I am a high school English teacher who also advises 10 million clubs and lives an hour and a half from school. Yet, I gave in when a group of former students asked if they could eat lunch in my classroom every day. 7th period is the only period that I am completely free – no meetings, no duties, no obligations…but, I still said yes. Why? I am a pushover. That’s just the way I am. I don’t even try to be a hard-ass anymore. I will also admit that it’s flattering when former students still want to spend time with me. As a teacher, I hope to leave a good impression. I hope that students can look back at freshman English with good feelings, and feel optimistic about their future English classes. Unfortunately, I learned very quickly that it wasn’t nostalgia for The Odyssey that brought my kids back. It was their interest in my former career – a grant manager for Planned Parenthood’s reproductive health education program. I was a sex education teacher.
I learned of their interest in my past life right away. On the first day of our lunch bunch, Pearl, a 10th grader, said, “So Ms. Hamilton, I heard you used to talk about vaginas and stuff.”
Hmm. Not where I saw our lunch conversations going, but ok. I went with it. “Yup – I taught about pregnancy prevention; STD and HIV prevention; healthy relationships; stuff like that.” I thought maybe I could turn this into a semi-teachable moment and link it back to literature…did Romeo and Juliet use a condom?!
“Great,” said Pearl, “because I have an important question.”
“Shoot,” I responded. (Oh, but if I could take it back!)
“What are anal beads?”
The kids began whispering. I began sweating. “Goodbye, tenure,” I thought. “Goodbye classroom, and bulletin boards, and Shakespeare, and a kick-ass pension.” I was doomed. Why? Because in addition to being a pushover, I am a firm believer in answering teenagers questions honestly. Sex is scary enough when you know about it, but it’s even more scary when you think your first partner might come at you with something called anal beads!
So our conversations began. I thought if I answered their questions honestly and without judgement, the novelty of talking with a teacher about sex would wear off. How wrong I was. Teens have so many questions about everything, but sex is the favorite topic of choice. Some of their inquiries are funny, some are serious, some are really sad (I’ve had to make more than one referral to the guidance office), but all are very genuine. Here are a few that stand out most:
- After showing me a blurry image on his phone that I couldn’t make out, Tyson asked “Ms H., it’s the mole on my testicle. What do I do about it?”
- Pearl, always full of questions, said to me one day, “OMG Ms. Hamilton. My boyfriend showed me his penis. I didn’t touch it or anything, but it’s 9 inches long! Is that big? Is something wrong? Does he have that disease where certain parts of your body get oversized?”
- Chloe asked, “What is motorboating?”
- “If lesbians like women, why do they use toys that look like penises?” (This one gave me some good food for thought. My wife and I talked a lot about it that evening over a bottle of wine.)
Needless to say, I am thoroughly entertained every day. I am so happy to give my kids information that they can’t access anywhere else. The strange thing is that other teachers and parents are happy about it too. I had one student’s mom thank me for talking with her daughter openly and honestly. It’s a tough subject for parents to cover, and it seems like if there is another trustworthy adult answering their kids’ questions, they can concentrate on all of the bajillion other things parents have to worry about.
Other teachers are just happy they don’t have to spend their lunches answering questions about fisting.