As the last male staff member in my K-6 elementary school, it fell to me
this year to teach the human growth and development lesson to the fourth grade boys. Sex ed for the preadolescent set; a user’s guide to your changing penis.
It was just as awkward as you’d expect.
Things began well enough. We separated the girls and boys and went to different rooms, and the boys knew exactly what was going on by the tittering laughter that was already peeping out before they even sat down. After a brief, sputtering introduction I started a video called Just Around the Corner. First segment, fine. Teenager talks about how nerdy he was before and during puberty. Quite boring, really.
Then the animated penis comes dancing onto the screen.
The visual I’m trying to give you there is much, much worse than the reality, but if you judged from the shrieks of horror that arose from the boys (yes, shrieking boys) you would have thought that Ron Jeremy himself had shown up in the video and whipped it out for all to see.
Anyhow, the actual animation was of a naked boy, very indistinctly drawn. Suddenly hair begins sprouting out of his crotch and armpits, and he gets pimples. The narrator goes through the material in a very matter-of-fact manner, I assume. I can only assume, because at this point my head was buried in my hands wondering how the hell I had gotten into this situation while the boys alternately covered their faces and stared in wide-eyed wonder at the cartoon willy.
Then came the close-up. This is the penis. This is the scrotum. Inside the scrotum are the testicles. This here, that’s where the seminal fluid comes out of the scrotum and makes its way up to the penis. That’s the reproductive process, boys. If you have any questions, ask a trusted male figure who isn’t me.
After the video I was hoping for stunned silence, but they were hyped. There was a quick quiz (“Why yes, Timmy, wet dreams are perfectly normal.”) and then ohgodhelpme the question and answer period.
“Mr. Grant, when they talked about the penis getting hard, was that for...s-e-x?”
“Yes, that’s a part of sex.”
“OH MY GOD, HE SAID SEX!”
F me, but did that ever open the floodgates. One little guy who is too honest for his own good gets a thoughtful look on his face and says, “Sex? My mom says my sister has that,” which actually shut the room up for about two seconds. Another one pops in with, “You start having sex when you’re 18! Or maybe 17. It depends,” which I obviously couldn’t let go unchallenged, so I said “It’s a personal choice, Bobby. Waiting until you’re married is a good thing,” which satisfied a lot of them.
"Do you have sex every time your penis gets hard?" I wanted to say that I certainly do but that they probably wouldn't get that lucky in life; I answered "No." instead. I think that is probably better for the whole keeping my job thing.
There was also some confusion about semen. “So the baby starts inside the dad, and he gives it to the mom?” one little guy asked me, not understanding the idea of the semen fertilizing the egg. I explained it a little bit more, which lead to the perfect follow-up: “So how does the man get the sperm inside the woman?”
No. We are not going there, you can learn that in 5th and 6th grade health, or you can learn it from the boys on the bus, or you can learn it from the copy of the Joy of Sex that you found when you were snooping around your parents bedroom one weekend when they were gone, but you’re not going to learn it from me. Thank you, here’s your free deodorant, go back to class.
That said, I can see the need for this type of education. The hardest topics to teach are often the most important, and hearing the misconceptions these kids had (e.g., "Men can to get pregnant, I saw it on Oprah!", which is a real quote from one of the groups I had) is quite startling.
For all the nurses and health teachers out there who deal with these issues on a daily basis, I salute you.
Labels: genitals, growth and development, penises, sex ed
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