Shocked, surprised, and a bit grossed out described the feelings I felt when my parents talked to me about sex. I was in the sixth grade at the time. Because of the strong emotions I associated with the moment, I remember the conversation quite vividly. It wasn’t so much a conversation as it was a quick chat with pleasantries exchanged.
Knock-Knock on my bedroom door.
“Yeah, come in,” was my response. My mom and dad walked in, together, holding a book. Nice, I thought, I love books. Not this book though, little did I know.
“So, Mark, as you know, you’re body is going through changes. Your dad and I got you this book to explain everything. Let us know if you have any questions,” my mom nervously said before plopping the book down upon my bed and leaving the room as though it was filled with the smell of farts.
Where Babies Come From was the title of this book I had received as a gift from my parents. I perused the pages filled with cartoon drawings of people. Two people with hearts around their heads. They were holding hands. There was even a picture of the two of them kissing. It seemed so innocent and cute, until I turned the page.
There, in a bathtub, facing each other was the couple, naked. They were smiling. Then, on the next page was the couple, holding a baby. Is that it? Is that how babies are made? I thought. For several years following this emotionally traumatic event, I thought for sure that’s how babies were made. When you take a bath with someone of the opposite sex, the magical water makes a baby. It’s chemistry. My first nocturnal emission came from dreaming about taking a bath with a girl. I thought for sure that’s how babies came about. It started with a bath. From that day forward, I never took another bath for fear of making a baby.
Luckily, later on in my life, my inaccurate prior knowledge was corrected. However, for many years, I thought babies came from bath water. It seemed so fairy-tale-like. It made a little bit of sense to me back then. Sixth grade me was much more accepting and naive than older me. Plus, I figured my parents would only tell me the truth about sex and babies. Why would they lie to me? While they didn’t come right out and tell me untruths, they didn’t try to tell me the whole truth either. They were so scared of having a conversation with me about sex that I never learned the truth until much later in life.
Current research studies conducted reveal similar horror stories about what young people learned about sex from school and their families. Some people like me, were provided fantasy stories about sex and where babies come from while others were told too much or nothing at all. In middle school, I had a health class that covered sex ed for about three days. We learned very little. Some schools today are utilizing this same curriculum from the 1980s. It’s time for a change as our society is changing. Many people go into sexual relationships or adulthood knowing very little or completely inaccurate information about sex. This needs to change. Our students need to be equipped with accurate knowledge regarding sex and relationships.
My school has a specific curriculum we’ve developed over the years to teach about sex, relationships, safety, and health. It’s a four-year progression. In sixth grade, our boys learn about puberty and the changes their bodies are or will be going through. We introduce them to the male and female reproductive systems and field any questions they may have. In the seventh grade, they talk more directly about sex and sexuality. In the eighth grade, they learn about sex as it pertains to relationships. In the ninth grade, they review the big ideas learned in the previous years and then fill in any gaps the students have. They focus on healthy and safe sexual relationships and try to squash inaccurate understandings the students have about sex. It seems to be working for my school, but we don’t have any hard evidence or data to support it. We just seem to like what we have in place. Is it really working? Are our students being provided the right information at the right time? Should we be doing more to help support our students as they grow and develop?
Today, I was fortunate enough to begin our unit on puberty in the sixth grade. I started out by giving each student sticky notes, which they could use to jot down any personal questions they had during our discussion that they were too embarrassed to ask in front of the whole class. I then accessed the prior knowledge the students have of puberty. What is it? What do you already know about puberty? I corrected any untruths and clarified some of their insight. Then, we discussed the scientific definition of puberty before I went into detail on how their body will change during puberty. Because they had so many questions and were so curious, that was all we had time for today. I closed the lesson, addressing the two sticky-note- questions the boys had. “Does it (puberty) hurt?” and “How do girls pee?” Both great questions, which I answered for the students. Several chuckles filled the room throughout the period, which was to be expected. It can be funny to talk about testicles, armpit hair, and strange thoughts. The students seemed engaged throughout the period though. They were curious. But, did they learn anything? Was it enough? Of course, this was only day one of a two-week unit, but did I give them the information needed in today’s lesson? Was it enough? Was it too much? What kind of sex ed curriculum is best for sixth grade boys?