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.

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

Safety And Structure for Adult Sex Ed

I’m currently planning to teach sex ed to young adult peers in my community. Please see previous posts for other discussions of my thoughts and feelings while planning this project.

How can I plan this class so that it suits the realities of our lives and yet challenges us to take positive risks?

I think the first step is recognizing that for many, coming to even one session involves taking a positive risk. For others, arriving may be simple, but speaking up may feel momentous. I’d like to focus on these two challenges for now: attendance and participation. I want my expectations for both to be as flexible as possible to meet the varying needs of individuals and yet to be as consistent as possible in order to promote group cohesion. I have some ideas about how to approach this, and I would love some feedback . . .

Attendance

Ideal: 10 to 20 people committed to attending each of the 14 sessions. We would get to know each other, develop the group dynamic that supports accountability and confidentiality, and their learning in each session would build on our previous work.

Reality: “Eek! Who has enough time to commit upfront to 14 sessions? What if I missed the first one – does that mean I’m excluded from the project altogether? I’m sorry, but my [work/ studies/ family/ other] takes priority, and I have to allow for that in my schedule.” –thoughts of a hypothetical community member.

Compromise: I encourage community members to attend as many sessions as possible. I also hope that newcomers will contact me before coming to a session so I can help them get somewhat caught up. Just arriving at session is great, too. What I do ask, however, is that participants come for an entire session from beginning to end – arriving late and leaving early can drastically upset momentum. Does this seem reasonable? What other approaches might we consider?

Participation

Ideal: Participants could share their thoughts, feelings and experiences without embarrassment, shyness or fear of affecting their reputation. Such sharing could lead to communal support, learning and growth.

Reality: Sharing can be very difficult and scary! In addition, all of us have biases and prejudices that can keep us from reacting in positive and supportive ways. For some, sharing with friends and community members feels easier than sharing with strangers. For others, it feels much harder.

Compromise: We’ll spend time at the beginning of each session discussing building blocks for a safe space and sharing expectations with each other. No participant will be required to share, and multiple avenues for reflection will be encouraged, including group discussion, pair-shares, private reflection, and anonymous feedback. What more can we do to work together to keep everyone feeling safe, comfortable, and able to take positive risks?

I look forward to hearing your ideas!

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

Adult Sex Ed — Wait, What?!?

In my last post, I shared my intention to offer a sex ed class for young adults (in their 20’s and 30’s). Here, I will speak to the three most common concerns raised in response to my proposal.

1. “My long-term romantic partner is also part of this community — how can I participate in this class without violating my partner’s and my privacy?”

As a group, we can develop a confidentiality structure that will guide us in respecting everyone’s boundaries and privacy. I’ve seen class facilitators encourage participants to tell personal stories and to speak from experience; I’ve seen other facilitators prohibit participants from sharing personal information and require them to word all stories and questions in the third person (“I have a friend who…”). We can work together to find a method that suits our needs and wants. Participants may choose to speak in the first and the third person at different times depending on context and comfort level. By coming together to discuss our knowledge, thoughts, and feelings, we certainly need not get into specific details regarding our current sexual habits. I intend this class neither as a support group nor a gossip session! We will explore ourselves, our community, and our society while we respect and honor the plethora of boundaries, desires for privacy, comforts, and discomforts that we all bring to different settings.

2. “How will this class be related to social justice and social action, since our community is explicitly dedicated to both?”

This question is so important and inherently related to my motivations for offering this class. As such, my response diverts in a few different directions: By discussing these issues together in an open, progressive setting, we work towards justice for ourselves, those close to us, and our community as a whole. And as we create this space in which we can insightfully analyze the social processes that affect gender and sexuality, we can build awareness and generate new thoughts and feelings that will inform our fight for justice in our society. Such class discussion can spark ideas for and interest in a specific campaign that we can plan and implement together as a class and/or as a community. Additionally, I hope and expect that the class participants will generate even better answers to this question as we discuss and learn together.

3. “How can we have these discussions in an inclusive and safe manner?”

Yes! We must also pose and respond to this question throughout the class. Therefore once more I can only offer my initial reaction supplemented by my trust in the process: We will establish building blocks for safe space, we will check in with each other and reflect on our developing dynamic, and we will celebrate our differences. I will also combine multiple venues for participation and reflection, including but not limited to group discussion, sharing ideas in pairs, and recording private thoughts in journals or anonymous question/ comment cards. Alas, I can only describe structures — the dynamic of the group will deepen and develop when we are together, conversing, taking risks, taking care, and holding each other accountable.

I’m so excited!

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

Young Adults Enjoy Sex Ed, Too

While I consider myself primarily an educator of adolescents, I’m a strong believer in sexuality education throughout our life span. I’m also currently a young adult. Thus I’m very excited to say that I’ve decided to offer a sex ed class for interested members of my young adult community.

The UUA publishes Our Whole Lives, a progressive and insightful sexuality education curriculum. I love this curriculum. And while my professional self yearns to someday teach the high school version, I’m currently getting inspiration from the young adult program. Because educated, informed, insightful young people in their 20s and 30s also deserve lots of great sex ed.

To explain my motivations, I return again to the initial thesis of this blog: I believe in sexuality education as a site for personal and societal transformation. Change. Growth. The need for growth does not end with the end of adolescence. Indeed, I feel as a young adults that we can and do appreciate such growth in a whole new way. The conversations, revelations, and debates we can have about sexual health now are entirely different from those we had as teenagers. And yet, like when we were teenagers, we lack the context and structure in which to discuss sex in sensitive, meaningful ways. So let’s make that space.

My goals for this class are multilayered. First, I hope that participants engage in a process of personal reflection and growth. Second, by sharing their reflections with each other, I hope they develop a deeper appreciation for and understanding of each other’s lived experience. Third, I want the class to contribute to the process of community building – engaging in reflection and growth on a communal level. Finally, I believe that such conversations can help us understand how our personal lives relate to our search for social justice and vice versa.

Right now, I’m working on the logistics of offering such a class and trying to gauge the levels of interest and enthusiasm among members of my community. What do you think I will need to do to make such a class enjoyable and worthwhile? Feedback wanted!