For anyone who stumbles upon this out o’ the blue, you may not know: I love grad school. I mean, I get sad at the end of every semester love it. I force my friends and family to listen to me talk about what I’m learning love it. I really love it.
And the short summer semester I just finished is no exception. One of two classes I took was in human sexuality, taught by Dr. Dae Sheridan, a sex therapist who practices in Tampa. As much as I’ve enjoyed most of my classes, this was by far one of the best. What working at Popeyes Chicken in high school did for me and the word breast, this class did for me and words like vulva. Ain’t no thang! But more than desensitizing us to words we once found awkward to say, the class got us to think, write and talk about topics that are imperative to consider, both as counselors and as humans. Here are the five I liked to discuss the most:
1. Sexually transmitted infections (a.k.a. STIs, f.k.a. STDs): One in two sexually active adults age 25 or older has or has had an STI. One in two. In case you’d like more emphasis, that’s every other. Add to that the one in four teenagers who has an STI. During class, Dr. Dae — my brilliant prof — made a really good point: Think about salmonella for a sec. According to my notes from class, every year, about 20,000 cases of it are reported to the CDC. And what happens when it’s reported? Food is recalled, we throw out all our spinach and it’s all over the news. In other words, WE FREAK OUT. Now, think about HPV — an STI also known as the human papillomavirus. How many new cases are reported to the CDC each year? A couple million. But when have we ever freaked out about that? Something to think about.
2. The origins of sexual orientation: When I was in high school, one of my teachers decided to start a class-wide conversation about the origins of homosexuality. “It’s a choice,” she said. “People choose to be gay.” For awhile, I let her have her say. When I interjected, I simply asked her a question: “So let me ask you,” I said. “When did you choose to be attracted to men?” The point — a point my prof also made in my class this summer — is that we live in a world where a lot of people are really ridiculously concerned about the origins of homosexuality (and for what?). There are brain scan studies, my prof said, to try to find out what makes gay people gay. “But where are the straight people brain scans?” she asked. Something else to think about.
3. Communication: I’ve quoted it before, but I’ll quote it again: “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” (Courtesy of Henry Winkler [yes, the Fonz!]) This, as we discussed in class, is a truth that is easily applied to every facet of every relationship — even sex! Take the fake orgasm, for example. Let’s say sex is a pain (literally) for a wife, but she fakes it for the sake of her husband’s ego. Her response — which is a lie, as Dr. Dae pointed out in class — makes him think he’s doing it right. So time after time, he’s gonna keep doing it. Something to TALK about.
4. Intersex: In class, we watched a documentary on intersexual people — that is, people who are born with ambiguous genitals or reproductive organs. The film focused on several Americans who are intersexed as well as some in the Dominican Republic. Something that stuck out from the film is the fact that the Americans — whose parents often decided to pick boy or girl upon the child’s birth, permitting a doctor to surgically turn ambiguous genitals into the genitals of the parents’ choice — often end up with long term psychological stress, whereas the ones in the Dominican Republic — where people who are intersexed are accepted as they are — grow up with little or none of that. What does that say about our cultures? To watch the documentary, click here. (And when that video ends, look for parts 2 and 3 along the side.)
5. Abstinence only education v. comprehensive sex ed: As a proponent and practice-er of abstinence before marriage, I enjoyed our discussions about abstinence only education versus comprehensive sex education. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but it’s clear that abstinence only education doesn’t accomplish what its proponents wish it would. I haven’t seen stats on comprehensive sex ed, and until I do more of my own research, I can’t come to a definitive conclusion. I can, however, say this: learning about what actually goes on in bodies when a couple is getting it on didn’t make me want to forsake my pledge to save sex for marriage. Then again, I’m a 25-year-old and my brain is really close to fully developed, if not entirely fully developed. So I’m not sure if teens — whose brains still have some growing to do — would change their minds after comprehensive sex ed if before they learned a lot about sex, they’d planned to save it.