This week was pretty uncomfortable. But in that discomfort, some amazing things happened.
Similar to the Upper School Band Swap, during this week, the Upper School mixed things up in order to teach Sex Ed.
On Monday and Tuesday, the students got a crash course in physical anatomy+body changes and in the mental+emotional aspects of sex and relationships. The Bands were paired up (Teal+Blue, and Indigo+Violet) and they spent the mornings hanging out with co-teachers. Rich and Oberski teamed up to talk biology, and me and Phillip co-taught sex/gender/sexuality and consent.
While I can’t personally speak for Rich+Oberski’s sessions, some wonderfully rich conversation happened with the kids, Phillip, and me. We established group norms, talked about how uncomfortable our discussions might be, and also created a safe space for the students to ask candid and honest questions without fear of being judged or of their privacy being violated. In a school that’s constantly being documented and observed, this was sometimes a tall order. (…And it also meant that I didn’t take many photos this week, and I didn’t post to Instagram much.)
Creating a safe and non-judgemental space for the kids to learn comfortably about a delicate (and usually stigmatized) topic also meant that the Collaborators had to be open and welcoming in their answers. We carefully, considerately, and honestly answered sometimes very personal questions about our own private relationships.
And on Wednesday and Thursday, we did just that in formal sessions.
For this second half of the week, Oberski+Lindsay+Me teamed up to host a 90-minute panel discussion, and Rich+Phillip did the same. All week, we had encouraged the kids to anonymously (or not) submit questions that they had related to sex and relationships. We compiled all the questions, discussed our answered to them in a staff meeting, and then hosted an open Q&A with the students. On Wednesday, the girls hung out with the girl panel and boys with boys, and then on Thursday we swapped (adult boys+student girls, adult girls+student boys).*
*Also, point of clarity on all of this: we chatted a long time about the division of boys/girls for the Q&A sessions and the way that division problematizes some of the binary thinking that we had been dismantling in our conversations all week. By and large, we acknowledged that it caused problems to split the kids like that, but also ultimately decided on the division based on shared anatomical experience of body changes and puberty.
We talked about a lot things and answered a lot of questions this week. We addressed things like body changes, masturbation, virginity, consent, sexuality, gender identity, feminism, body image, sexual health (physical+emotional), porn, and also where to go for answers to questions as they arise, and whatever point in your lifetime they arise.
Without digging too deep, I think that’s really the takeaway from this week: where to go for answers to questions as they arise.
By thoughtfully and explicitly creating a safe space for kids to ask honest questions without judgement, we learned a lot about ourselves, the capabilities of this school, and about the students. They are deeply and critically thinking, curious people. And they have lots of questions.
The one thing that I kept thinking about and trying to emphasize with Blue and with everyone, all week, was that sex is a topic that we as an American culture have been taught not to talk about. If we’ve been taught not to talk about it, and have a question about it, sometimes it’s confusing where or how we can safely find an answer. The last thing that I would want for any of these students (or for anyone) is to go searching for the answer in the wrong place or to find the wrong answer. This week was about creating a space where it was okay to ask, and where we weren’t going to lead them down a wrong path.
In fact, we also demonstrated that sometimes the answers to certain questions are different for different people. And that’s okay too. We don’t all look the same. We don’t all think the same. And in relationships, that’s tricky. Half the battle is recognizing those differences, and the other half is making sure that you’re taking care of yourself while considering the safety and feelings of others.
And with that, I think that Upper School did a great job at teaching sex ed.