Teaching Sex Ed: Behind the Scenes
By Briana @ Planned Parenthood | Jan. 25, 2023, 6:41 p.m.
If you were to scroll through my Instagram account, you might find yourself blushing, squinting through shut eyes, or nervously laughing at the content on my daily feed.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about posts that inform on the following sexual health topics:
- Pelvic floor best practices to control urine leakage after giving birth
- An illustration of someone pinching their stomach with the caption “It’s ok if your body changes.”
- A guide to handling a penis, complete with the anatomy and illustration of the genitals
- How to teach your child body safety practices to keep them safe from predators
- A scientific research article on the different types of orgasms women can have
- Celebrating Pansexual Pride Day
- Discussion on how childhood trauma can affect your romantic relationships
- How toxic relationships do not respect boundaries
- A condom ad that reads “Keep calm and carry condoms”
And so much more…
To be quite frank, I did leave out more of the ‘racier’ posts but that can be for another time. Why does my Instagram feed look like this? I’m a sexual health educator and the Community Engagement & Education Manager at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest. It’s my job to know what themes are cropping up in society when it comes to sexual health. I need to keep up to date on research in my field, make sure I’m well informed on terminology and best practices for sex education, and make connections with fellow ‘sexperts’ in this field.
For example, Dr. Blair Peters, an account I follow (@queersurgeon), along with MedPage Today recently presented their findings on the clitoris. Previously, it was thought that the clitoris had a little over 8,000 nerve endings which we learned from the 1976 book by Thomas and Thea Lowry, in a study conducted on cows. Only in October of 2022 did Dr. Peters discuss their research, at the #SexMed22, where they presented that there are 10,280 nerve fibers in the clitoris.
“This information is already directly informing techniques I use to optimize sensation in gender-affirming surgeries and should inform future work related to restoring sensation for patients with dorsal nerve or clitoris injuries.”
– Blair Peters, MD Oregon Health & Science University
This kind of post and scientific discovery helps to keep my work current when I put together a presentation on reproductive anatomy and physiology that I will present to schools, homeless shelters, foster care homes, transitional housing, and more.
As a sex educator, I must constantly make sure that our presentations are not only CHYA (California Healthy Youths Act) compliant but are also current and scientifically based. Part of my job is doing research on best practices for LGBTQ+ sexual healthcare, creating safe spaces for all, keeping up to date on how to be trauma-informed in our classes, and making sure that we keep in mind learning disabilities and make accommodations for our students when needed.
Yes, I may have a box containing all the birth control methods that Planned Parenthood health centers offer along with a puberty kit, a bag of wooden penises, and expired condoms for students to practice on, but my job encompasses more than just educating sexual health topics.
My team and I work to ensure that along with the various topics we teach such as STIs, Healthy & Unhealthy Relationships, Porn Literacy, Menopause, and more, are reviewed and accommodated for certain audiences and age groups. We also ensure that our classes feel safe to have those difficult discussions, that we connect them to local healthcare resources, and we ensure they feel heard and listened to when they feel like they might be asking a silly or scary question. What we teach are typically seen as ‘taboo’ topics but I always tell my classes that I love questions and there’s no such thing as silly questions, only disrespectful ones.
I often get asked by family and friends if I have teens asking stupid questions about wet dreams or erections or virginity. Here’s the thing, they aren’t stupid to me because this is my job. I have the answers to most questions, so my response is always, “I’ve never had teens ask me silly questions because they come from a place of genuine curiosity. When I answer their question honestly, they know they can trust me and then, they take my time, my presentation and their learning seriously.” I will note that I don’t always know the answer to their questions, but as an educator, I feel it’s important to admit when we don’t know something but that we will look it up and get back to them. We, educators, don’t have to know everything, but that follow-through and honesty show the student we value and respect them and their time, so, therefore, they will do the same for us when we present to them.
This job is by no means easy, as we often have to navigate state laws, disgruntled parents/schools, a general lack of understanding in this field of education, and the fear and shame that surrounds sexual health and its ‘tabooness’ in society. It is because of all that, that I take my job very seriously and I make doubly sure that those whom I teach understand that I have their best interests at heart, respect them for who they are, and want to give them the knowledge on sexual health to better equip them for making better-informed decisions with regards to their bodies.
Sex education matters.