Author: Heather Corinna & Isabella Rotman
Pages: 75 pages
Publish Date: September 2019
Publisher: Limerence Press (imprint of Oni Press)
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-1620106594
Where to buy: https://bookshop.org/shop/graphicmedicine
Author website: www.heathercorinna.com
Additional info: www.isabellarotman.com
Book Review by Kevin Wolf
When I was a child, perhaps age 8 before my younger brother was born, my mother sat down to read me a book with the title Where Do Babies Come From? I don’t recall the author. It was a picture book. My mother wasn’t very comfortable talking about sex, and used this book to give me my sex education; I only remember the picture of a sperm finding an egg. There’s a new graphic sex education guide with five fictional adolescents (Rico, Malia, Max, Sam, & Alexis) talking “about everything.” The book is called Wait, What? A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up by Heather Corinna & Isabella Rotman. It mixes sex education narrative lessons between the five friends talking about the lesson. I wish I had this book when I was growing up. The chapters are short and entertaining and include exercises for the reader to reinforce what was just explained. The explanations and color images are direct, straightforward, and realistic with no shading. Wait, What? is very sensitive to variability from person to person. I recommend this book for the child nearing puberty; children beyond puberty who have questions about sex, sexual orientation, relationships; and parental figures and educators who care for such children. This graphic work is a mix of comics with word balloons and narration, narrated medical and non-medical illustration, and educational lessons and puzzles (e.g., a relationship maze). I do more actual quoting here than in most reviews for the reader to get a better feel for Wait, What?
The publisher’s website (www.Limerence.com) indicates: “Limerence Press, an imprint of Oni Press, publishes … sex education, and gender and sexuality studies comics. Limerence Press focuses on positive, inclusive, and approachable books that reflect a wide variety of emotional and intimate experiences.” Other graphic works by the same publisher include: A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson and A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities by Mady G & J.R. Zuckerberg.
The topics covered in this graphic work are timing, puberty, maturity, masturbation, genitals, gender, crushes & dating, consent, what’s sex & why people do it, readiness, sexual identity, virginity & double standards, and assembling your support team. There’s a glossary at the back along with solutions to a Consent Word Search, a Sexual Orientation Crossword, and “Find all the people you could maybe talk to.” To provide a lesson example in the timing section, I’ll quote at length:
“If it seems like most people around you are already at certain places in their physical development or doing sexual things, you might assume those are the “right” times, not just their times. You might think anyone ahead of them is early or behind them is late. But that’s wrong and we can really stress ourselves out if we think about it that way. We can be even more likely to make choices that aren’t right for us or what we really want.”
Each person should view themselves as “on time.” The lessons distinguish between when there’s no choice (physical changes) and when there’s a choice (like kissing) “is when you want to and when it feels right for you (and anyone else involved!)” The book explains that the media (TV, movies, etc.) is “more often fiction than non-fiction” even “reality” shows which is meant to entertain not teach.
Puberty description includes stages (body size & shape changes, skin changes, body hair, and feeling sexual) and illustrations of reproductive organs. After explaining some of the technical aspects of sexuality Wait, What? moves on to interactions between people. Regarding crushes “Your crush isn’t flawless even if you think so. Your crush also isn’t property or territory for you or anyone else to claim. They’re their own person.” A relationship is only what those in the relationship agree it is. Teens are usually too young to keep big promises like “together forever” but not for trying things out. Invitation and acceptance with no coercion should be done for each step toward sexual activity; and it should stop when any step isn’t invited or accepted by all parties involved. “If someone ever says something where you aren’t sure if it’s a yes or no, you just ask more questions to find out.”
“Sex is about choosing to be sexual. When a person does something sexual to someone else without their permission, or against their will, it’s not sex. It’s sexual abuse or assault.” And later, “To be ready for sex, we need to have a realistic idea of what can happen, before, during and after.” There’s a 2017 graph from Guttmacher Institute of percentage of young people by gender that have had sexual intercourse by age from age 10 (<1%) to 20 (73/76% female/male).
Wait, What? has sections with open ended questions which one or more of the five protagonists offer their answers to. For example, “When do you think you will be ready for sex stuff?” And “Why is sex such a BIG DEAL?” The latter covers risks and responsibilities though only briefly, like Alexis offering these risks: “…injury or illness! Like sexually transmitted infections!” And she later follows up with: “I think if you always treat sex stuff like it ‘could’ be a big deal, then you’re probably always going to be prepared for any risks.”
Wait, What? provides 14 words of various sexuality types in the Sexual Orientation Crossword and defines them in the glossary. There’s a good discussion on sexual identity, including that it might or might not be a forever thing. “It’s like how people ask you what you want to be when you grow up.” However, some might see this as being a choice by everyone, while for many it isn’t. Wait, What? makes clear that sexual identity is up to each person for their own self, and not for anyone to decide for another. There’s a discussion on what “virgin” means and how a double standard exists with this word usually only connected to females! Power and privilege is also mentioned under double standards. Sam angrily says, “What’s really not cool is to call people those things [“virgin,” “queer” or any other sex-related term] to make someone feel bad, ashamed or excluded.” Malia and Alexis agree!
It’s important to have a reliable support team with “honest caring feedback” and not doing “sex stuff” totally in secret. The team could be you and one or more parental figures, sidekicks, mentors, other peers, and community resources.
Shortcomings in Wait, What? include not discussing birth control, abortions, the types of sexually transmitted diseases (a few are mentioned in the glossary), and STD prevention.
I’ll conclude with where the reader can find additional information which Wait, What? provides in its introduction. The reader can get more information at www.scarleteen.com, where both authors work, which is “a sex and relationships information, education and support organization and resource that’s mostly made for teenagers and people in their twenties. … Heather also wrote (and Isabella also illustrated) the book S.E.X The All-You-Need-to-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties, if and when you’re ready for a much bigger book with more advanced knowledge.”