1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 8. Sex Ed... Sexual Violence Prevention... and Gender Justice

Reflections on Why I Teach Adult Sex Ed

I teach a sex education class for young adults in our 20s and 30s. Today, I want to tell you about the class and explain my belief that learning about sex is an act of healing the world.

The topic for our class is sexuality, broadly conceived. My goal is to facilitate the development of a safe space in which we can analyze our influences, reflect on our experiences and observations, and gain access to important knowledge and skills. Moreover, the basic process of engaging in open and honest conversations about these topics contains in itself extremely powerful moments and opportunities.

Honestly, it’s not just that I think it’s powerful or important, it’s more than that: I crave these conversations. I need them for myself, to help me make sense of my life, my relationships and my community. I need to discuss these issues with others. In college, I volunteered as an HIV test counselor and a peer educator at the Rape Crisis/Antiviolence Support Center, so I was surrounded by warm and enthusiastic conversation about sex and sexuality pretty consistently.

When I graduated, I missed that. I really felt the need for more of these conversations. I wanted people to talk to me about changes, fears and feelings. I wanted to talk about my sexuality and gender since college, about how it felt for some of us to be in couples and some of us not, about the implications of growing older and the expectations on us to be women and men. I wanted to talk about sex.

Then, I got trained to teach Our Whole Lives to middle and high school students as part of my professional development. When I found out that Our Whole Lives also had a curriculum for young adults, I started thinking about teaching my peers.

I spoke with a community leader. She too had felt the need for these conversations in our community, and we made it happen.

So, that’s what my sex ed class is and that’s why I want it. But why is sex ed an act of healing the world?

1. Because healing the world starts with caring for your self. It may seem to take more time in the short term, but each of us individually will get more done and do it with more integrity in the long term if we’re caring for ourselves along the way, physically, emotionally and socially.

2. Because healing the world means engaging in healing relationships. Conversations help us practice understanding each other and communicating with each other in stronger and deeper ways. Intimate relationships, friendships and professional relationships can all benefit from this process.

3. Because our community needs healing. A lot of hurt and violence is perpetuated and covered up because of social norms and structures that sanction it or render it invisible. Talking about these issues can help our community fulfill its potential to be a powerful place of healing, love and celebration.

To demonstrate my claims about our community, I want to play hand up hand down. I’m going to say a statement, all you need to do is raise your hand if this statement applies to you. These statements all include the phrase “our community” – define “our community” as you will, whether you want to think specifically about the people who are already involved in our programs, or you want to think about progressive young adults in Boston, for example.

Let’s start playing.

Raise your hand if you know someone in our community who:
• has been in an unhealthy dating relationship
• is coping with an eating disorder or a history of disordered eating patterns
• wonders whether and how to come out
• is a survivor of sexual assault
• grapples with anxiety or depression
• has been hurt by homophobia or heterosexism
• has had a sexually transmitted infection
• has had an unhealthy breakup
• has said yes without meaning it
• has been hurt by sexism or gender discrimination

We have histories; we have pain; we have needs. At the same time, our community has amazing resources.

Raise your hand if you know someone in our community who:
• has been in a healthy, communicative relationship
• can say no when they don’t want to do something
• is pro-queer
• is a great listener
• expresses their feelings openly and honestly
• identifies strongly as a feminist
• has many healthy ways of coping with pain
• speaks out against negative media messages
• has a positive attitude towards sex and sexuality
• loves their body

I want us to share our many strengths and many blessings with each other. We need to come together to listen, to validate, and to challenge each other. Through these processes, we can take care of ourselves, build community and heal the world.

A note on self-care: during the first part of the hands up exercise, I mention painful and dramatic experiences that many of us have had. If you feel upset by that activity, please talk to someone you trust. I’m here to support you and help you find the care you need.

Published by Mimi Arbeit

Mimi Arbeit

sexuality educator, developmental scientist, feminist.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on Why I Teach Adult Sex Ed”

  1. suz says:

    lovely 🙂

  2. JoJo says:

    You know what I particularly love about your sex positive sex ed? It lets people be good. They teach in child psychology that it's far more effective to tell a kid what TO do rather than what NOT to do (i.e. Don't say "Sally, don't pick your nose," say "Sally, keep your hands on the table.")–and I think that kind of approach makes us grown ups feel good too. Don't just say "being irresponsible is bad." Say "being communicative is sexy and good!"

  3. Mimi says:

    Yes!!! I think that's a fabulous guideline for teaching, coaching, and giving constructive feedback. It feels a lot better, and in the end helps us be more successful, if we focus on healthy behaviors and habits we want to engage in. That's part of the reason, too, that I took on the body-positive challenge (see other blog posts)– I'm focusing on positive actions. Thanks, JoJo!

  4. Other Suz says:

    YES. What I love about this is that on the one hand, its so "duh." Of course we should all be taking care of ourselves and focussing on healthy relationships. But in reality, its probably the biggest challenge, probably the most radical and honest approach to community building and self strengthening ever. Hyperbole intended. It's a paradigm shift. It's a movement away from isolation and fear and insecurity. I'm in.

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