The two most common questions I hear as a sexual education teacher:
From the 10th grade boy grinning mischievously in the back row: "What happens if boys take birth control pills?"
From my friends and family: "Isn't it awkward talking about sex in front of teenagers?"
My answer? Honestly, I rarely feel awkward. There's no time to feel awkward. Teenagers are contracting sexually transmitted infections every day. Right now a 16-year-old girl is nervously buying a pregnancy test and figuring out what the hell she's going to tell her parents. Every Friday night, countless teenagers have unprotected sex. I teach sexual education because I care about other young people. They rely on us – trusted adults, teachers, and friends – to provide accurate sexual education and they deserve nothing less.
I care so much because I know firsthand what it's like to grow up without it. I went to high school in Virginia (graduating only four short years ago) and my county didn't understand the concept of comprehensive sex-ed. I was clueless about sex, mainly because I missed the sex video in fifth grade due to a family trip to Disney World. While I was eating breakfast with Mickey Mouse, my classmates learned that penises go into vaginas and that sex wasn't an option until you were married.
I was present for the sex-ed lessons in sixth and ninth grades. Not that they were all that informative. I remember two things: index cards and disgusting pictures. We wrote down questions on the cards that our sixth grade science teacher answered – but only the ones about puberty. Ninth grade health class was even better. We got to see some really lovely pictures of herpes, warts, and penises falling off from syphilis. I promise you – I am not exaggerating.
In eighth grade, my school invited the True Love Waits organization into our cafeteria. During lunch one day my friends and I vowed not to have sex until marriage even though we really didn't know what it was. I finally learned the truth that same year during a horribly embarrassing conversation with my friends that they still love to tease me about.
By the time I was 16, I had promised a stranger I wouldn't "do it" until marriage and was terrified of getting genital herpes. These were my first experiences thinking and talking about sex.
In high school, it seemed that everyone was having sex and a lot of people weren't using condoms. We didn't know better. We weren't told how to have safer sex; we were simply told to NOT have sex. I graduated from high school in 2003.
The scariest part is that many students, like my friends and I, went to college with limited knowledge of our sexual health or how to prevent pregnancy and disease. We entered a world full of partying and hook-ups unprepared. Many of us never got tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) because we were afraid. Nobody wanted to be "tainted." The schools may not have scared us out of having sex, but they sure scared us from talking about it to our doctors, parents and sexual partners.
Four years later, I – a product of abstinence-only education and a much more enlightened college graduate – am now the one standing in front of high school students teaching them what I wish I had learned in middle and high school from teachers and other responsible adults. I was fortunate to connect with groups like Choice USA in college, because not only did I learn answers to all those questions I could never ask, but I also became a resource for my friends and peers so they could do the same.
Now I teach sexual education in Montgomery County, Maryland, a district that endured a lot of controversy when they implemented a comprehensive sex-ed program. I bring in examples of birth control methods like the pill, condoms, the Nuva Ring, and others. Instead of scaring them with STIs, I emphasize the importance of getting tested and treated. And yes, of course I talk to them about abstinence. But I don't tell them to wait until marriage. I encourage them to wait until they are mature enough to be responsible and healthy.
Today's students are smart; as a society we don't give young people enough credit. They don't run out and have sex simply because they have seen a condom. They listen carefully and ask thoughtful questions. Students have faith in what we tell them and trust us to give accurate information so it's our job to do it. It's time society put some faith back in our young people and gives them realistic sexual education. They won't let us down.
And as for the first question: No, guys will not grow breasts if they take a few birth control pills. And yes, they really ask that. (Every. Single. Time.)