by Colleen Lord
Ringgggggg, ringgggggggggggg! RIIIIIINNNNNNGGGGGGGG!
That’s the sound of our doorbell ringing off the hook. The kids I see at our center have a habit of pressing and holding down the bell…repeatedly…even if they’ve only been waiting a short while. It’s a daily afternoon ritual; the sound is as pleasant as nails on a chalkboard.
“Hey Guys,” I said after I let them up. Then my 5-foot-tall self gave them my best bad-ass look and a reminder not to hold down the buzzer, please. I had seen these guys before. They often come in for condoms. I was pretty positive I’d shown them a condom demonstration at least once, but they pretended that they’d never seen it and asked for an encore presentation. If I was a betting woman, I’d wager that they wanted to giggle at the crazy condom lady and the wooden penis model we use for demonstrations. But, they usually have other questions, too. So, I obliged.
After a little adolescent humor, some questions started flying out at me. Some came from a silly place, but most were really honest, thoughtful questions. Then the smallest boy of the group turned three shades of red before saying, “Miss, I don’t mean to be obesity…. I really don’t want to be obesity…. (I think he meant obscene). But, last time I measured my penis it was 5 inches…can you tell me…is that…normal?”
Awww, precious, right?
I wanted to send this kid huge puffy pink hearts. How brave of him to ask the question in front of his two other friends. I could tell from his face he was dying a little inside from embarrassment. But, he needed to know. And if he couldn’t get the answer from the crazy condom lady, where else would he find it?
Of the many kinds of questions we field as educators (and trust me, we’re unflappable), teens often ask us questions seeking reassurance about their bodies and sexual development. According to ANSWER (the producers of the popular magazine and website, SexEtc, where teens can get answers to their sexuality questions from experts in the field), “Am I Normal?” questions rank as one of the top five categories of questions they receive from young people.
So, how did I answer the question? By reassuring him that he was perfectly normal. “Penises come in many sizes and shapes,” I said, “and that’s ok. The average penis size is about 5-6 inches in length. Plus you’re young and your body is still developing.” A huge grin was planted across the young boy’s face.
Between school, media, and peers, teens are inundated with mixed messages about sexual normalcy. We as sexual health educators have a unique opportunity to create a safe environment to ask those questions that young people are afraid to ask, and to affirm for them that they are, in fact, fine just the way they are.