Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Como se dice "vulva?"

As many of you know, tomorrow I begin my (hopefully long) career as a sexuality educator. I could barely stand the fact that I was even considered for this position before graduating. As my start date got closer and closer, I started to wonder exactly how affective of an educator can I really be for the Latino community. I am fluent in Spanish, I lived a huge chunk of my childhood in Mexico, and my home was practically a little Mexico! But by all accounts, I am as American as rabid consumerism. I speak English more than anything else, I listen to horrible pop music, and I have Individualistic, American values. Am I trying to help the Latino community...or am I trying to change it? Irregardless, I'm going to take this position head on and provide Norristown with the sexuality education they need. Why? 52% of Latina Adolescents have been pregnant at least once by the time they're 20 years old. (I've never been a gambler, my mom is, and she still can't understand how I missed these odds).

I have other concerns as well.


While I can only speak for my cultural experience, Latinos as a whole are very curious about your background. Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you have kids? Where are you from? Where are your parents? --For the most part, I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from the Latino community about the work that I do. However, every community is different. And every community is going to react differently to my lack of desire for children or marriage.


I am fluent in Spanish. I was raised speaking the language every day of my life. However, all of my formal schooling and training has been in English. I know a lot of the translation for scientific terms and I'm (in my opinion) rather good at translating the actual meaning vs translating word for word (ala google translate.) But will all of this equal an good Spanish-language sexuality educator? I guess we will see soon enough.

Questions for you:
Are there any populations that you assumed you would be a shoe-in to work with that you may be thinking twice about?

Are there any steps you have taken to overcome this?

If you speak a second language, do you think you could teach affective education in a way that is as meaningful as it would be in your primary language?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Teaching to populations that make you nervous

I have a confession to make: I'm scared of teenagers. I have been since before I was a teenager myself. When I was a teenager, I was a homeschooled geek who avoided risky, impulsive, or rebellious activities. I never understood my peers and I knew they didn't think much of me. I was tremendously relieved to reach adulthood, where people were expected to behave the way I typically behaved (well, sort of.) But going back to interact with a group of teenagers has always been challenging for me.

First of all, I have flashbacks to my years of feeling profoundly uncool and entirely failing to make positive connections with teens when they were my peers. Second, I feel like I'm lacking the skills to present myself as a credible figure. I can't relate to them; I don't understand what drives them or where they're coming from. (Weirdly, this is not an issue for me when working with three-year-olds. I totally get three-year-olds.) I prefer a very relational teaching style, and feeling like I can't relate to an entire age demographic really sets me back.

This is not specifically about teenagers: I'm guessing others have some populations that they feel really awkward, uncomfortable, or nervous teaching to. I'm wondering how you deal with that? My instinct is to overprepare, even more than I would normally, so that I'm never stuck without something to say. To know my material absolutely cold so that there's one less thing I'll be nervous about. To go into a performative mode where I'm less responsive to the room and more focused on the presentation itself. I don't know that this is the best approach, but it's the one that reduces my anxiety, and I feel like it makes sense to play down the relational aspect of teaching if I don't feel like I can relate. But then it feels like I'm withdrawing and giving them less than my best just because of my own issues.

What do others think? Are there populations that you have a hard time teaching to, and how do you handle that?

Edit: After doing some online research, I found a few links that were helpful and reassuring. (Also, your comments are making me feel a lot better about this!) I found a couple of blogs of teachers who have generalized social anxiety, which is very reassuring to me: if people who are anxious around any population can teach, then I can teach to teenagers. Especially helpful was this post by littlemissteacherlady about applying teaching strategies to her own struggles with anxiety, by setting manageable and concrete learning objectives. I'd never thought of it that way before, but there can definitely be an aspect of self-teaching in terms of the way I teach, and (just as I wouldn't with a student) I don't have to expect myself to soar to "totally comfortable and at home" levels right from the get-go.

I found a great blog post from a black educator talking about her experiences of discomfort teaching groups of white people. Some of the things she says about overcoming it were helpful to me, such as recognizing that a lot of the feeling of "I'm out of place and they're all wondering why I think I have anything to say to them" is self-imposed, based on past experiences and not on anything the students in front of you are doing. I think treating every new classroom of teenagers as a blank slate would be helpful to me, rather than assuming that they're judging me as sooo lame just because that's what lots of teenagers have done in the past.

This article was neat, a teacher talking about how she relates to her students' academic struggles by comparing them with her own athletic struggles. It reminded me that even though my teenagerhood was very different from most people's, I may have analogous experiences, and that I can be creative in looking to find ways to relate.

Overall, I feel like I can take my current strategy (overprepare and shift to a more performative style) as a starting point, but work to expand my approach as I work with different groups of teenagers, so that maybe in a few years they won't be scary at all!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Teenaged Sexual Minorities

Last fall I read Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission (1996), which was a collection of personal accounts divided into subjects that extended past Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and Sadomasochism.

Sidenote: While I was at the Widener Careers conference the other week a (prospective?) student asked me some questions about kink and BDSM. I said that perception varies by person; some people consider kink the umbrella under which BDSM falls, while others feel that BDSM is much broader than the letters that comprise the acronym, so many kinks fall under it. Despite the subtitle, I consider Different Loving a kink book, because much that is described in it can be done outside the parameters, or separate from a dominant and submissive relationship.

Around the same time I discovered an article that I fell in love with by Bezreh, Weinberg and Edgar (2012). Similar personal accounts were included, but there was also the idea that BDSM should be considered as a sexual minority that needs the same kind of education and outreach services for teens that have been established for LGBT youth. It was really poignant to hear that a large percentage of the interviewees could have benefited from hearing that what they were experiencing was "normal" when they were younger. Knowing how to experiment safely was also noted as a hindsight desire.

Although most of you know that teenagers aren't my cup of tea demographic, I still feel concern for them, especially with the advent of books such as 50 Shades of Grey, Rihanna videos, etc. It seems hard enough to get decent sexuality education in schools and we certainly had to fight for LGBT recognition/validation. In the foreseeable future, at least in the south, I cannot imagine that including BDSM or kink will be a reality (especially since from a work standpoint a lot of kink related practices are automatically listed as child abuse under some state laws).  I've come up with a few ideas for how I think accurate information could reach teens, but it doesn't really involve the classroom. I would like to hear from everyone of course, but especially educators within the school system about general guidelines and restrictions. For example, I don't know if there is more leniency with extracurricular organizations.

  • How do you feel about kink and/or BDSM being considered a sexual minority?
  • Do you think kink and/or BDSM should be incorporated in secondary sexuality education? If so, how would you go about it?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Being "Out" as a Sexuality Educator

Sexuality educators have to be sexuality educators no matter where we are or what we're doing; if we hope to be "out" about it. But, judging from the number of conversations that take place among students in this program centered on "Do you tell people outside of the sexological community what you're in school for/what you want to do?", it can be difficult to be "out" sometimes. Which is kind of ironic, considering that helping others to be "out" and "proud" about their gender, or sexual orientation, or sexual wants and needs, is a pretty big focus for many people in this field. Shouldn't we all be out and proud about the work in which we're so excited to take part, that we see as so important to society? It seems like a no-brainer. But it also makes sense that it's more complicated than that, in light of this "Sh*t People Say to Sexologists" YouTube video. It's difficult to talk to people about what you want to do for a living—or about anything, for that matter—if they have no basic understanding of what that thing is, or get caught up in misconceptions about it.

This is one area where my training has started to help me on a personal front. We learn fairly early on in the program that, as educators, it's important to work from our students' existing knowledge base in teaching them new concepts. Through the utilization of this existing knowledge we can scaffold (and here) their learning to provide support as they reform their current understandings of the world. The same goes for our friends, our family, and all of those awesome new acquaintances we're constantly meeting at parties in our spare time (amiright?), since "What do you do?" seems to be one of the most common things to talk about with people you've just met in American society. (Thanks, Levinson.)

One of the most important things I've learned since entering this program is not to say immediately that I'm in school to be a "sexuality educator." That too often leads to the response of, "Oh," before the conversation quickly and awkwardly ends. Instead, I first tell people that I'm learning to be (just) "an educator." Then, if they inquire further, this opens the door to talking about my focus in human sexuality studies. Saying first that I'm training to be an educator gives most people a familiar concept with which to grapple before they're stymied by the S-E-X word. And at that point they often feel confident enough about understanding at least one thing I've said to ask questions and try to understand more.

Sometimes, I get frustrated that I have to start from the basics every time. But what's even more frustrating is the outcome of trying to jump ahead, beyond my audience's conceptual understanding, so that a dialogue—which is what the process of education really is, when we break that concept down to a basic level—can't even happen. So starting with the basic concepts provides a practical jumping-off point for the conversation to take place, even in these non-classroom situations. I also know that, despite it being frustrating sometimes, having to start with the basics in these conversations and the existence of situations seen in the "Sh*t People Say to Sexologists" video are good indicators of the need for sexuality educators to be out in the world. The moment this thing called the "sexuality educator" isn't needed is the moment a conversation won't end in awkward silence, or the moment when an incredulous assertion that our field of study isn't a real thing won't be made simply because the word "sexuality" was used. It will also, hopefully, be the moment when laws like Tennessee's "gateway sexual activity" bill are less of a norm than an exception. (Read the bill.)

So the need to start with the basics in these conversations is also a call to be "out" as sexuality educators and sexologists. Because whether or not I am in "the classroom," I am still in the classroom. And whether or not I am speaking to my primary target audience, they still need that education, for their sake and mine, at least about the very basics of what sexuality education is. Unless people know about what we're doing and can relate to the concepts, there's no way that things will change in our lifetime. And there are very few other people who know how to do that education. While there may certainly be times when it is wiser to stay in the human sexuality educator closet, it is almost always the case that sexuality educators need to be out as sexuality educators no matter where we are or what we are doing. And it just so happens that there are good ways, provided by our education as sexuality educators, to do that.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Kinesthetic Learning and Sex Education

Let me paint two pictures for you that represent the opposing sides of a spectrum.

The first is one of my observations for HSED 625. There are thirty desks jammed in a small room with the teacher’s desk squeezed in the corner. The walls are nearly completely lined with posters, white boards, and filing cabinets. Three knowledgeable, but obviously nervous, presenters stand in front of a text-heavy PowerPoint presentation and give tons of great information to high school sophomores for an hour and a half straight. The facts come quickly at the students in hopes that they will soak some of it up.  One small point in the presentation requires volunteers to come to the front of the class and attempt to put a condom on a cucumber while wearing “beer goggles”. The bell rings, and a new load of students walk in the door.

The second is my “Exotic Dance for the Everyday Woman” class that I taught for two years. This big open martial arts studio has an entire wall lined with mirrors, padded mats on the floors, two vertical poles on the side of the room, and is typically kept a bit chilly. Women 18-55 years old enter into this room where they are handed hula hoops and jam to Madonna. When stretching is over, these ladies sit in a circle discuss the topic of body image, exotic dance, female empowerment, and/or sisterhood. They are up as quickly as possible to practice their confident march while I encourage them to take their sensual self seriously. They stumble while they try to learn the moves from each other, but at least the music is good. Some people are out of breath, but they are all encouraging one another. The time is up; the women are given a description of next week’s class.

It isn't fair to compare these two experiences. The environment is hard to control; we work with what we have. Of course the dance class is going to be heavier in movement because that is what is being taught. We are restricted in a public high school about what we can teach and how we can teach. But it is my experience with both of these instances that has created my bias toward incorporating as much spatial, kinesthetic, and musical learning into the classroom as possible.

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences includes musical, spatial, and body-kinesthetic among its seven categories of intelligences. Although each of the different types of intelligences are important to emphasize, Gardner (1993) felt that linguistic and logical-mathematical were overemphasized in our culture. It is because of this that I feel the need to highlight these other intelligences. I have included a few examples for pandering to these lesser-recognized intelligences below.

1)      This fellow and his students at a YMCA created a song about using condoms as a means to prevent STI transmission.
2)      This male Indian singing group made an up-beat song about condoms that discusses both HIV/AIDS, female condoms, and is inclusive to gay males.
3)      This medical model can be felt to learn how to do breast examinations. 
4)      Students can create their own “genderbread”person as a homework assignment.
5)      Students can hold signs and place themselves in the proper order of events that occur (ie. the sexual response cycle).

What other examples can you think of that uses these types of intelligences? How would you work with these intelligences within certain disabled populations (i.e. deaf, blind, or limited mobility students)? What considerations would you have to make to include very introverted students?


Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligences: The theory in practice. New York: BasicBooks.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sexuality Education and Professional Development

When I think about teaching human sexuality, there are so many questions that come to mind.  What do I need to know about my audience?  What are the objectives and outcomes of the presentation?  What do I need to understand about the culture of my audience?  What are the laws and policies regarding teaching sexuality for this presentation?  What educational tools and strategies will be developmentally appropriate for my audience?  What curriculum is appropriate for the audience?  How do I correctly create and assess the objectives?  How will I incorporate media and technology into the course/presentation? 

Is being a sex educator more than the above questions?  What are my personal and professional development responsibilities to be an educator utilizing best practices, national standards, and the media? 

As I was searching the Internet for teaching strategies, I came across this webpage based out of Canada.  The website, has different sections to assist a teacher in planning to teach.  The sections include prepare yourself, prepare your class, and prepare parents and the communities.  These different sections provide valuable resources to assist a teacher with preparation and professional development.  There is also a section for instructional methods including activities and examples of student questions.  Although it is from a different country, I think the thoroughness of the website is astounding.  I believe it is a tool to assist sex educators in their professional development and comfort level facilitating sexuality education. 

As a sex educator, I have learned about my strengths and weaknesses.  I believe the tool above is useful and yet I have feel like I am not “connected” to the social media and technology that adolescents are accessing to receive their sex education.  In a blog by Deb Levine, creator of Columbia U's Go Ask Alice website, and Executive. Director of, she discusses the importance of being able to incorporate technology and social media with sex education.  I actually felt like I was living in the Stone Age while reading the article because I do not have a Facebook or Twitter account, own a Smartphone, know any current music, browse through Youtube in my spare time, and I could go on and on about my lack of “connection” with social media.  I do know that I cannot continue to turn a blind eye to these tools as a source of my own personal and professional development as a sex educator. 

As you think about your own professional development as a sex educator, what tools do you use to further your own professional development?  How do you think media influences your teaching practices?  

To share or not to share? That is the age-old question

To share or not to share? That is the age-old question.

We talk a lot about what makes a teacher more effective, more able to connect with their audience, and the all around the best educator they can be.  Though my college years are not that far behind me, I know I will remember certain professors more clearly than others because of the connection I felt with them and how that facilitated my learning. When I spoke with others about the wonderful teachers/professors they had in the past, a common thread emerged.  It seems that what sets these exceptional teachers apart is the way they were able to connect their personal lives with the subject(s) they taught.  

Not to say that educators who do not share information about their personal lives with students are thus ineffective or less memorable. For me, however, the personal stories my professors shared in class, makes their courses feel more meaningful, even now.  I can remember a Women's Studies professor telling the class about her experiences with rape, abortion, gender roles, etc. and how these shared experiences enriched many discussions in class.  Through her stories, she was able to create an environment that “propelled [students] to move in the direction of active learning” as Edward Roy Krishnan describes in his Affective Teaching blog. I can also remember a very detailed Human Development class whose vast content would have been nearly impossible to remember without the teacher connecting the material to stories of his kids growing up. By adding the human element to the topics at hand, this style of teaching can create a deeper impact and stronger connection for students of all ages.

This technique isn't only used in college settings – parents and motivational speakers have used the "learn from my mistakes/experiences" adages for many years with inconsistent success.  This raises the question, what types of personal stories have more of an impact on youth? Is there a formula for choosing which ones will be effective and which ones will not?  Krishnan discusses the value of sharing “inspirational stories” in his Affective Teaching blog, but also cites their antithesis as being the “look-at-how-good-I-am stories” where teachers try to only present themselves as infallible and perfect.  Are there ways these types of stories can be turned into “inspirational stories?”  Do you agree with the way he categorized the types of sharing, or do you feel there is a better way to distinguish which stories might be advantageous to share with youth?

In a middle or high school classroom setting it seems that this issue is even trickier to handle.  In his blog, A New Teacher’s Dilemma, a veteran teacher, Larry Cuban, describes a situation where a teacher was unsure how much to share with her new class about her personal life.  She also struggled with how to define her identity to the class without getting tangled up in debates about racial and ethnic stereotypes (even though she ended up taking on these important discussions head on).  This situation begs the question: how can you make inroads with students culturally if you do not share your personality and identity with them?

When it comes to sexuality education there seems to be added cautionary measures that are taken.  The topic itself is already so personal that it both incites personal comparisons as well as threatens against them.  A co-worker once brought to my attention how sneaky some students can be when it comes to asking personal questions.  She warned me that sometimes they are asking one thing, but really trying to get different information.  They may ask, “do you have kids?” but what they really want to know is if you've had sex; they may ask “what birth control do you use?” to see if you have sex or because they think you know some secret about which methods are better than others.  These questions might seem benign, but once you start answering them the students take that information and run with it.  Because of this, and for many other reasons, our staff has a policy to not answer any personal questions from students.  This strategy definitely makes avoiding sharing anything about yourself easy, but at what cost?  I often wonder if my students would be gaining more of a connection to the topic and to me if I were able to share information about my life with them.

An added dilemma for many sexuality educators is that when you are a "mobile educator" (like myself) that goes into many schools and community based organizations to teach sex education classes once or twice a week, you don’t get your own class or group of teens that stay static for longer than a month or two.  With this constant changing atmosphere it is hard to strike a balance between establishing one’s credibility, not getting too personal with the details that are shared, and not to becoming just a robot spouting facts and facilitating discussions.

Another thing to consider when weighing all these factors is how parents are going to react to a teacher’s decision to share their lives with the class.  Especially in terms of middle and high schools, there can be a fear of a backlash from parents when they feel a teacher has crossed the line.  The example of a blogging mother who asks "How far is too far when a teacher shares personal information with their students?" shows the possible contempt for teachers sharing their personal lives with their students.  Besides the clear homophobic undertone of the post (which she denies over and over again, but then she gets schooled about by many of the commenters) she brings up some interesting opinions from the parent point of view about where you should draw the line when it comes to sharing personal information with students.

What types of personal stories, if any, do you think should be shared with classes?
How does the age of the students impact the amount and/or type of stories being used?

Monday, October 1, 2012

The CATCH Program: A Hit or Miss?

The CATCH Program: A Hit or Miss?

The New York Times article: “More Access to Contraceptives in City Schools” (September 23, 2012)

A new program titled CATCH (Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare) started in January 2011 among 14, now 13, New York City high schools. CATCH offers reproductive health services, including condoms, birth control pills, pregnancy tests, and Plan B which are all distributed to students 17 years old and under  by health department officials and school nurses. Before the program started, parents and families received forms to choose if they want to participate in the CATCH program or opt out of it. Only 1-2% of families chose to not participate, which can be a surprising statistic. 

The New York City Department of Education barely mentions the CATCH program on their website (see link below). They only discuss the program in terms of it being new, but they do not give any more information. 

Questions and Concerns:
  • As sexuality educators, we need to concerned with how schools are communicating sexuality topics that are discussed in schools with parents and families. How was this “form of consent” sent home? What did it say? How was it supposed to be returned back to the school? Did it give correct and detailed information about each reproductive service, especially Plan B? Point of discussion: What is the best way to communicate and educate a new program like CATCH to parents and families? 
  • Being an advocate for comprehensive sexuality education, the CATCH program has potential to decrease adolescent unwanted pregnancies, STIs, and HIV. As students are using these services, what type of education are they receiving from the health department officials and school nurses? Are they taking time to have conversations with students using these services? Point of discussion: For students that are participating in the CATCH program services, should there be education in the process of utilizing these products and services? What could that education look like? 
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the CATCH program?