I’ve been loving your comments recently, everyone. Thank you for jumping in!
The other day, my friend Jairy left this comment on my post On Trust:
I was also a bit taken aback during our first class when I asked the group about what their concerns were about the class. I posed the idea that maybe they would be embarrassed to not know something. One brave teen replied with just the opposite. That they might know something that maybe they shouldn’t. I guess I was a bit naive in this regard, assuming that they didn’t have as much information as they already did. That really helped me to gauge where they really are. I have been very proud of them in their willingness to volunteer their understanding and ask questions to help clarify their understanding.
I really liked his point, because it brought out what I was looking to say about adolescent/adult relationships (that teenagers often want to appear innocent, and so adults often do not have a full picture of their sexual knowledge) and applied to another important relationship: friends and peers.
In a group of teenagers, young people often feel the need to show that they know enough about sex to appear cool and knowledgeable, but not so much that they come across as a slut or a show-off. It’s a delicate walk, and one that is made more difficult when the youth come together in a classroom to learn about sex. Now, they are suddenly placed in a situation where the teacher is trying to draw them out, to figure out how much sexual knowledge they actually have in order to target the classroom content appropriately, but they are often trying to not let anyone know exactly how much they know. It’s a wobbly dance, particularly those first few classes.
To help move along the process of figuring out how much the kids know, while allowing them to save face, I generally have them do a number of anonymous assignments. Writing anonymously seems to help ease them into the idea that eventualy they’ll be talking openly, an eventually they often do. The need to slowly get comfortable talking about sex with each other is a primary reason why a sexuality class needs to be spread out over a period of time, ideallly months. This holds true even (perhaps especially) if the group of youth already know each other – there is even more face to save when they already know everyone else than if they are all strangers.