If you hang around middle schoolers long enough, you can learn a lot—even a few things about sex.
When I was their age, no one talked to me about sex. When I got my menstrual period, all my mother told me was that if I started fooling around with boys I could get pregnant. I figured out what “fooling around” meant by watching veiled sex scenes on TV shows like Dynasty and talking to the “fast” girl who lived next door.
I was naïve for a long time and, to let my husband tell it, I’m still rather naïve.
So last year I noticed that a few middle school boys were giving certain girls prolonged hugs in the hallways. When I saw it, I told them to stop.
“Man, Ms. Rhames, you’re just a cock blocker! This school is full of cock blockers!” one 7th grade boy told me. “Every time I go to hug a girl you come out of nowhere and break it up.”
His comment puzzled me. I’d never heard of the term “cock blocker” before. I didn’t know if it was a swear word or just some new street slang. So I shrugged it off and told him to get to class.
When I told my husband that night what the boy called me, he laughed out loud.
“You never heard of a ‘blocker’?” he said, nearly in tears. “That term’s old, been around since the ‘60s, at least.”
When I brought the comment up at my middle school team meeting, some teachers were offended. They asked me if I wrote the student up for using such vulgar language. I said no because I didn’t fully understand what it meant at the time. I got incredulous stares.
A month or two later, all the 7th graders were starting their trimester of sex education in which an outside agency came into the school for a series of weekly sessions. Parents had to sign a permission slip. Girls were separated from the boys.
While I was curious about what the students were learning, I never dared to sit in on the female sessions. I figured it would be weird (for them and for me) to watch my sweet-and-innocent-looking girls learn about the necessity of using condoms. I wanted to know what they were learning without actually seeing them learn it.
At the time, my own daughter was in 4th grade, and I pondered if in three years I would sign the waiver to allow her to participate in the class. I said decidedly no. My husband said absolutely yes!
I asked the physical education teachers who organized the class about the rationale for offering the class. She said the neighborhood in which our school is located had the highest rate of middle-school-age girls with sexually transmitted diseases in the entire city of Chicago. That’s horrible, I told her. But after learning about the content of the class I told her that I’ll teach my daughter everything she needs to know about sex from a biblical, Christian standpoint, thank you very much.
As a science teacher at the time, I also had a bit of a debate with my instructional leader about the limitations I had put on an assigned research project.
I was wrapping up a unit on the human body with an anchor project on diseases. Students would work in pairs to complete a research poster on a disease of their choice and then present their findings to the class—and potentially to the entire school. Some students wanted to study sexually transmitted diseases, but I said no.
My instructional leader thought I was being too prudish; some of my students were already sexually active, she explained, and they needed to know this information. After giving her one failed reason after another against it, I decided to cut to the chase.
I said, “I’m not comfortable allowing 12- and 13-year-old boys to search the Internet for images of rotting vaginas and penises, and then have photos of those vaginas and penises plastered to a poster for both parents and kindergartners to see.”
She said that was my strongest argument and dropped the topic.
But to the sex ed class’ credit, it was obviously effective. The same boy who had called me a “cock blocker” came into my science lab to give me some urgent and very public sex advice.
“All I can say, Ms. Rhames, is don’t suck nothing, Ms. Rhames,” he exclaimed, wide-eyed with full-body motion. “DON’T SUCK NOTHING.”
He went on to describe herpes of the mouth, which he had just learned he could contract by having oral sex.
Maybe I’ll let my daughter take that sex ed class in school after all ...
The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.