1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 6. Youth Development & Education

Talking about talking about sex

Last week, a friend of mine invited a couple people to dinner with the specific intention of discussing sex.

Why did we need a specific event in order to engage that topic? Why is it talking about sex something that happens on its own? I wish it were. I wish I had more frequent and more open conversations about sex with my peers. And even though I don’t do it enough, I bet I actually get down to talking about sex more than other people do. But much more than I get to talk about sex directly, I have conversations about the process of talking about sex. Meta-discussions. Discussions about discussions about sex.

We talk about why sex is so hard to talk about in the first place. We talk about what holds us back, our fears perhaps, or shyness, or our perception of other people’s fears or shyness. And social convention. Oh, social convention. It’s not usually done, so it doesn’t usually happen. How can we start making it happen?

Part of the issue is that we don’t have an easily accessible, already agreed-upon rubric for how such talking about sex could work. Is there such a thing as “too much information” (TMI)? What kinds of comments would be inappropriate? What “ground rules” can we use to build a “safe space” in which everyone feels more comfortable?

How can we honor the feelings that hold us back from talking about sex, and also move forward in seeking the discussions we desire? Please comment, for I would love to read your thoughts and feelings.

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 6. Youth Development & Education

Desire, Desire, Desire

I would’ve benefited from learning about enthusiastic consent in high school. I wish I’d known why to say no every time that I didn’t actually really, really, really want it.

But what makes a person enthusiastic? Desire. And what is that desire for? Pleasure. I think that these concepts are essential to transformative sex ed. They are essential to the process of countering rape culture and the epidemic of sexual violence. Recently, I’ve become more able to articulate these convictions thanks to the new anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape

Once we encourage each other to get in touch with our personal desires for specific pleasures, we can begin planning to fulfill our desires. That’s agency — being our own advocates.

I’m just beginning to get a sense for how extremely empowering these concepts are in my life and the lives of my friends. I want to figure out how to teach them to my students to empower them, also.

I started the 8th grade unit on sexual violence prevention by defining pressure as trying to get someone else to do something without considering whether the other person actually wants to do it or not. Pressure takes away the other person’s ability to consent by erasing the importance of desire. During the teen dating classes, I’ve expanded the concept of pressure to the concept of control, which is any use of power to make another person think, feel or act a certain way. Again, control violates the importance of the other person’s desire.

Next, I will tackle directly of the issue of rape and sexual assault. I hope the themes that I’ve developed through the preceding lessons at least somewhat prepare my students for what’s about to ensue.

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 6. Youth Development & Education

My Work

I currently teach health in a public middle school, and just today spent two classes with seventh graders explaining the anatomy of the male and female reproductive systems. “Why do we need to learn this?” the students often ask. Variations on this question include, “why do we need to learn about both males and females?” and “why do we need to learn this in school?”

I’m hoping to empower them. I explain that this information will help them care for themselves and their relationships — that at some point in the future they will want to be familiar with their friend’s and/or their partner’s reproductive system. I tell them that I want them to discuss it with me, at school, because I want them to have the opportunity to develop a positive attitude towards bodies, to hear from someone who doesn’t consider it weird or gross, and to ask questions of someone who is excited to provide answers.

On www.ratemyteachers.com, one of my students wrote about me, “She is a little weird how she talks about things with both boys and girls together and it looks like she enjoys it but otherwise she is a good friend?” Today, in a similar vein, a student asked me to my face if I enjoy teaching this topic.

“Yes,” I wanted to shout, “this is the best thing ever! I wish I had more time at you so I can teach you in more detail, make up many more activities, and ensure your mastering the information.” I didn’t say all that, but I did clearly affirm that I do enjoy it, and that’s why I teach it.

And why shouldn’t I? Is it weird to enjoy my students’ discomfort — or is it thrilling to open up a conversation with them that they’ve never had before quite this way? Is it wrong to be able to say words like vagina and penis with steady calm, or is it beautiful to make room for young adolescents to air their confusion and concern?

Maybe doing this work is weird in that it’s unusual, but I think that is one of its most important qualities. I believe that it’s thrilling, beautiful and fun. I’m in the zone while I’m doing it. And I’m convinced that most of the time my students are enjoying it, too.

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 6. Youth Development & Education

My Dream

I believe in sexuality education as a site of social transformation. By talking about our bodies, our relationships, our desires, and the restrictions and pressures on all of these, we have the opportunity to develop new ideas and ways of thinking that will change our lives and our society. In order to embark upon this project, we need to transform our conception of sexuality education. We must move beyond the debate between information and abstinence-based curriculum and reach for new paradigms in structure, pedagogy, and content. We will transform sexuality education so that sexuality education can in turn transform us. We will develop and articulate new values to guide us. We can achieve love, freedom, agency, and a system of support for the health and wellbeing of all. I strive for social change. Please strive with me.