Why I Teach Sex Ed: Finding My Assertive Voice

Finding My Assertive Voice 
Jean Workman
Family Life and Sexuality Content Specialist
Children’s Aid Society-Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program

Brittany was a “Goth girl” with jet black hair, black fingernails and black attire.  She had a chip on her shoulder the size of a boulder.  On the first day of group I asked the girls to share one of their coolest qualities.  When I got to her she belligerently stated she had no cool qualities.  I knew her type well.  I asked her if I could share a quality that I had noticed and with rolled eyes she said sure.  I said, “Brittany, you dare to be different in a room full of girls who all look the same.  You stand out, you own your look and you have the assertive voice to match.”  She sat up a little straighter that day and came each week to the group participating like a leader should.  On the last day of class she gave me a hand-made card.  It read that I didn’t want to come to this class, but you made it fun and for the first time in my life you made me feel special, thank you for what you do.

I had the unfortunate experience of an abusive relationship for the first three years of college.  I saw the red flags early on, but wanted to believe he would change and go back to being what he was when we first started dating.  He was controlling, manipulative, jealous, insecure, and downright mean.  The verbal and emotional abuse was at times intolerable, but his apologies were sincere and sweet.  I stuck it out.  My college life, along with my grades suffered as a result. 

By the third year I was growing tired of having to build his self-esteem due to his multitude of insecurities.  It took three times to break up with him.  The third time was the final straw when his verbal and emotional abuse turned violent and he punched me in my parent’s driveway during an argument. 

I came home that semester with my tail between my legs.  My mother greeted me in the driveway with open arms so relieved I had finally given up on that abusive relationship, but disappointed that I had no real game plan for what was next.  I had dropped out of college because I didn’t get into nursing school.  Over the next few days she kept asking me what I was going to do.  Finally, I drove back to campus to register for the fall semester, declaring Health Education as major number three.  Health Education through the field of sexuality education changed my life.

I have often said that I did not choose sex education, it chose me.  I remember my mother asking me, “What do you plan to do with this health education degree when you graduate in May?”  I had no idea what I planned to do. It was during my last semester while participating in my course internship with a local AIDS-Service Organization that I found my calling.  I worked in the prevention education department and had the task of teaching anyone who would listen what we called, AIDS 101.  My first presentation was with a church youth group. I practiced that presentation until I had it memorized and sat with that group of youth like I was one of them.  I realized that night that I was good at something – teaching.  But it was more than just teaching, it was teaching about sex.  I made the audience laugh and I could see the light bulbs turning on in their brains.  It was truly a magical experience and the first time I felt empowered and confident – I had found my assertive voice. 

I teach sex ed to help the Brittany’s of the world find and use their assertive voice.  I teach sex ed to build the competence, confidence and connected-ness young people need in order to become successful adults – so they can walk away from the relationships that raise the red flags.  I teach sex ed because navigating adolescence is not always an easy journey.  I teach sex ed because I want young people to learn how to communicate their wants, needs and desires – to say yes to amazing relationships that are healthy and fulfilling. 

Jean Workman will be co-presenting a pre-conference workshop along with Dr. Michael Carrera and Lindsay Fram at the National Sex Ed Conference in December, based on the agency’s new curriculum Above the Waist. Read details here