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Author Topic: Single-Sex Sex Ed Environments
bluejumprope
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I'm currently in a Women's Studies class about sexuality that, like similar courses I've taken, is mostly comprised of women. I've been considering what my preferences are for the gender makeup of a classroom when we're talking a lot about sexuality: in sex education or in Women's Studies/Queer Studies classes.

I remember a day in middle school when the boys and the girls were split up for separate puberty/sex lectures, and I felt deeply uncomfortable in that group of girls. That had to do with the assumptions they made about gender, how geared it all was towards heterosexuality, and how much I felt like I didn't fit in. As I've gotten older, and the environments I'm in are typically very queer-friendly, I've really appreciated classroom sexuality discussions among groups that are primarily, or exclusively, women.

Anyway, I'm curious about y'alls thoughts. If you have any experience with sex education in school was it segregated by sex? Was that something you liked/disliked? Do you feel more comfortable one way or the other?

Are you aware of speaking (or not speaking) differently about sex in classrooms depending on the genders of the people in the class?

How do you feel you can learn most about sexuality, and feel the most relaxed? Either now, or in the past?

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Obi
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Well...I had a sex-ed class in middle school in one county, another small course in High school in another, and then a larger couple of week course through a health class later in high school.

The class in middle school was a couple day session and for the most part it had guys and girls together. However, that class was also the one where I remember being told information that even at the time I knew was blatantly wrong.

The first high school class I had kept guys and girls together except when it came to learning about reproductive parts. They addressed breast cancer with the girls and the female reproductive tract, and testicular cancer and the male genitals with the males. I guess females would never need to know what male anatomy looked like and vice versa. *rolls eyes* Or, more likely, they probably figured that if the guys and girls saw pictures of what the other gender looked like that they'd want to stop jumping each other right then and there.

The final high-school level course of sex-ed was not segregated at all. I wouldn't say I cared either way. Questions were put in a box and read out and answered later in class. There weren't too many major questions, especially because the teacher wasn't allowed to talk about very much except to clarify information she'd already given.

Personally? I think I preferred both sexes in together. To me it felt a lot more like they were keeping parents comfortable than worrying about our comfort as the students.

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Heather
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(Btw, if any of you want to hear me talk about this from an educator's end, I'd be happy to do that.)

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hs123
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Okay...
Well... My first school was actually extremely liberal...
But when I was in 5th grade they separated the boys and girls to talk about their periods and...whatever they wanted to talk about with boys that age... I remember it was really awkward because we walked into the room and our moms were sitting there, and I was thinking that I knew all of this stuff...We did stuff like pour koolaid onto pads...

Then in 6th grade everything became co-ed...The teacher would teach us reproductive organs and we'd all have to say them outloud together and if you didn't you'd have to say it by yourself... It was actually the best part of class...

Then we had sex-ed again in eighth grade and it got even more liberal. The teacher was pretty much able to answer any questions we wanted. We could as her what sex felt like, and why it felt good, and she would say things like, "Because the chemicals in your brain go off and pleasure surges through your body..."
In eighth grade it was a little awkward to be with guys but, everything is awkward then...

Then we had sex-ed again in 9th grade- more about STIs... That was not awkward at all...

And now in college we discuss sex in class all the time and I don't find it awkward at all. In fact, I think it's really enlightening to hear what guys have to say about it. If I hadn't been so exposed to it I don't think I would feel as comfortable.

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Ecofem
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Great question, bluejumprope! [Smile] I saw it right away but wanted to think about it for a bit before answering, as is often the case for your interesting, thought-provoking prompts.

I went to a public school district that had comprehensive sex ed but I didn't take it after 6th grade where boys and girls were separated for some lessons and the school principal taught us in the music room. For me, that was good because I know I was coming to terms with my sexuality and had about a crush on half the guys in my class. It didn't feel awkward at all and perhaps that separation helped then. However, instruction for all was always combined in middle and high school, taking place either in Health or Biology class, and I never heard anyone complain about boys and girls being together for it. After all, I think everyone should learn about everything: why should just the boys learn about nocturnal emissions or just the girls learn about menstruation? (I shudder to think that knowledge dissemination used to be limited by gender this way!)

I remember people asked a lot of sex ed-related questions to the PE teacher in the girls' locker room in 9th grade. I also remember great, open discussions about sex with other participants at Girls State the summer before my senior year in the late 90s. I had always talked openly about sex with friends since I was perhaps 13 or 14 but it was nice to hear new people's experiences. The whole "wait until marriage" thing was pretty foreign to me my whole life, other than reading about it in Seventeen magazine once or having my parents show me a newspaper article with distain on their part, it was there where I first heard abstinence stuff in person. (Like I couldn't believe that someone would have unprotected anal sex but not PIV intercourse for the sake of "staying a virgin."

I attended a women's college, which was an environment I really loved for a number of reasons but also know it's not for everyone. There was a lot of comfort and community there and discussions were great; however, women can still make female-unfriendly statements or say judgmental things so I think it may make people more comfortable but it isn't necessarily a "safer" space for sex-related discussions. That said, I experienced this horrible discussion on sexual assault with this extremely misogynist man while taking a summer course in Germany once and that felt very unsafe. (I'll mention he was not German but from a much more patriarchal society that was criticized for human rights violations, because I think Germany is very good about sex ed and feminist stuff in general, if different from the US in some ways, for better or for worse.)

Since high school, I've just had more female friends than male ones; there was a period where I found a lot of my male friends were interested in me, so I didn't want to engage in a conversation about my sexuality. This article makes me cringe a but but fortunately it's not the case anymore. While no one person can speak for his/her/zir gender, I realized I had missed having some open discussions about sexuality and gender with men, at least compared to the many, many I've had with women. I like hearing about it and would like to hear more, but I think it can be hard for that to occur in formal settings where society says men don't feel as free to express their true feelings and experiences with sex and sexuality. However, I'm in my mid-20s so I think we're able to have more open discussions in this way, free from the BS gender or sex stereotypes and clichés; I also choose to be in environments that promote equality and safety.

For me, the bottom line is that I'm probably fine with sex ed occurring in coed rather than single-sex environments as long as the safe is space, and people are mindful and positive. However, I can see the advantages of some sex ed separation by choice at times; like I don't need some guy to tell me about what pregnancy is like (unless this person is a medical expert) or how women feel about abortion. But I also don't feel so comfortable with womyn-only environments these days, like the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, especially ones that discriminate against people who are transgendered or intersexed; of course, I mean this just for me: I think people should go wherever they feel comfortable and want to go! [Smile]

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eryn_smiles
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Just wanted to ask a sort-of related question from you, Bluejumprope.

In your experience of womens studies classes, are there more likely to be queer women (rather than straight women), than would be expected from the population? Or compared to other arts courses? What about at womens groups?

I was thinking about this as some of my straight friends have this stereotype about only lesbians taking womens studies and was wondering whether there was any truth to that.

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"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."

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Heather
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While our college was exceptionally small, I would have given my left arm not to have been the only queer woman in my women's studies course. [Razz]

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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bluejumprope
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My experience is pretty limited. This is my third women's studies class, and one of them was in high school. But the class makeup has been very similar in each class: mostly straight women.

In my class of just over 20 now, there are three men (2 straight, 1 questioning). It's interesting, the men have been much more vocal about their sexual orientations than most of the women. While I tend to talk constantly about being queer in the class [Smile] , I can only guess about most of the women.

Using my so-so gaydar and how people have spoken, I'd say there are probably 2 other women in the class who ID as queer. But I could be wrong. At any rate, the class definitely doesn't feel like a hotbed of lesbianism.

(Heather, I'm interested to hear from the educator's end. And thanks for sharing everyone.)

[ 02-06-2010, 12:07 PM: Message edited by: bluejumprope ]

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Heather
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Sure thing!

You know, while overall, when it comes to my educational philosophy, I'm totally down with mixing sexes and genders for sex ed, there have been times I really had wished to separate sexes or genders, or thought things either probably would go better if I could, or have gone better when it just happened that a group was (not by planning, but by circumstance) all girls or all guys.

One tricky bit that can happen -- and often this is about gender, but obviously not always -- is when you wind up with couples in sex ed. One or both members of the couple can either feel stymied in asking questions (because they'd effectively be giving the group information about their SO, right there), or can ask questions that really embarrass the other. For instance, last year I was doing this all-day sex ed summit for a large group of high school students, and a guy, sitting next to his girlfriend, asked if all girls vulvas smelled bad.

Not only was she clearly VERY upset about him asking that, I then had to explain that a bad smell is usually an infection, so the whole group had reason to think she might have had one. Not cool.

Too, sometimes sexual posturing between men and women is a big issue. For instance, I've done ed for mixed groups where clearly, some girls feel the need to really "sex it up" (do you know what I mean?) because there are guys present, and some guys feel the need to present themselves as much more sexist around sex, and far more "studly" than I know they actually are. When there isn't that mix, that seems to happen less. In groups that aren't mixed, I also have found a LOT less "EEEW!" going on when, say, I'm taking about what the inside of the vagina is really like, when I'm talking about periods, or when I'm talking about ejaculate or receptive (especially male-receptive) anal sex.

When groups are segregated by gender, I also have sometimes found people are more honest in their group conversations, more candid, more sensitive to each other.

Again, this isn't every situation by any stretch, and I think there are ways we can also make adjustments in mixed groups to help with this stuff/curb it. I also think age can tend to make a difference: with older students (college students, for instance) I think it can often be a very different story than with jr. high or high school students. Perhaps obviously, the overall vibe of the group always matters: in schools or groups where a lot of work has already been done per gender sensitivity, dealing with bullying, posturing, with homophobia, etc. I'd say troubles with mixing groups happens less.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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September
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Eryn - It's funny you asked that question. When I enrolled for my first Women's Studies class, I had a friend tell me to watch out for all the feminist lesbians who'd be looking to brainwash me. As it turned out, the class consisted of mostly straight women with very little experience in terms of feminism and Women's Studies (but then, this was a lower level undergrad class, so). Since then, I've taken a few Women/Gender Studies classes, and in most of them, the population was mostly straight women, with one or two guys in there (who, for the most part, tended to be either gay, or have gotten stuck with the class due to scheduling issues).

I'd come to believe that the stereotypical Women's Studies classes full of queer women were really just that, a stereotype. Then I took a Gender Studies class last semester, and out of the 8 students in attendance (all female), four of us were queer. It was probably one of the coolest classes I've ever taken. [Smile]

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Johanna
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eryn_smiles
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quote:
Originally posted by bluejumprope:
At any rate, the class definitely doesn't feel like a hotbed of lesbianism.

Ah, thats a shame [Wink]

September- that's interesting and your gender studies class sounds cool. My friends also say to watch out for all the "butch lesbian feminists" in womens studies who will try to beat you up! I dont know where they get that from..

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"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."

Audre Lorde

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Heather
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quote:
My friends also say to watch out for all the "butch lesbian feminists" in womens studies who will try to beat you up! I don't know where they get that from..
Sounds like a combination of both homophobia and fear of non-gendernormative people to me.

Also sounds like folks who have not likely met a butch lesbian even once.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Bonnie.N.Clyde
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Great topic. I'm in a feminist studies course where A LOT of us identify somewhere on the queer spectrum but have felt a little bit silenced. I like having mostly women in the class because some who have experienced a lot of sexism or abuse are actually speaking up, when they might have otherwise been spoken over-- not that men intentionally take hold of the conversation. But when it comes to gender studies and patriarchy, it would be very easy for a man to feel attacked or blamed, leading to him wanting to explain "his side" (when it is not his fault at all). I studied Mary Daly, a professor and radical feminist writer/researcher who just died, for a short paper and she did not allow men in her feminist studies classes (I'll find the article and post it when I can dig it up).

However, back in the day, as a girl with lots of male friends, I felt othered and scared when I had to be with only women, as though periods and sexual intercourse were a bad problem. In the book Cunt, the author contrasts how she and her girl classmates were separated and the boys got to play sports in the gym. I feel like that can easily happen when kids are divided by gender during sexual education.

I wish there was an easy solution.

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Dusky
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I had one sex ed class in year six, where it was split by gender, and I think that was because the teachers assumed we were far more naive than we really were.

It was basically all about when a mummy and a daddy love each-other very much. We looked at tampons and didn't really talk that much about sex at all that I can remember. I think the other girls might have talked about things, but I had just transferred to that school and my best friend was a boy.

But in year seven (which is the first year of high school here) they didn't separate us and we possibly had the most hilarious teachers ever.

The very first part of the lesson began with everyone being given a condom and told they weren't allowed to leave until they'd blown it up. Then, our school had these plastic bananas, that when you slid the top off had a penis underneath, so you could practice putting the condom on it (obviously not the one you made a balloon out of). It's possibly the only part of high school I enjoyed.

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Krampus
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I participated in both my high school's newspaper, and a FIRST robotics team. The former was mostly female, the latter mostly male. The moment I would walk into either my inner stereotyped frat boy would say "Check out this chick to dude ratio, brah!"

Out of the few problems I noticed, it was that gender stereotypes became stronger without anything to oppose them. Some of the things assumed about other genders are less questioned than they normally would be. But similar to what Bonnie.N.Clyde said, this separation can also allow for a safer place to discuss gender issues and the like.

[ 06-24-2010, 12:41 AM: Message edited by: Krampus ]

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mizchastain
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I was in an all-girls secondary school and hated it. I tend to make friends with boys more easily, always have, and was more or less a total outcast throughout my time in that school. However, I don't know if that can actually be blamed on the gender of the students as much as on the fact that I was coming to terms with finding out I had Asperger's during my first year, still wasn't good with social interaction, and never quite managed to shed the "weird" label. Must admit it was a very good school and I probably got higher exam grades there than I would have anywhere else, but I still hated it.
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Shonne Elijah
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I remember one time they split up my class for sex ed. I felt really awkward. Like, I was in the wrong room, you know? Plus, when the class was over, there were lots of things one group learned that the other didn't and vice-versa. It just didn't seem that effective to me.
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choirqueer
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The biggest problem I see with gender-segregated sex ed environments is that there is NO way to do that without excluding and other-izing transgender people. I don't think there's really anything that an educator could do to make a gender-segregated sex ed environment fully inclusive of someone whose genitals don't match those of the group they're in (even if they're allowed to choose which one to go to) or of someone whose gender identity does not fit in either group. As a transgender person, I've found that if a sex ed (or any other) environment is going to be gender segregated, it's best for me to just NOT GO at all.

Heather (and other educators?), I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts on this, and if you've addressed it before, how you've addressed it.

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Heather
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choirqueer: I've never intentionally segregated by gender, it's something that has just been a situation/circumstance I have either walked into or not. I have done women's groups advertised as such, but I figured anyone who came came because that's how they identified, and that's that.

I doubt I would segregate an existing group on purpose, largely because I agree with you: that is a BIG issue. However, if I were, so long as we made it so that everyone got to themselves choose what group they were going into rather than anyone externally making those assignments/assumptions, I think it'd often be pretty workable.

But I'm also an educator who tends to be ready to roll with different things all the time, so if someone voiced that issue (and it's pretty common for YP to voice issues with me when I'm working with them), I'd probably figure out a way to make that situation itself into a teach and then adjust my own plans as needed.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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