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English 212

2002 Third Paper

On Serendip

Thinking Sex at The Club House?

Bea Lucaciu

I could tell from the day of my interview that my time at The Club House would be interesting indeed. Most of the members were running the whole show. They answered phones, prepared lunch, and did the grocery shopping. Perhaps this doesn't seem like much, but when taking into account that all of these members are actually mentally ill adults, these menial tasks become impressive feats.

The Club House, Inc. is a private, non-profit organization that has been providing mentally ill adults with support and vocational training since 1975. According to the brochure I was given, funding "comes from the Montgomery County Mental Health/Mental Retardation/Drug and Alcohol Program and donations from individuals, corporations, or foundations."

My placement is one of five "clubhouses" in Montgomery County. The branch where I visit has been at that location for approximately twenty years, and has seen many members come and go. Some are there for a short period of time, while others show up at least once a week for several years. The Club House in Rosemont does not provide members with a roof over their heads and comfortable beds, but it does provide them with much-needed vocational and life skills. They also have an employment coordinator who advises and assists the members with filling out applications, going to job interviews, and even helps them find different employment opportunities.

In order to be eligible to participate in The Club House's programs, one must be at least 18 years old, mentally ill, and a resident of Montgomery County. Also, the individual must abstain from the use of alcohol and illegal drugs. This is, in large part, due to the fact that the members are on quite a bit of medication. Most of them are paranoid schizophrenics or suffer from bi-polar disorder. However, this program is all about helping them function in a "normal" society.

As I had been expecting, I found that no sex-ed program exists here. The Club House does not provide the members with counseling sessions or group therapy supervised by a professional. For most of the day, they just interact, sometimes joining the Math Group or the Coping with Life Group (each of which has recently been brought back from the dead). As I've discussed with my supervisors, the best possible way to introduce a sex-ed curriculum would be by using the Coping with Life sessions to introduce the adults to concepts and ideas, especially about safe sex, which they may have not been aware of before.

Apparently, safe sex was a concern among the staff recently. Most of the clubhouse members reside at the same community home, and had been engaging in sex acts unaware of the dangers, consequences, or reality of unprotected sex. The Club House had not become involved because it had not been directly related to the clubhouse program. However, when I spoke with my supervisor about this matter, he expressed interest in creating a sex-ed curriculum for members. He offered some stories to give me an idea of what kind of social/sexual interaction he has observed that occurs among members.

Some members seem nave, almost like innocent children, when it comes to sex and sexuality. Others are more experienced and open to speaking about that topic. For example, a few days ago, I overheard a conversation between two members:

Woman: Hey, thanks for those oranges you gave me. They were really good!

Man: Oh, you liked them? Yeah, I always make sure to get seedless oranges. I'm glad you liked them.

Woman: Of course I liked them. I also like those oranges (pointing to the crotch of his pants and giggling).

Man: What are you talking about? I don't get it...

That dialogue struck me as odd because I hadn't been expecting to hear that. I was told by one of my supervisors that sex generally isn't an issue within the walls of The Club House, although you sometimes hear comments such as the one described above. There was also a situation in which a timid woman suffering from severe depression had become a "sex fiend" (according to staff). They were concerned that she was being used by some of the others living in the community home. This also brought about curiosity and concern for how her active sex life would affect her illness, if at all. The staff did their best to teach her about safe sex and consent.

A sex-ed curriculum would fit in quite nicely into the The Club House environment. After all, they teach their members about functioning in life. Therefore, isn't a healthy knowledge about sex useful as well? If they're going to go out and engage in sexual behavior, should they not be informed? The only difficulty in educating them is having them take it seriously and actually pay attention. All sessions are done in groups, and many individuals become very anxious and nervous if they sit for too long especially in large groups. One of our main concerns is that, with the recent influx of young adults in the program, not all the members are as patient or willing to learn. I've noticed that the younger portion of the membership population lack the attention needed in some of the life skills groups. They sometimes sit there and pick on older members; or they simply ignore what is being taught, and simply make snide comments.

Putting together a stand-alone curriculum would be much too difficult and ineffective. However, introducing it slowly into one of the other program still seems like the best option. That way, we can test the waters to see how accepting they are of the topic. If they don't participate, we can pick a different subject altogether, then try to ease them onto the topic again at another time.

I believe there is a lot of potential at this site for an educational program. Many of the members have dated each other, and have probably taken their relationships to the "next level". Now it's just a matter of teaching them the safe way to do so.

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