Sex. That’s right; what you’re about to read is all about the “birds and bees,” or at least what it takes to teach our kids about it.
Often a complex topic that many parents find difficult to broach and more kids find totally embarrassing to talk about with their moms and dads, sex can be a subject of intense curiosity and mystery.
Teresa Weatherhead, the newly-minted official sex educator in Nakusp, has been bringing “Sex Talks” to schools in the area for years. Now that she has completed her training, she can help more kids get a good education about the facts of life.
“Now I can teach to the prescribed learning outcomes,” she said, which means she can present information that teachers may not be comfortable with.
The change also means she’ll be going to talk with elementary students too.
“Sex education in elementary schools looks a lot different. We call it ‘Body Science’,” she explained. The program teaches kids the proper terminology for body parts and educates them so they aren’t targets for predators.
“Abuse prevention is another reason we do sexual health education, it doesn’t matter what age,” said Weatherhead.
Another part of the education is about developing positive body image, which starts in the early years too. Developing a positive body image is critical to a positive self-image, said the sex educator, so time is spent discussing the changes that happen in puberty, letting the kids know that what is happening is normal and nothing to feel awkward about.
No newbie to sexual health, Weatherhead has been involved with the Options for Sexual Clinic in Nakusp for 14 years, and she has seen big shifts in the community over those years.
“Initially the most gratifying change was seeing young women take charge of their own sexual health,” said Weatherhead. “OPTtions for Sexual Health Clinic started in 1996, at which time the teen pregnancy rate in Nakusp was the highest per capita. Within two years of running, by 1998 the teen pregnancy had dropped to well below average.”
The change has come about not in small part because of the people who staff the clinic. All the volunteers at the clinic are highly trained, said Weatherhead, with both a nurse and doctor available as well. The clinic runs two pap clinics per year, a real boon to women who might otherwise be waiting even longer if they wait until a female locum comes through town.
At the clinic, confidentiality is paramount.
“In all the years we’ve been running, we’ve never had a leak,” she said, who stressed that the high level of confidentiality at the clinic is what creates the environment that allows people to feel comfortable coming in and talking.
Right now, she is keen on letting young people know about the HPV vaccine which works to protect against two of the more virulent strains of the virus.
Weatherhead’s faith in young people is clear, and she sees them as being more educated, smarter and unprejudiced than older generations, thanks to increased access to information.
“They’re educated and they’re smart, and they understand that becoming sexually active is a decision-making process,” she stated.
Even so, the world is still very small here in Nakusp.
“Population-wise we’re probably not the most diverse community,” she admitted, “[but] we definitely do have a queer community here.” One that more people are aware and accepting of, Weatherhead believes.
“Even the term ‘queer’ is pretty new around here,” she said, and she laughed when I told her both my friend and myself were amazed that Nakusp had an entire week devoted to “Pride” only to discover it was used in a very different sense here.
“Most non-straight people come out after they’ve left Nakusp,” she said, and “queer” is still seen as a derogatory term around here although Weatherhead believes non-straight sexuality is becoming better accepted,
“I could be feeling optimistic about that,” she admitted, adding that traditionally people have been quiet about it. The lack of discussion hasn’t helped, she commented, but Weatherhead is finding now that people are talking, and wanting to talk about it. “That’s a good sign,” she reflected.
What is taught in the classroom is that every person’s sexuality is unique, a message Weatherhead works to get across in a non-judgmental, empathic way. The broader education is about learning to accept that everyone’s values are unique, and learning to respect that while learning self-respect, she said.
She aims to educate all ages so they are safe and smart when it comes to sex and themselves.
“The main frame of it is to get kids in touch with their gut feelings.” Stressing respect for different values, and emphasizing values do change over a lifetime.
Education isn’t just for kids. Weatherhead was recently at the Seniors’ Fair with a table that had a number of books on the subject of sex in senior years.
“There’s definitely sex after sixty,” she said.
Parents can also benefit from their kids getting sex ed. in school, said Weatherhead, who has gotten feedback from parents that after a sex talk, discussion is more focused and easier for everyone.
“Parents can have a hard time talking to their kids. It can cause great anxiety to a parent to have to know quite how to go about the task,” said Weatherhead. Kids who get education in school can go home with specific questions that can make The Talk a little easier to navigate.
Does that mean parents should wait for kids to come with them? No, the sex educator said, who encourages parents to be proactive and to give their children more information than they might need.
The response Weatherhead has received from both students and parents, who has even received thank yous from some grateful moms.
See? That wasn’t as awkward as you thought it might be.