By Jasmine Garsd. Originally published on June 1st, 2015 for NPR.
It’s after hours at Rafael Hernandez, an elementary school in the Bronx, and Room 421 is in an uproar. It’s what you would expect from a sixth-grade sex education class learning how to put a condom on.
Sex education: The very concept makes a lot of people cringe, conjuring images of teenage giggles and discomfort. It’s also a subject a lot of teachers would rather avoid. But Bronx-based teacher Lena Solow is more than happy to talk about the birds, the bees… and beyond.
Solow has been teaching for 10 years. She covers the topics you’d expect, like pregnancy and how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. But Solow talks about way more than going all the way. “One of my biggest goals as a sex educator is to be sex-positive,” she explains, “to talk about pleasure and to talk about sex not just as something that just makes babies.”
Solow now works for WHEDco, a Bronx-based community development organization that includes sex education in its programs for youth. Solow teaches along with peer educators — high schoolers who assist her teaching.
Peer educators are a key part of the equation, advocates say, especially with so many kids exposed to information about sex. Bianca Laureano is a co-founder of the Women of Color Sexual Health Network. She says that having instructors who share the students’ backgrounds “affirms young people’s identities, and they can feel comfortable speaking with someone who not only mirrors their own cultural experiences, but also gives them the example of someone who has persevered. Resilience.”
There are no spelling tests in this class. But Solow does talk to kids about writing. Sexting, that is, and the legal ramifications of sending and receiving racy pictures of underage youths, even if they themselves are well underage. It can count as child pornography, she warns.
This is an example of how, while these students are really young, they already know — or think they know — a lot about sex. “My seventh graders, every single boy in that class has asked me a very explicit question about porn,” she reflects. “Kids are getting information about sex and examples of what sex looks like in a lot of different ways already. It’s actually not even about saying, ‘Oh, we should be giving them information.’ It’s actually about saying, ‘We need to be supplementing the information that they already have.’ ”
Head over to NPR to check out the rest of the article or listen to it in full to learn more about the awesome and inspiring sex education work that’s happening in the Bronx!