Teaching Human Sexuality: How Far Is Too Far?
Teachers can have a large impact on the development of a child by helping students succeed in whatever they may want to do in life. They are there to make a difference in the way that children see the world around them. Positive relationships between student and teacher help guide students on how to become a successful adult in their personal and professional lives. The best teachers are committed to their students both in the classroom and out in society once they leave school. Important life lessons can be taught that can help them succeed not only on tests but in the world after graduating.
Great teachers know that it is not easy to change another person’s life, but they always strive to make an impact. A great teacher makes learning entertaining, stimulating, by teaching lessons that go beyond mere algebra problems. Some students labelled as “troubled” are more engaged if a teacher can make even the dullest of topics seem interesting. One of the hardest things to do as a teacher is to motivate students to try and become better versions of who they are. Teachers are there to inspire students to work harder and work toward a goal. By doing this, the teacher is encouraging them to reach for the stars. Inspiration could mean helping a student through the school year to reach the goal of graduating. This will help them get into a good college, get great career, and be a successful and important part of future generations. Many times, the inspiration that was given will be remembered for a lifetime and they will be able to tell people about that one teacher that helped them to graduate when they did not think they could.
On the other side, negative attitudes can leave a negative impact from teacher to student. The negative impacts can include reduced literacy, and both psychological and physical impacts. Teachers’ attitudes can be both helpful and hurtful to the well-being of a student. In a relatively recent study, middle school and high school teachers were survey to see how much time they spent teaching literacy in their classes. These teachers who did not want to take class time to focus on literacy related to their subjects. The study showed that when a teacher’s attitude toward a topic is more focused the students will do better as they move through to high school (McCoss-Yergian, 2011). Negative attitudes can lead to psychological disorders and cause unneeded stress while the student is trying to learn. Some teachers will use sarcasm and humiliation, leaving a student to feel like they do not matter which can lead to more serious negative impacts later in life.
Sex education laws can vary from state to state. Each state has its own requirements on how to teach the course in schools. Human sexuality course taught at schools can be a helpful and useful course to introduce students to questions about human reproduction, sexual anatomy, conception, prenatal development, pregnancy and childbirth, gender identity and gender roles, sexual arousal, sexual orientation, contraception and abortion, and many more topics. By learning about these things, it can potentially reduce social problems related to sexually transmitted infections, teenage pregnancy, and foster more understanding and acceptance of other sexual practices and preferences. While all these topics may sound great to be able to learn more about, some teachers and professors take things too far when teaching this course. Were proper officials at the school made aware of the content being taught and how it was being taught? For grade school children, were the parents and students informed about the content of the class before the class started. Were there warnings about graphics materials being shown in class before they were shown? This and many other questions need to be asked before so that no one is surprised or offended by the content. This paper will discuss when is the line crossed from appropriate behavior to inappropriate for teachers and professors. Human sexuality courses can create debates about what is acceptable to teach and when teachers cross the line into inappropriate behavior.
Since 1940, when sex education was first advocated by the U.S. Public Heath Service until today there have been much support for sex education in schools. Many believe that it is important for young people to receive education about sexual topics, like contraception, puberty, and health relationships. In the 1950s and 1960s, the focus of these classes leaned toward the family dynamic and the anatomy of the body. Over time the focus has shifted to prevention of early pregnancy and STIs and STDs (Finkel, M.L., & Finkel, S., 1985). As the things taught in human sexuality classes have changed so has the ways that teachers are teaching the material.
A professor at Northwestern University set up a live sex demonstration for his human sexuality class. Professor John Michael Bailey invited his students for an optional, non-graded demo where a woman, who was not a student, stimulated the act of sexual intercourse with a motorized sex toy. The topic was related to the kinks and fetishes section of their course. Over 100 students watched the live sex act take place. The woman got on stage and laid down. Her husband then proceeded to use a motorized sex toy to make the woman have an orgasm.
Bailey had apologized to the people that were offended by the demonstration. He had admitted that the demonstration was unplanned and last minute and that he should not have allowed it and said it would never happen again. Bailey still defended himself say that the demonstration was related to the topic they were talking about in class which was kinks and fetishes. He said that no laws were broken and that every student that watched did it at their own free will. He believed that the demonstration had educational value because it taught students about sexual arousal and sexual diversity (Kempner, 2012).
There was another situation that happened at a community college in Nevada. A student sued the school say that her professor for a human sexuality class created a “sexually hostile class environment.” There was an assignment called, “A Sexual Case Study…You!” that wanted students to give person information about past sexual abuse, homosexual behavior, and sexual preferences. The student had experienced abuse as a child and was uncomfortable and discussing this for a college course (Young, 2012). The lawsuit was withdrawn shortly after the class began. The professor had all the students sign waivers because of the graphic nature of the class and that sexually explicit language was going to be used in the class and that the class was an elective class.
It is important for any professor to warn students if the information being taught in the classroom could possibly be offensive or cause discomfort and the students should be told they can get up and leave the classroom without recourse if needed. However, at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, two professors were criticized for showing what many thought borderlines pornography. Some sexually explicit materials can be used in classroom related to human sexuality, but the professors need to make sure that students are informed in advance of the graphic nature of the material so the can have the option to leave the class once the discussion begins. Jammie Price was a tenured professor at the university. She was suspended for showing pornography in her sociology class without letting students know beforehand. She claimed that her right for free speech should extend to her classroom. She said that video, “The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality and Relationships,” was graphic at times but was relevant to the topic of the class that day, gender and sexuality (Smith, 2012).
Teachers can have a negative impact of a students’ psychological wellbeing. A study done by Florin Sava (2001), showed a teacher use of humiliation, fear, and intimidation can cause students to be shy and withdrawn. Also, it can create anxiety. These feelings can then change into isolation and stress. These symptoms resemble someone who has post-traumatic stress disorder. The younger that the negative attitudes are introduced, the more likely they will carry into high school and then to adulthood. As for anxiety, these can lead to physical problems like muscle aches, lack of energy, neck tension, and stomach issues. This can also cause a student to be unfocused on their school work because they are in pain. Sometimes this could lead to further negative attitudes from the teacher.
A trigger is a reminder of something bad that has happened in the past. There are different things that can set off triggers like smell, sound, or seeing something that reminds them of the past stimulus (Schmitt, 2015). This also can be described as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These things can make a person feel overwhelmed with sadness, panic, or anxiety. This could also create flashbacks, which a detailed account of the memory that is often negative (Schmitt, 2015). During the flashback someone will lose track of what is going on around them and relive the event.
Human sexuality courses cover a lot of different topics that could set up a multitude of emotional triggers. Different people may have different triggers for different topics, but it should be the job of the professor to make that know to the class before topics are discussed. There should always be open and honest and respectful conversation. However, if a topic is discussed that the student has sensitivities with, then they should have the right not to be pressured by the teacher to give an answer. Students should also be allowed to leave the classroom without question if a topic being discussed is to much for one to handle.
Some of the topics that are discussed in a human sexuality class can set off triggers, such as rape, sexual abuse, abortion, infertility, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), sexual dysfunction, sexual orientation, and religion as it pertains to sexuality. One or more of these topics could create a negative memory that could lead to a flashback.
In this paper, I have discussed what should be considered acceptable to teach and when it crosses the line into improper. Personally, I have had some similar things happen to me while taking the same class at the University of Baltimore. Before my semester started my girlfriend and I were talking about the classes I had picked for the upcoming Fall 2019 semester. I told her that I was taking Human Sexuality. When she was in college, she had taken the same class at Penn State and said it was probably one of the best classes she ever took and that she was excited for me to take the class. This made me excited to take the class myself. However, on the first day of class the first of many inappropriate situations started occurring. The first assignment that we did was an introduction about us. We were to say our name, why we were in college, why we decided to take Human Sexuality, and our first sexually related memory. A lot people around the class talked about the first time they had sex or the first time they realized they had sexual feelings. Personally, I had talked about my first kiss. There were two Muslim students that were sitting next to me toward the front of the classroom. Topics of sex, gender, and sexuality are topics that are sensitive to a lot of Muslims. When it came around for them to answer the question, they got through the first three parts of the question but did not want to answer the last part about the first sexually related memory. Our professor then tried to encourage them to give an answer but when there was nothing said the professor continued to press the students to give an answer. Of course, this class will be uncomfortable for some because of the sensitive nature of some of the topics being discussed but it is insensitive and inappropriate to continue to push a student to answer a question that they are clearly uncomfortable answering. During another lecture about love and sexual attraction, there was some very candied discussion about how to please your partner sexually. The professor was talking about giving and making gestures about preforming fellatio. The professor then directed the discussion to a heterosexual male student and asked him, “You know how to do that right?” Discussing that topic alone can be uncomfortable for many to talk about in public but when the question in directed to a particular person it can make an uncomfortable situation worse. To me profanity has no place in a classroom. However, some professors in college may drop the occasional S bomb or F bomb in class and that can be accepted to a certain point. However, when these words become more fulgor and derogatory it can cross into a place that is unprofessional and unwarranted. Also, gestures of the sexual nature like thrusting movements with the hips and of the act of grabbed an imaginary penis and putting it up to your mouth while you push your cheek out from the inside of your mouth with your tongue. Every class seemed to have something that was inappropriate or uncalled for. There were students in the class who did not mind the unfortunate behavior but there were many who thought that the lude acts had no place in the classroom.
Teaching human sexuality can have its challenges for any teacher. Teachers want to teach the information in a fun and interesting ways, but some go to far to make that point.
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