Officially, I’m an adolescent health educator in a county in rural Georgia, but when people ask, I basically say I’m a sex ed teacher. My job is two-fold: I run the county’s teen-only health clinic, and I go into local schools to teach the sex ed portion of health class.
Before I got here two years ago, there was no systematic sex ed. The job would fall to the health teacher, which was usually the basketball coach or something. So if he chooses to ignore teaching kids about sex, or he teaches them the wrong stuff, he’ll probably get away with it.
Kids will surprise you, with both what they do know and what they don’t. On the one hand, a 14-year-old boy recently told me he hadn’t had anal sex in two years. Well then. And 9th grade boys will always insist that they can only wear Magnums. I then demonstrate that I can put any size condom over a baseball bat. On the other hand, I had a kid who’s a triplet ask me where twins come from.
Sex ed as a curriculum isn’t a priority, because administrators fear the small but vocal group of parents who will take issue with their children being taught about sex. So you have these kids in tenth grade who’ve never learned a thing about anatomy. The only thing they’ve been taught is abstinence, and studies have proven that absolutely doesn’t work. Around the world, kids on average start having sex at the same age — between 16 and 17 — it’s fascinating. The point is, you can’t stop it.
Once a ninth grade boy asked me straight to my face if I watched porn. That’s the only time I’ve ever lost my cool and started laughing.
In the clinic, we answer questions, provide counseling, and give out contraceptives. People don’t realize this, but as long as a girl has had her period, we can provide her with contraceptives, including the pill. With medical privacy laws, any woman of reproductive age can receive reproductive health services confidentially. A girl does not need consent from her mother.
Ninety percent of people who come to the clinic are girls. The boys mostly come for STD testing.
I get all sorts of questions at the clinic. Here’s a recent one: “What would happen if you were pregnant by one guy and had sex with another guy? Would that hurt the baby?” And a girl just asked me what would happen if a guy ejaculated in her eye.
We do get our fair share of teen pregnancies, but the teen pregnancy rate is going down across the country. I directly associate that with the rise in sex education. When a girl is pregnant, I explain her three options: raising the child, adoption, or aborting the pregnancy. I have gotten a few phone calls from local women concerned about what advice we’re giving regarding abortion. I tell them I work for the U.S. government and that my job is simply to explain the options — nothing further. There are some abortion clinics in the state, but closer to big cities. You’d have to travel a few hours.
We also have a text line, where girls can text in questions to a phone we keep in the office, which I’m constantly replying to. “Can you get pregnant from giving head?” is a really common question on the text line. They’ll freak out, and keep texting for hours. I do my best to answer absolutely every question with patience and without judgement.
The job has affected me in the real world. I’ve become the worst person to meet at a nice dinner — I’ve forgotten that saying “ejaculate” with a straight face isn’t exactly normal.
Although I have all these crazy, funny stories, it takes a really unique mindset to talk about this kind of stuff with an open mind and heart. I’m not here to judge them. I care about these kids and I want to be the person they can come to when they have a question. Even if they think the question is stupid, it’s not. I’m glad to be educating people. I can’t do anything about the 18 people you’ve already slept with, but if I can see to it that you wear a condom for numbers 19 through 30, that’s good.
As told to Hillary Reinsberg.
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