The Real Life of a ‘Sex Ed Teacher’

I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a post that read, “Ask your child what you do for a living and see how they respond.” My curiosity took over so I called for my 8-year-old.

“Mario, when people ask what I do for a living, what do you say?” Nonchalantly he answers, “That you’re a sex worker.” I almost died laughing but we continued the conversation and I asked him to explain. Again, very casually he replies, “You teach people how to say penis and vagina…”

This story brings a lot of laughs, and I’m sure I’ll remember it for years to come, but it made me think about how others perceive the work we do at Teen emPower!. I sometimes find it convenient to say, “I’m a sex education teacher,” which usually prompts people to say something along these lines:

  • “Oh you teach kids how to put condoms on! Do you use a banana?”
  • “You teach people how to have sex?”
  • (Or, as my cousin incorrectly introduced me at a party once) “She’s a sexologist.”

This is mostly incorrect.  I’d like to tell you what I really do and why it’s important.

I’m an adolescent health educator which means I teach middle schools and high school students adolescent development. For example, I teach subjects like brain development, puberty, reproductive anatomy, abstinence, contraceptives, consent, responding to risky behaviors, setting goals and boundaries, and other skills that provide students with the tools they need to make a healthy transition from adolescence into adulthood. I work with people who are passionate about helping youth and fulfilling our mission in the communities we serve.

Telling people that I’m “just a sex ed teacher” does a disservice to describing our work because we do so much more than just teach people how to say penis and vagina (although Mario is right about that. We teach people these words are medically accurate and should not be considered shameful.).

We teach using evidence-based programs, which means we use medically accurate, age appropriate information that has been researched and developed with skills, knowledge and core concepts in a sequence that’s been proven to work.  We are trained in various programs and teaching methods that help us provide the best classroom experience. Our work is not only needed in the communities we serve, but also vital to all Oklahomans as this state has one of the highest teen birth rates in the country.*

According to the CDC, teen pregnancy costs taxpayers an estimated $9.1 billion dollars annually nationwide. However, we are not only preventing teen pregnancy, we’re also combating other issues in the community including: poverty, school drop-out rates, sexual abuse and victimization of young people, as youth participation in risky behaviors correlates with these and other community concerns. 

So while I don’t stand in front of a gym full of students and rehearse Coach Carr’s famous line from Mean Girls, I do stand for the future of our youth. I can empathize with the difficult experience many teens face and hope my work helps parents and guardians in areas where they may need support, knowledge, and skills to help their young ones thrive. 

As a former teen mother myself, I understand, first-hand, the importance of the work we do and the difference it makes in the lives of youths and our communities. 

“Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.”

Marian Wright Edelman

Written by: Cristina Flores, Teen emPower! Inc. Health Educator