A new book hit the bookstores on Friday, and it is very well worth the trip to buy it. Laid is a collection of first person accounts of sexual experiences written by teenagers and young adults. The book tells real stories of real people. There are stories that are essentially good, bad, and mixed. There are stories about sex, there are stories about making-out, and there are stories about not having sex.
I see two primary reasons to read Laid.
For parents, reading Laid will give them entrance into how young people – today’s young people – think and feel about their sexual experiences. These things really happened to the people who wrote them, and the stories allow for the full nuance of the good and bad that most experiences have in mixed quantities. This will not, of course, necessarily give you insight into how your children, teenagers, or young adults feel or have felt or will feel in a given situation. But it will open your eyes in beautiful and fascinating ways.
For young people, this book will allow them to see how other people handled situations that they might find themselves in. It will give them a starting point to either thinking about or talking about sexual decision making, sexual feelings, and understanding and interpreting other people’s words and actions. The stories are gripping, fast reads, and are followed-up by question-and-answer sessions, quizzes, and other missives from the editor and the authors. Laid is a fun, easy entrance for teenagers into the world of thinking realistically about sex.
And of course, for sex educators, the ways to use Laid in the classroom are practically endless.
There are a few shortfalls in Laid. First, the book could use more male voices. Last, the book could use more diversity in gender and sexual orientation. I hope that Shannon Boodram, the editor of Laid, will follow up with these missing voices and bring us another book!
I caught up with Shannon Boodram, last Friday. Speaking to her on the day her book was released was quite an honor, and I am pleased to be able to share with you some of her thoughts, intentions, and motivations behind Laid.
Karen: What do you like about Laid?
Shannon: I love the fact that it’s about positive sexual education. I think it’s one of the few books – I’ve read so many sex ed books that are negative – and this one is just like, do what’s best for you. There’s no lecturing, no putting people down, just people finding themselves in their own way, and no one’s lecturing them or being condescending.
K: How did you come up with the idea to bring together a series of voices in this way about sexual experiences?
S: When I was around 16 or so, I lost my virginity, and then shortly after that, because of a series of events, I became promiscuous, at a cost to myself. It was very rare that I wouldn’t meet a guy that it wouldn’t come to that. And I thought I was this strong woman, that I was in charge. But I wasn’t happy. And I didn’t even know about the physical anatomy, so I wasn’t getting the enjoyable benefits that I should have from my sexuality. But I didn’t know anything, I didn’t know where the clitoris was, I thought it was inside the vagina.
So when I was 18, I went away to school in Baltimore. And I met this guy, and we liked each other, and the first time we hung out together, we had sex. And because I was away form my family, and there’s this superficial relationship between girls, I wasn’t getting honest sexual conversations from anyone.
But eventually in school I met all these girls who were in different places, one was a mom, one was HIV positive, one was bisexual, one was a lesbian, and we talked really honestly about our sexual experiences. And when I came home after I was through with school, I missed that conversation, that honest dialogue. So overnight I just decided to continue that conversation in some way, and then my sister came up with the idea and name for the website, saveyourcherry.com.
We just wanted a catchy name that would make people stop and think. It wasn’t abstinence based, but just about stopping and thinking about it before you have sex. And teenagers are just sponges about sexual topics, they just want things that are honest, real, and educational and I didn’t see that anywhere. I wanted to make something that was good for teenagers, and that got their attention through the drama that you get with conversational, day-to-day stories. So I decided to take all these pieces and turn them into a book. I had to be selective with what I choose, because I wanted it to cover a wide variety of sexual standpoints, race, and age, but still be relate-able to the teenagers.
K: What do you hope readers take away from Laid?
S: The mission for me, in all honesty, is helping teenagers answer the questions: “What sort of sexual person do you want to be? How do you want to celebrate your sexual life?” So by reading all of these stories, you can see what you think is a path that you for you or what wouldn’t for you. Every story isn’t written for someone else, it’s written for you to either find yourself or not find yourself in.
I think your sexuality is a huge part of your life. You have it with you your whole entire life, and I think we don’t put enough attention on that. We put more attention on professional life and work, but we should really think about our sexuality in the same way.
K: And this is closely related: How do you hope Laid is used (or not used) in sexuality education settings?
S: I think it should be used as a conversation starter. If everyone in a class got it, great conversation could come of it. There’s one story called “His drip for a tear drop” where this fourteen year old girl is forced to have sex with a bunch of older guys. The thing about it is, the guy who original brought her into the situation, she was in a relationship with him and had consensual sex with him. And she didn’t physically say no, because the guy who brought her in said, “Don’t do this to me, don’t embarrass me in this way.” But she did cry, and she just laid there. So that wasn’t really consensual, but there are some people who would say that it was. Talking about these things is really good for teenagers because it gives them some experience in analyzing situations.
K: Do you think these topics (teenagers having sex, rape, HIV, teen pregnancy, etc.) will be new or surprising to teenagers reading the book?
S: Teenagers know about these topics, they’re not hidden away. I grew up in the suburbs, and when someone had sex in grade 8, that was a huge deal, but in other schools that’s the norm.
All of this is so available on the internet, so there’s nothing new or particularly shocking in the book to most teenagers. Your kids are going to have access to anything they want to see, and you won’t necessarily know about it. So I think everybody could benefit from reading Laid, because I think it calls you to analyze yourself more and analyze others more, because you’re fed so many lies that I think it’s so great to have something that’s real and honest.
K: What was the most surprising thing to you as you were gathering and reading these stories?
S: The prevalence of date rape. For sure. I never knew the definition of date rape until I started reading other people’s stories. And it was really good for me, because I had that experience [of being date raped]. And I think the more that we have an awareness that “rape” happens in natural, comfortable settings and isn’t just the stranger jumping out at you the better we will be at preventing it. You hear the statistics that 50% of college age girl s have had some sort of nonconsensual experience an you think it’s not true, but it is. It is absolutely true.
K: What is your favorite question someone has asked you about the book, and how did you answer it?
S: My favorite question is probably “What’s the best thing to come out of it?” I get so many messages from my friends on Facebook or on e-mail where everyone feels so comfortable talking with me and telling me these really personal things about testing positive for HPV or whatever. That people feel comfortable to share that with me and not judge them is a great honor. People feel comfortable talking with me about their very deepest feelings on a very touchy subject and there’s not many people who have the privilege of that kind of honesty.
K: Thank you for your time, Shannon. I am so excited about Laid – I hope it gets into many hands!