Cory Silverberg’s mother was a children’s book author. Silverberg’s father was a sex therapist. “So having a job that you have to do with sex and books wasn’t much of a stretch,” Silverberg says.
Silverberg has been in the sex-education game for more than two decades, cofounding the downtown sex shop Come as You Are and contributing for 10 years to the beloved Canadian TV series “Sunday Night Sex Show,” with Sue Johanson.
(Other Torontonians are talking about sex education, like these moms behind Jems condoms.)
On May 15, Silverberg will celebrate at Artscape Wychwood Barns the release of “You Know, Sex,” the third installment in their illustrated sex-education book series. The books, with bright cartoony graphics by co-author Fiona Smyth, attempt to make learning about sex much less awkward than usual. “A lot of people asked how we would make it ‘cool’ for teenagers,” Silverberg says, “but I think it’s successful because we embrace the nerds we are. We didn’t try to capture the language of a particular moment, because we know that young people are the ones who are constantly pushing our language forward. So, it isn’t cool, but it’s real. And, of course, that is kind of cool.”
“You Know, Sex,” which is aimed at preteens and teens, covers a wide spectrum of sexuality, including pleasure, porn, harassment and consent. “So much sex education feels like a lecture or, in the case of books, a textbook, for young people,” Silverberg says — which is why the book is in a playful, accessible graphic-novel format. “Comics are fun and incredibly rich in terms of conveying emotion. And our book looks like kids’ lives: it’s full of social media, crowded apartments, young people and adults making mistakes, apologizing and trying to do better next time. And it’s full of relationships, friendships, crushes, love, sexy feelings and lots of family and community.” Sexuality isn’t simply a biomedical experience, Silverberg says: it’s also a social one. “And our books reflect that.”
The series had its genesis as a story Silverberg wrote for a four-year-old son of friends. “They were about to have a second child and there were no books about baby-making that included their family story,” Silverberg says. (The father is trans, they used a sperm donor, and the mom carried the kids.) “So, I wrote ‘What Makes a Baby’ for him. It turned out there were so many of us that didn’t have books that reflected our stories, which is probably why our first book continues to be so successful.” “What Makes a Baby” includes all kinds of family styles and baby-making methods, including surrogacy and adoption, and it doesn’t gender people or body parts.
Silverberg raised more than $65,000 via Kickstarter to create that book. After launching in 2012, it became the most-funded picture book on Kickstarter. When it went viral, they received offers from publishers and eventually signed a three-book deal with Seven Stories Press. The award-winning “Sex Is a Funny Word,” which followed in 2015, is for ages eight to 10 and celebrates the LGBTQ+ and gender-non-conforming experience.
Silverberg’s favorite feedback? Hearing how long-time series fans hand these books down to younger siblings. “A lot of adults share that they are learning along with their kids, too,” the writer says. “The series is giving them language not only to talk to their kids, but to think about sexuality and gender for themselves.
“We call it sex education, but the new book is really about life and how to survive and thrive and hopefully be a decent person,” Silverberg adds. “We need to recognize that young people have a right to information they can use to make choices that work for them, and they deserve to have information delivered in a way that connects to their lives and communities. This isn’t just a nice thing, it’s a form of violence prevention. This is what we are trying to do.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION