Sex Ed with a Sex Med Doc
Since returning to DC in 2017 after my fellowship training in sexual medicine, I’ve been asked to give various sex ed lectures at my middle school and high school alma mater.
I am always amazed when I get invited back, because they give me no limits on what I can talk about and which questions I can answer. This year I spoke with the high school seniors in an hour-long seminar about sex and healthy relationships. It’s not the only sex ed these students get, just an additional “ask the sex doctor” session.
Walking back into my old high school is a bit overwhelming. It feels like just yesterday I was there with my best friends, navigating the craziness of adolescence. But the morning of my talk, I was group texting those same friends about promotions and media mentions at work, and our kids and stomach bugs at home.
I was met in the large auditorium by my principal, class advisor and newspaper advisor all who were still there. Giant hugs were given. It was the same room where, two decades ago, I first hear about the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Talk about a time warp.
It was also in that auditorium that I argued with Mrs. Heller, who threatened to put me in detention for giving her sass. Apparently I’ve been a pain in the ass for a long time.
So how do I teach sex ed in one hour to a group of intimidating, quiet, giggly and tough to read high school seniors?
Here’s what I did.
The first slide on the giant projector had my cell phone number.
I told them all to text me questions as we go. That I would stop every few minutes and answer their questions. No matter what. No judgement.
I also told them that I asked my social media followers what they wish they learned in sex ed. That they could read the comments and not just listen to me. I love the comments I get and encourage you to read them too. (Interestingly last year I had hundreds of comments on twitter, and this year the algorithm has changed, and I got none…UGH!)
At that point I showed a picture of an arm in a cast and asked if anyone has broken a bone. Lots of students answered. My arm, a leg, one of my fingers, etc. Nothing weird or embarrassing about that. Then I asked, “But what if you break your penis or vagina? You can’t really post about that on social media and most people don’t talk about it with their friends.” Giggles all around.
Then a picture of a bloody nose appeared on the screen. “What happens if you get a bloody nose in English class? Is it the most traumatic embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?” Everyone shook their head and said no big deal, who cares. “But did you know that half the population bleeds for 5 days every month and nobody really talks about it? Girls what if you wear white pants one day and leak blood on them during English class? Better or worse than a bloody nose.” Why isn’t it the same thing? Why is blood from the vagina different than blood from the nose?
The rest of the lecture was showing pictures of genital anatomy and teaching the physiology of how it works during sex, and answering the text message questions sent by the students. We discussed consent, pleasure, body positivity, the orgasm gap, safety, choice, and communication. I talked about how I see people of all ages and genders (including many their grandparents’ age) who have the same questions and concerns about their sex lives.
Down the hall from that large auditorium is the classroom where I took sex ed during middle school circa 1998. I remember the male gym teacher who taught it, and I only remember one word from the entire class: Smegma. It’s the only thing I remember, which I find funny because I became a urologist who now researches smegma formation in women.
These high school seniors won’t remember a single word I said that day. I don’t even think I said the word smegma. But they will remember that the shame, guilt and mystery of “private” parts lifted for just a moment, when a sex doctor told them it was okay to have questions.
And the questions they texted me? So many. And oh, were they good, detailed, and showed that these kids were already experimenting. But I’ll keep the details of those just between me and the class.
Let’s see if I’m invited back next year.