In case you missed it when we tweeted about it earlier this week, Canada’s Globe & Mail ran a great article over the weekend about a different kind of sex education program than what most of us are probably familiar with:
In 14 two-hour sessions offered once a week, the guys talk – yes, talk, without girls in the room – about everything from reproductive anatomy, sexually transmitted infections and birth control to relationships, values and the media.
WiseGuyz, run by the Calgary Sexual Health Centre (which gave Mr. Spence his training), isn’t just sex ed with an update. It’s part of a new wave of initiatives to intervene in a young, male culture that is giving many adults cause for concern. Long-term, the aim is to combat the rates of domestic violence and sexually transmitted infections. Short-term, the goal is to tutor young men in healthy relations with women and non-destructive masculinity.
That’s right – just for guys. In the context of the prevention-focused sex education models (i.e., STI-prevention, pregnancy-prevention) that predominate in the US, it might seem that if anyone were going to get extra sex education, it would be teen girls.
Sure, prevention will always be important, especially when our teen birth and STI rates (while lower than they have ever been), remain far higher than those of other wealthy countries. And there are certainly some “facts of life” that everyone could benefit from, but author Zosia Bielski brings up a good point: are we leaving boys out of sex education? Do we know what they’re thinking? Do we care? An educator of at another organization that does youth sexual health programming suggests we might not, so much:
In the male [sexual health programs], “it’s about looking at the male experience and helping them to redefine that for themselves,” Ms. Krause says. About sexist images in pop culture, for example, she says: “They don’t have an opportunity to explore what that means, or have values around it, because we’ve never said to boys, ‘What do you actually think of that?’ That’s what we want to do – start the conversation.”
The flipside of the culture Krause refers to – the one that helped bring hardcore porn, sexist jokes, and other forms of misogyny to the mainstream – is that it can be tempting for those who would change this culture to see young men as part of the problem. They’re the ones who won’t wear the condom, who abandon their pregnant girlfriends, who take advantage of girls at parties – right? But when we cast them in this light, we write them off without engaging with them. If we tell them they can’t come to us when they have questions, it sends them right back to that sexist culture looking for answers – a resolution that satisfies no one.
According to Frank Baird, founder of Walk a Mile in Her Shoes (in which men wear heels to raise money for domestic violence shelters), “men don’t often get a chance – many of them feel like they never get the chance – to say anything about gender. … What happens when men get beat over the head is they shut down. We need to do this in a way that doesn’t make men defensive.” Engaging with young men in a significant, empathetic way is essential. Let them talk and think in a way that helps them see what becoming an adult – becoming a man – really means to them. Encouraging teenage boys to explore this part of their identities will help them become better partners – and people – in the future.