The Perils of Real Sex-Ed

One of the joys/perils of working at a boarding school is that kids will ask you — often — for sex advice. It’s something that stirs their curiosity — and other body parts — quite frequently. And they’re still spouting bad information to each other, years and years after I learned that many of these playground adages were false. We do our teens in America a disservice by not providing good sexual information in a consistent way.

But when, as an adult, in a dormitory late at night, I get asked questions about sex… hooo boy. How does one balance one’s responsibilities to the parents and to the school — those want to be the ones who provide the information, and then don’t — with one’s responsibilities to the students (and their future sexual partners)?

At the beginning of the year, I tend to err on the side of caution, and remember my responsibilities to the school and parents more closely and carefully. As I learn the students’ attitudes and build a ‘case file’ on each of them, I tend to open up more, and provide snippets of data in an appropriate way. Once, for a very complex kid from a very repressive culture coming out as queer, I bought a book as a graduation present.

There has to be a better way.

As a school chaplain, I suppose I should be in favor of abstinence programs of various sorts. But I’m not, really. For one, from what I’ve seen, they substitute fear for information, and this is never a good thing. For another, they portray one very narrow and (frankly) theological point of view about sex. And finally, in their rush to talk about how wonderful marriage is, they neglect to teach the communications and intimacy skills that married couples need in order to stay married happily and successfully. Which (for better or worse) should include frank talk about sex.

That all is the easy part — saying it should be different. But when one kid asks a question, and you answer frankly… and then host of other kids start appearing to ask their questions… well.

I can’t imagine requiring anyone to accept that as part of their official job description.

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