At Answer we are constantly asked for specific tips and techniques for teaching about sexuality in ways that resonate with male learners, which is why we created our latest online workshop, Boys and Sex Ed: Beyond Statistics and Stereotypes. I thought I’d offer a few tried-and-true techniques here as a sneak preview.
Create ground rules up front
I have two points to make on this, knowing that experienced educators will read this and think, “Well, duh, I use ground rules with all my groups.” But my first point is, ground rules are particularly important with guys. According to Dr. William Pollack’s “boy code,” boys navigate the world through rules, and therefore, both having rules and letting them come up with those rules is imperative for both group dynamics and group buy-in on your work with them. Second, if you create ground rules, discuss with the boys how you will enforce those ground rules. When educators post ground rules then fail to intervene when they are broken, it teaches boys that rules (and policies and laws) are not to be respected. We are teaching far more than sexuality content when we work with young people.
Build in extra time
Sexuality is an exciting, interesting topic. There’s nothing like that moment when guys finally get that answer to something they have always wanted to know. This often results in an explosion of laughter or energy in the room. Although this comes from a good place, it still needs to be managed so you can complete your lesson.
Get them out of their seats
Similarly, boys do far better when lessons integrate moving around. If, for example, you are teaching a class or workshop that is particularly content-heavy, build in a quick energizer to let them clear their heads for a moment and refocus. When our computers slow down, hitting CTRL-ALT-DEL gives them a zap that restarts them and usually speeds up performance. Same with conducting quick, five-minute energizers for male learners. But most curricula don’t include these in their lessons, so you have to build in time for them.
Integrate low-key competition
The boy code values competition, so using a lesson that includes a competitive aspect almost guarantees focus and participation. Just be careful that the competition or the prize for winning the competition doesn’t become the focus instead of what you are trying to teach. In addition, know your community. When I did work in areas with higher gang-related activity, we never used competition in the classroom because it was unsafe to do so.
Use humor-but be careful
Sexuality is not only interesting and exciting, but it is also, on occasion, hilarious. One of my favorite characteristics of adolescent and teen boys is how goofy they can be. Boys are wonderfully non-defensive and able to laugh at themselves when they ask a question that they think is probably way off base. When I was working with a group of 7th grade boys, one asked me, “When you have sex with a girl, your penis goes in, but how do you stop the rest of your body from going in, too?” My response was something like, “The vagina is not a black hole in outer space. You don’t get sucked in there never to be found again….” The questioner laughed, and everyone else laughed but not derisively. Then I simply explained why this wouldn’t happen, and we moved on. Careful, intentional use of humor is particularly helpful when working with boys.
One caution about humor, though, is that it is very easy to slip into it because you know that it engages the learners. But we are educators, not entertainers. When I use humor, I am always grateful to hear that participants laughed or had fun. But I also always ask, “So, what’s something you learned that you think you’ll be able to use when you go home?” The answer to that question tells me whether I used too little, too much or just the right amount of humor.