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Sex Education instructor Megan Sullivan explains why talking about the birds and the bees isn't what it used to be.
You’ve been teaching sex ed for 15 years. What changes or trends have you observed in that time?
The Internet has changed the way I teach sex ed because of Internet pornography, so that’s been one of the biggest changes—just how much more exposed kids are now to sex and all sorts of more unusual sex . . . sort of the darker aspects.
Do parents have any idea that their kids are being exposed to these images?
They’re normally shocked to discover it. Most of us want to think my kid’s not going to be exposed, and so it’s a shock.
Sexual images are all around us, yet it seems that honest conversations about sexuality still intimidate some people. Why do you think that is?
As a parent, if we didn’t have a good role model ourselves, we don’t know how to have those conversations. And some people just have issues around sex, so if we have a lot of hang-ups in that area, it’s naturally a hard thing for us to talk about.
Do you remember your parents talking to you about sex?
They didn’t. Maybe later in my adolescence we had some conversations, but during the confusing time of puberty and having my first crush and my first kiss and that sort of stuff, I wasn’t getting information from my parents.
What advice do you have for parents to make those conversations a little easier?
Just to take a deep breath and do it. It’s OK to feel awkward and it’s OK to say to our kids that “it’s hard for me to talk about, but it’s really important, so I’m going to give it a go anyway.” To break through the awkward—and also to break through [to] the kids who say, “Oh, I know it all already,” because they don’t. And what they need to hear from the parents is values and messages about love and relationships because that’s not coming through the media and the Internet.
Are kids today more knowledgeable about sex or does the constant barrage of sexual messages make things as confusing as ever for them?
The volume and degree of images, I think, confuses them more, because they think they have to be sexy or be sexual in a certain way without getting what that means.
What’s the toughest part of your job?
Working with parents’ anxiety. Teaching the part to the kids is easy.