in particular. We have grown and evolved and listened to people. It was exciting to see and kind of frightening how I was like, 'I would never say that,’ and yet here I had said it in the book.”
“There are lots of ways to be a girl, lots of ways to be a boy. Some of that includes body parts and some of it has to do with who the person is inside. I think the original book trapped people more into a particular idea of what is boy and what is girl. That comes out in the tiniest ways and the biggest ways. So for instance, throughout the whole book it would say a woman’s vagina or a man’s penis. Well, that’s really unnecessary to identify a body part as a gender. For the person listening with a vagina, they don’t have to hear that it’s a woman’s vagina. Just by eliminating that, you freed the language to have all sorts of people see themselves in the book.”
On how the #MeToo conversation around sexual assault and sexual harassment informed the update of the book:
“There were several parts, especially on the boys’ side, that we reviewed and looked at in terms of language and definition. A great example is [that] these are real questions that kids have asked us. Real kids ask provocative questions that might not be politically correct. A great example of that is 'hot girl.' There were several questions that asked something like, 'What if a hot girl asks you out?’ There are many more in the first edition. First, you have an opportunity to teach. Calling a girl hot is not a compliment. Most people don’t find that interesting to be known as a hot girl. So you have an opportunity to hear the question and reframe it. The other opportunity is to find another question that’s said that doesn’t have that type of verbiage so you’re not underlying or subtly accepting that language.”
On whether they changed how they give guidance about consent:
“We’ve grown and continued to massage the material even though the scaffolding is very much the same for 30 years. Lots of times kids – seventh and eighth graders – ask, 'Do married couples have to consent?’ I say, 'There isn’t any age or any sexual act that doesn’t need consent.’ I’ve been married 32 years and in any kiss, any hand holding, you’re consenting or allowing that relationship in that moment to be a yes or I’m not ready or I’m not comfortable with that right now or I’m distracted or busy or yes. So I think allowing that to not feel like it’s going to feel awkward but actually acknowledging that it happens literally all the time. All the time we’re navigating and negotiating and consenting to activities together, so helping people see that and become awake to it and realize that that doesn’t change sex, it just makes sex just like everything that else we do. And it’s allowing yourself to be able to also say, 'That doesn’t work for me right now,’ or `That’s not what I’m interested in,’ and giving people the power of not just assuming an activity.”