My community college sex ed classes ended today. My students took a test on Tuesday and, among other more content-related questions, I asked them about their experiences in the class. I asked for high points and low points and I asked them to be specific. I always ask the question, as an extra-credit question, on my last tests of the semester. I like to incorporate their thoughts and reactions into my curriculum for the following semesters.
One point has always interested me, though. There are always a large percentage of the students who list the more troubling content like STDs and sexual coercion as the low points in class.
On the one hand, I get this. Most of the content is fun and engaging. It’s interesting, it relates to their lives in good ways, and even when there are potential negatives, there are almost always potential positives too. With a few topics, there really aren’t potential positives. So I understand that my students, who are use to leaving my class with good humor, leave in a very low place instead and consider that to be a low point of the class.
On the other hand, these topics are integral to the study of human sexuality. Sitting in the balance of the good and the bad is hard. Very hard. But we can’t have a serious conversation about human sexuality without it.
I heard a critique of my class today: That I bring up too much controversy. At least, it was intended to be a critique. I took it as a compliment, though. There is a lot of controversy around human sexuality in the real world, and that’s what I’m trying to prepare my students to participate in rather than a sterile, academic context.
For college students, part of that means really considering the implications of what it means to continue sleeping with an ex-boyfriend in exchange for free room and board and coming to terms with whether or not you might actually accept that offer. Part of that means talking about rape and looking at pictures of genital warts.
For middle and high school students, figuring out human sexuality in the midst of the messy, controversial, real world involves other questions, like how to access contraception and condoms when you need them, how to listen to your heart in the cacophony of other noises around you, and learning to see or even to acknowledge the extremes of both good and bad that sexuality can bring.
Sitting with your own and other people’s pain can be so hard to do. But so very important.