When I was in the sixth grade, a health instructor employed by the board of education was parachuted into my classroom to talk about puberty. She arrived with two life-size felt cut-outs of naked, child-like bodies—one male, one female—which she hung on the blackboard. After a brief preamble, she asked the class to name the changes bodies experience during puberty. Kids tentatively put up their hands, offering ideas: “Girls grow breasts,” and “You get pubic hair,” and “Boys grow moustaches.” After every correct answer, the health instructor dug into her bag and, without even a sprinkle of humour, extracted small felt swatches of pretend armpit hair and cushiony stuffed pretend breasts. As she Velcroed them onto the nude figures, we watched the nameless doll figures grow up before our eyes.
By that point, a few kids in the class were already going through puberty, so most of this wasn’t news. But it was helpful to have the subject released from behind a cloak of confusion and shame. The rest of my preteen sexual education was provided by Sue Johanson, who was a sex educator in North York classrooms before she became a media personality. On her Sunday night call-in show, she took all questions seriously, no matter how goofy, offering frank answers. She believed that everyone had the right to enjoy sex, safely and sensibly, and I can’t imagine a better way to learn about it.
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