Circles of Sexuality: Beyond the birds and the bees | Amy Johnson

In one highly regarded model of sexuality education, “the birds and the bees” are replaced by five overlapping circles, called the “Circles of Sexuality.”

In one highly regarded model of sexuality education, “the birds and the bees” are replaced by five overlapping circles, called the “Circles of Sexuality.” In this model, sexuality is viewed as more than an anatomy and reproduction lesson. It is described as lifelong and includes many aspects. One circle references intimacy, which encompasses our emotional behaviors and needs, such as trust, respect, and loving or liking someone. Another is the circle of sensuality, which covers the ways our bodies feel pleasure through all of our senses. Sensuality also includes the need we humans have for touch, otherwise referred to as skin hunger. A third circle is titled sexual identity, which contains gender identity, gender roles and sexual orientation. There is the sexual health and reproduction circle, which many people think of as traditional sex education, or that “birds and bees” talk. Finally, there is the circle of sexualization.

Sexualization includes things like harassment, rape, misuse of power, and withholding sex. It can include unrealistic portrayals of sexuality in order to sell products, including movies and TV shows (or dance performances). Have you ever watched a commercial with all sorts of sexual innuendo and caught yourself wondering what product they were selling — besides sex? Check out advertisements for cars, jeans, make-up, body wash and women’s underwear. See what messages are coming across to you and your children.

But back to the Circles. The use of power to sell “sex” can make sexuality itself seem unrealistic, superficial and even vulgar at times. There aren’t nearly as many commercials or story lines or products that promote intimacy, sensuality or healthy sexual identity. For that matter, all the information needed in today’s world for true sexual health, on an emotional as well as physical level, is not always easily available to teens or adults. All of which makes me wonder: What could happen if a company spent as much on those healthy concepts as Victoria’s Secret did on their “Hello Bombshell” campaign? What many of us see and experience around sexuality is the circle of sexualization. We need to broaden our horizons.

So, this summer, as you are looking for your next good book to read, or wondering which books you should encourage your children to peruse, let me suggest a few titles that encompass more than pseudo-romantic storylines meant to reinforce unrealistic stereotypes. If those are your cup of tea, no judgments here. Just consider balancing them out with some realistic tomes.

Follow that up by talking to your kids about what they are watching and hearing. Keep those lines of realistic, comprehensive, holistic, value-based communication open and healthy.

Recommended reading

For young children:

“Bellybuttons are Navels” by Mark Schoen

“It’s Not the Stork” by Robie Harris

Older elementary age:

“Where did I Come From?” by Peter Mayle

“It’s So Amazing: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families” by Robbie Harris

“The Ask Anything Journal” by Amy Lang (click here)

Puberty and beyond:

“What’s Happening to Me? Boys Edition” by Alex Firth

“What’s Happening to Me? Girls Edition” by Susan Meredith

“It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley


“Changing Bodies, Changing Lives” by Ruth Bell

“Body Drama” by Nancy Amanda Redd

For parents:

“Ten Talks Parents Must Have With Their Children About Sex and Character” by Pepper

Schwartz and Dominic Cappello

“From Diapers to Dating” by Debra Haffner

For more reading suggestions, click here.