I’m an independent sex educator. I work with kids from kindergarten through college and the adults who take care of them. I meet with at least 100 different groups in any given school year and usually have pretty limited time to create a safe and welcoming learning environment before it’s time to really dig into the the creamy center of sex ed (Was that gross? Sorry. Inadvertent double entendres are a professional hazard.). The first day I meet a new group of students I ask them for examples of words they think we’ll use in this class that we might not normally use in, say, math or history. It almost always goes like this:
Step 1: One brave little toaster (BLT) blurts out penis. (Sometimes vagina. But it’s almost always penis.)
Step 2: BLT spends the next three seconds unsure if that was the proudest or most humiliating moment of their life.
Step 3: I say, with a giant smile on my face, “Yes! Absolutely! That’s a great classroom word!”
Step 4: BLT exhales, smiles, and welcomes well-deserved high fives from adoring fans.
Step 5: Words start flying. “Vagina!?” “Sex?!” “Puberty!?” “Periods?!” “Balls!?”
And with the shouting of, “Balls?!” the real work begins. (Sometimes boobies. But it’s almost always balls.)
I introduce the rule: Use Classroom Words (to the best of your ability). I explain that penis is a classroom word but balls is a casual word. I ask students what they think the difference is between a classroom word and a casual word before providing my own quick explanation:
Classroom words are words we will use in this class, words you might use if you were talking to your doctor or asking an adult you didn’t know very well for help. Casual words are the words you might use when you’re talking to friends or words you might use with your family.
Neither group of words is inherently right or wrong. Who’s to say what’s appropriate and what’s not, what’s respectful and what’s not, or what language people should use in private conversation? Certainly not me. And it’s probably not you either. But, as a sex educator it is my job to make sure that every person, young and old, that I teach has access to language that can keep them safe and healthy. For now, those words are classroom words.
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