Our Reproduction Program is now co-ed; and it should have been co-ed all along. Here’s why.
Separating boys and girls for discussions about sex and sexual health creates a setting enshrouded in mystery and secrecy. In most schools, students aren’t separated by gender for any other subjects, so separating them reinforces the idea that the other gender “shouldn’t know” or “won’t understand” what’s about to be revealed. But puberty and sex education in America has “always been that way,” right? It has prevented young people from thinking they can talk candidly about their bodies or sex in “mixed company."
If we’re honest and think back on our own sex education (if we had it), this practice likely perpetuated gender stereotypes, impaired our ability to communicate clearly and comfortably with sexual partners, and allowed many adolescent myths and misunderstandings about male and female bodies to seep into adult relationships.
What if boys hear all about periods, ovulation, pregnancy, and birth in front of girls? And what if girls learn about erections and ejaculation in front of boys? Then, what if pre-teen kids of all genders are together when they learn not only the “mechanics” of sex, but also about consent, and that people have sex for pleasure, and that having sex is not a spectator sport, but involves a big decision that warrants clear communication, a healthy relationship, and a mindset addressing preparation and prevention?
What if all that happens in a room full of preteen girls and boys?
We’ve been doing this lately, and we have to tell you, they’re perfectly fine.
In fact, they’re engaged and curious and more comfortable than you would expect. Sure, there’s some initial awkwardness, but that’s no different than when we had single-gender programs. They still giggle; they still look sideways at their parent (like…you did that more than a couple of times?!), and they still ask lots of questions - some boldly with raised hands and some more privately through our anonymous question box. Girls ask questions about wet dreams. Boys ask questions about tampons. Myths are busted. Open and honest conversations are being normalized - with boys and girls, men and women all in the same room; and everyone’s fine!
When it’s over, they aren’t slinking or running out of the room. Most of them are chatty and excited because they’ve just been given honest and accurate answers to so many curiosities they’ve had about their changing bodies, other people’s changing bodies, and sex.
While we’re being honest, though, we also have to say that the biggest problem with our co-ed programs is the hesitation of the adults accompanying the kids. We get it, though. As adults ourselves, we were raised on shushed conversations about sex; “whisper quiet” tampon wrappers, and plenty of body shame. How has that served us? Our children want and need something better.
In these times, we desperately need a new paradigm that will strip away shame and secrecy and introduce young people to the truths that the human body is amazing and every body has the right to be in safe and healthy relationships — sexual or otherwise. The more young people talk about this all together, the better they will be able to understand each other, communicate with each other, and hold each other accountable as they lead us into a healthier future.