Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I never thought I'd say this...

but I'm really enjoying teaching sex ed.

It feels so important, and it's oddly empowering for me and, I hope, for the kids.

There's a part of me that's like, "How can I help kids to make good decisions when I still have so many hang-ups myself?"

Ms. Principal gave me a book, Sex and Sensibility, which I finally started reading tonight. The author, who stumbled into sex education back in the seventies, asked (and asks) the same question... it was a relief to read her introduction to the book, to realize that more experienced health educators still deal with the same anxieties and uncertainties that I am dealing with.

Put a diagram of the male or female reproductive system on the overhead, and the kids hang on your every word. They really, really want to know, and they don't know, so they listen. One question inevitably leads to more. The questions they drop anonymously into the question box cover so many topics. They want to know how doctors do abortions. They want to know whether rape causes physical injury.

They want to know why men and women are treated differently. After a discussion of masculinity and femininity today, one girl confided in me that people call her "man-girl" because she is athletic. I told her to hang in there and be herself - not the most satisfying answer, but they were late for their next class. I think she needed to be heard more than she needed any particular answer.

Some questions make me nervous. For example, "What happens when a man puts his penis in a woman's butt?" (I shudder to think what Google searches will find me now...). First of all, I don't know exactly what this child wants to know. Secondly, I want to answer questions that they genuinely want to know about, but I don't want to offer them a forum to try to shock me or each other. Also, I worry that although some of the students in the class may be hearing about and thinking about anal sex, for others it will make them really uncomfortable or expose them to something they have never heard of before. I worry about what they will tell their parents; even though I don't say anything inappropriate, kids morph what teachers say - purposely or not - when they talk to their parents.

How did I handle this one? I told the kids that I genuinely want to give them the best information that I can and to answer their questions, but that some of the questions were starting to make me uncomfortable. I told them that if we had learned the correct word for something, I would expect them to use it in all future questions. I told them that if they want to know something, they should try to ask as clearly as possible, because questions like "What happens when..." are very difficult to answer. Then I read the question and said, "I'm not sure what this person is asking. The name for that behavior is anal sex." And then I moved on to the next question.

I am very interested in what this book that I am reading recommends for situations like that one. I'll let you know!

My new questions are....

  • How can I help kids start real conversations about these topics with their parents?

  • What kind of sex education will help children make good decisions and feel comfortable asking the questions they need to ask, researching things they need to know more about, and talking to others openly and honestly about their sexuality?

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