Hungry Hippos: Starving for good sex ed.

Last week I was lucky enough to spend a couple days offering sexuality education to students in grade 7 through 12. Overwhelmingly, I found them hungry.  Famished, in fact.

They are adolescents.  So…. some of them have had sexual experiences with themselves.  Some have had sexual experiences with others.  Some haven’t but are paying close attention because it feels right around the corner.  Some may feel like it’s a long way off personally but realize that it’s become a part of their collective experience.  Regardless, they are hungry.  They are especially hungry for honest and fulsome communication about sex and sexuality.

Whether it’s a class room of grade 8 students or a group from grade 12, they are all very aware of the fact that sex is a big hairy deal.

power and agency

Power and agency are at the heart of all sex ed. Make sure you cover them in your lessons.

I have so little time to feed their hunger.  Whether 50 minutes or 90 minutes, whatever I cover is the tip of the iceberg.  Given the wide variety of background knoweldge that likely exists, and because I want to cover a lot of ground (and not have the discussion focused on one aspect of sexuality like anatomy, sexual activity, sexual orientation, or porn), I like talking about the breadth and scope of sexuality as a starting place for all my classes.

Rather than having it printed and distributing it, I like to draw it in front of them.  I start with the core or central concept: power and agency.  This is the most important message I can communicate to any diverse but hungry group of young people.   Agency (or lack of it) are at the center of all of their sexual perspectives, expressions and experiences.  I try to communicate that their personal power, their autonomy, and ability to see and exercise choice will impact their sexual lives (and every other part of their lives) til the end of time.

Autonomy: The capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision.  Agency: The abstract principle that autonomous beings are capable of acting by themselves.  Personal Power: Not how physically strong we feel, but the use of our knowledge, thoughts and feelings to act in a manner to get our own needs met in a positive way.


It’s weighty information but they are so hungry for it.

I also encourage them to have conversations.  Talking about sex is awkward largely because we have so little practice doing it.  So practice – I say.  Talk to yourself – as a way of preparing for a conversation with someone else.  And then have the conversation with someone else.  I challenged them to have a conversation with a trusted friend.  I challenged them to broach the topic with their parents.  I highlighted that talking to a (potential) sexual partner isn’t without risk but has the most glorious potential pay back.

They are so hungry.  And, really, they are absorbing lessons about sexuality all the time.  If the lessons aren’t offered by parents and teachers and other invested adults, they are still being learned except that what is being learned may be inaccurate, misrepresentative and wholley unaligned with values that we hold.

My 50 minutes is like an appetizer from a fancy restaurant.  It’s maybe unfamiliar, definitely interesting, and altogether too small.

I’m only there for 50 minutes so you need to offer main courses.  Courses that are varied, thoughtful, challenging and broaden their perspectives.  That way, they can venture out into the world for lots of dessert.

Will you feed them?

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