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English 212

2002 Third Paper

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Welcome to Sex Ed!

Nancy Evans

At one o'clock, twelve excited children bustle into room 22 of the small, independent school for children with learning disabilities with full stomachs and plenty of nervous anticipation. "Today is the day!" The conversation immediately shifts to the lesson for the day: Sex Ed. For a full five minutes, while the teacher has time to make it up the stairs, check the mailbox, and sift through the discarded backpacks that obstruct the doorway, a precursor to the lecture is in full force.
"Do the girls have to learn about the boys? I don't think we should have to learn about the boys!"
"Duh! What if you want to get married someday? Your husband is going to be a boy."
"Well, I'm not gonna get married, so I don't have to learn about the boys, right Teacher?"
The teacher enters the room and attempts to quiet the class, assuring that her students are not always so eager to dodge the lesson plan. My mind wanders to about an hour before, in the main office. My "briefing session" consisted of about ten minutes in which the class was introduced to me:
"Okay, they range in age from ten to twelve, and they are quite a lively bunch. What exactly are you going to be watching for, anyhow?"
I proudly explained the course and told the smiling principal and the disbelieving secretary that I wanted to hear how the kids themselves put sex into language, not how they repeated the information they learned during Sex Ed week.
"Well, you've picked the right group," the secretary sighed as she shook her head, probably pondering my sanity, "That's one issue that is always on their minds. Good luck to you!"
With that word of warning, I was a little unsure of what to expect. Reading over the initial questions from the kids (scribbled onto lined index cards), a few basic ideas stuck out. The kids are wary about sex while at the same time believing they know enough to educate their fellow classmates. Their questions ranged from the non-sexual ("What foods should we eat to stay healthy?") to puberty ("What will happen to us?") even touching upon issues such as homosexuality ("How are people gay?") and popular misconception ("Why do men like it more?"). The theme of the questions seemed to be general suspiciousness; the kids mistrust their bodies, which are beginning to change and mistrust the ideas they might have heard about sexuality.
The teacher does her best to clear the uncomfortable feelings talking about sexuality brings up by organizing an icebreaker. One by one, the kids shout out slang words they may know for sexual terms or anatomy. Somewhere between giggles and the excitement of seeing "Fuck" written on the chalkboard, the kids begin to lose their inhibitions and curiosity becomes the prevalent emotion.
At this point, the lights are dimmed and a video starts. In the video, a group of eleven-year-olds are learning about sex. Before any discussion begins, however, a coach leads the boys away to a locker room where he proceeds to give them an overview of issues such as arousal, erections, masturbation, and wet dreams. The girls, who have stayed with their (female) teacher, get a lesson on personal hygiene, menstruation, and developing breasts. After the video ended, the teacher discussed the reasons not to separate students when learning about Sex Ed ("Sexuality is a part of health, and we learn about everyone's health here."). She passes out color book sheets of the penis and everyone sets to work coloring, arguing every now and then over why a testicle "cannot be green".
Despite a liberal attitude towards teaching sexual education, flaws do exist in the program. To start, why does the "Boys Section" emphasize sexual desire and the "Girls Section" deal with biological issues such as menstruation? To me, this perpetuates the stereotype that men are more sexual than women. For girls who have already posed questions about male vs. female sexuality, this seems especially harmful. Completely ignoring the issues of female masturbation and sexual desire may lead young girls to believe that these aspects of sexuality are bad or wrong for them to enjoy. Many aspects of the Sex Ed program are commendable, but the interactions between the boys and girls only works against ideas of equalizing Sex Ed and sexuality itself. Often the boys speak over the girls, or make them feel embarrassed to have said "balls". This fear of embarrassment keeps the girls quiet and results in a classroom experience where young boys feel they have the power--the right to express ideas and joke about sexuality that is not extended as freely to young girls.
Although the program itself seems effective and sex is pout into language unapologetically, I believe changes can be made to benefit the entire population of the class.

American Academy of Pediatrics. "Sexuality Education of Children and Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities". Pediatrics. 1996. Vol 97. #2. pp. 275-278.

Blackburn, H. "Sexuality, Disability, and Pain: Advice for Life... Not Just For Kids!" Child Care Health Development, vol. 21 #5. September, 1995. pp 351-61

Greene Eric J. "Special ed students get new sex ed curriculum" Holland Sentinel. December 16. 1997. pp 21-30.

Melberg and Hingsberg. Sexuality: Your Sons and Daughters With Intellectual Disability. Brookes Pub. Baltimore, Md. 1999.

Kowalski, Jo Anne. "HIV, Aids and Mental Retardation". September 1997. Online. available:

National Information Center for Children and Youth With Disabilities. "How Particular Disabilities Affect Sexuality and Sexuality Education." 29 Oct 02. Online. Available: articleid=194ECF1B-5D2C-4DB9-B27A30EF6F4C495C


"Stop Abuse". Dir. James Stanfield. Circles. 1996

University of North Carolina. "Sexuality and Persons with Disabilities". Online. Available:

Just the Facts, Please: A Multi-Sensory Approach to Sex Ed

I intended my fourth paper to use the ideas I have formulated from work at my Praxis site to build a functional sex ed curriculum; however, as I began to research for the paper, I realized this curriculum isn't merely about creating a more effective sex ed program, but also a new way of teaching the material that is specific to children with learning disabilities.
Since children with special needs learn in a variety of ways, my lessons will be multi-sensory

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