I teach a 16-week sex ed program. That’s an hour a week for 16 weeks. And that’s only one semester. Most students go on to do an additional semester. That’s another 16 weeks. By the end of semester two, my students would have received 32 weeks of formal sex ed, which is way more than what most people get in a lifetime.
Some people ask me: Isn’t that too much?
My answer is simple: it depends on what you think sex ed is about. For most people, sex ed is still just about reproduction. A Pandora’s box that should be avoided because it involves explaining sexual activity to children and answering difficult and awkward questions. So many people are terrified of appearing ignorant in front of children; or being held responsible for what kids will do with sexual information.
I’ve been teaching sex ed for more than a decade and I can confidently tell you that it’s not just about reproduction, and it’s not that scary if you understand how it works.
But before we get to how it works, you should first know what it’s for. What is the purpose of sex ed? If you ask sex ed activists, you might get responses like:
To prevent teen pregnancies! To prevent sexually transmitted infections! To stop baby dumping! To prevent gender based violence! To support gender diversity! To promote sexual and reproductive health rights for all!
Those are the big goals of sex education. They are things you see written in NGO funding proposals and wordy social media posts. I prefer to break sex ed down into bite-sized chunks:
For younger students, it’s to learn how to be comfortable in your own body and to understand your body’s responses. It’s learning how to respect and be kind to yourself and others. Discovering the different types of relationships that can exist in our lifetimes and the different ways people show and receive love. To learn about basic human rights and the fact that everybody in this world deserves to have them. To stay on top of current issues in the world, to understand threats and opportunities so that you grow up with a heightened awareness that will help you through life.
For older students, it’s about building on the skills you learned when you were younger. Discovering how your body and your perspectives change as you grow, practicing how to express your opinions, and assert your needs and boundaries. Learning about developments in the world that affect you and those less fortunate. Imagining yourself as an adult, so that you can see how your decisions can affect your future, as well as the lives of others. Thinking about the future in turn gives hope and motivation to build towards the kind of future that a person wants.
To achieve the goals of sex ed, kids need to acquire knowledge; but they also need to cultivate certain attitudes and behaviours. The former is relatively easy, but the latter takes time and careful coordination. There are of course many more technical details, but in a nutshell, that’s how it works and that’s why 32 weeks is not too much.
Here are some examples of how sex ed has impacted my students:
1. I once held a fake election in class where students had to vote for their candidate of choice after evaluating each party’s manifesto. They were all in a position to do so because the party promises were related to the things they had learned in class. One politician said he would not be giving out free condoms because it would encourage kids to have sex.
My 9-year-old student pointed out the flaw in this argument. He said that he was a kid and even though he had learned about condoms and how to use them, he was not planning to have sex any time soon. He also said that condoms prevent unwanted pregnancy and STIs, so if they were available for free, that would be a good thing.
2. After a lesson on social movements for change, I asked my younger students to think of a problem in the world they wanted to change. A kid in my class said, “I think I want to fix gender inequality.” When I asked him how he would do that, he replied “Well, if I don’t do it, then maybe other people won’t do it either.”
3. I showed a group of students my birth certificate which stated my gender as ‘Female’. As we had just completed a class about gender, this was met with a loud response, “WHAT?! THAT’S WRONG!”
4. Earlier today, I checked my anonymous question box and found two questions:
- “How do transgenders decide which toilets (male/female) to use?”
- “Why doesn’t the government give passports to the stateless children? Why do they capture the children & put them into prison? That is too extreme.”
Beyond reproduction, comprehensive sex education gives kids the tools they need to make better choices in life and (I’m not exaggerating) become better human beings. It’s not too much, it’s the bare minimum.
To find out more about June’s classes, visit www.goodsexeducation.com