Tag: sex education

Meet Deb Roffman, AKA ‘The Sex Lady’ at Area Private Schools

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ROFFMANDeborah Roffman isn’t afraid to talk to kids about sex. In fact, for the last 39 years she’s made a career of it, addressing lower and middle school students at Baltimore independent schools about the birds and the bees, but she never intended to gain a reputation for being “the sex lady,” as she is known among generations of graduates from area schools.

Roffman, educator and author of several books, most recently Talk to Me First (Perseus Book Group), talked with Baltimore Fishbowl about how she became a sex education guru, what she blames on the inappropriate sexual behavior of today’s adolescents, and how parents can serve as their kids’ guide to sexuality, starting at age four.

 

So, how did you get your start as a sex educator?

Back then, people fell into this field by accident. I needed a job, and Planned Parenthood was looking for a young educator. I knew nothing about the field.

Really? You had no prior experience disseminating information on this topic?

Roffman: I saw the film about periods in fifth grade. I had no other [sex] education until college. Then, all I remember was seeing the word ‘masturbation’ in print. It was in an abnormal psychology book. So, I had no formal training. But our Planned Parenthood agency became a regional training center for the National Family Planning Program. Today, there are graduate programs and many more pathways you can take.

At what age are children when you start teaching them sex education?

I start with fourth graders. But I work with lower school teachers at Park School and elsewhere to support them in integrating age-appropriate programming, starting in preschool. With very young children, a lot of adults are still using ‘code’ words for basic anatomy terminology, so the children think there’s something shameful about their body parts.

Most of today’s pre-teens and teenagers won’t shower or change in front of one another in a locker room, yet I hear stories about adolescents engaging in sexual activity at ever-younger ages. And, girls as young as 11 are routinely sharing pictures of themselves in bikinis via Instagram. Can you explain this disconnect?

They’re uncomfortable with their bodies because they’re changing. Sharing something that intimate feels very risky; it’s a skill you sort of have to grow into. On the other hand, kids are doing things that are so developmentally inappropriate. It tells you they’re being manipulated.

Manipulated? By whom, or what?

Against Coming of Age

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Every day at 8:01, my daughter Jane and I drive to Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, our little car pulsing with the pounding sounds of Z-104.3. Balancing her pink mesh backpack on her knees, swishing a hand in teal arm-warmers to the beat, Jane sings along with PitBull as he offers in his suavely robotic way to pump this jam however we want. Pump it from the side, pump it upside down, or we can pump it from the back and the front!

I sigh and roll my eyes. As the song fades, deejay Jackson Blue takes a call from a listener who wants to know if people think what her boyfriend wants to do in bed is too kinky. A girl they met in the bar last night is involved, and she is really fat!

Punch button, change station. Oh good, we’re back to some double or single entendre song about sex, drinking, or sex and drinking, which go together like…sex and drinking! You like to drink? So do we! Amazingly, despite all the frankness in our house and the various permission slips I’ve signed for sex education sessions at school, some of the innuendos in these songs are not 100 percent clear to 11-year-old Jane.

I can tell from the questions she asks about the 1998-99 season of “Dawson’s Creek,” the TV series onto which we have moved after exhausting “The Gilmore Girls” catalogue, that there are things she doesn’t know. She can’t figure out what Katie Holmes’ character means when she asks Dawson how often he “walks the dog,” even when Dawson explains that he does it every morning, with Katie Couric. When a football quarterback is taunted by a former girlfriend because he has a “soft spot for women in all the wrong places,” Jane has no clue what is being suggested. Recently, she asked me what foreplay was.

I went with “things couples do when they like each other.”

To be honest, I don’t really know if I’ve ever understood what foreplay is. Someone had to explain to me fairly recently that it doesn’t include oral sex. Does Jane know about oral sex? Has she heard the hip-hop classics “Love in Ya Mouth” or “Slob on My Knob”? Isn’t there a middle school oral sex scare? I bet Jane cannot even believe people do that. I don’t want to gross her out by insisting that they do.

Anyway, who needs icky foreplay when you have the life of the mind encouraged by today’s media? For example, last Friday night we pretended we were Ke$ha and Katy Perry, brushing our teeth with a bottle of Jack before getting probed and disrobed by extra-terrestrials. In the morning we couldn’t remember a thing but we are pretty sure it was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“What’s a bottle of Jack?” I asked Jane, just to see.

“It’s alcohol.”

“Why do you think she brushed her teeth with it?”

Jane is stymied but so am I.

***

Jane and her friends have a group crush on a boy in their class, and this is how they like it. “At least 750 people have a crush on him,” she reported. This is the perfect first love, one step up from mooning over Joe Jonas when you are nine years old, but not all the way to one-on-one romance. That may still be too much to contemplate. (Author’s Note: Please do not tell Jane that I mentioned Joe Jonas, now more vigorously repudiated than ever was he loved.)

But soon enough, it all changes. Suddenly the wave catches you and you don’t just want a sports bra and mascara and girly gossip, you want to pitch all the trappings of your childhood into the fire, and now that you have boobs, dudes of all ages stand ready to help you. Or at least that’s how I remember it. I’ve always had quite a bit of sympathy for Lindsay Lohan, whose transition from sweet little princess to wild, drugged-up slut seems so familiar, so willed, so iconic. If Lindsay is different from other girls, it’s mostly a matter of degree. And of being onstage all the time, with a bunch of bloodthirsty hypocrites watching. Honestly, I hope she finds her way.

The end of girlhood is masterminded by nature of course, but culture gets its mitts on us too, rough, insistent and full of contradictions. Today’s 11-year-old girl knows that she can do anything she wants, have any career, be a mom, make it on her own, with kids or without, with a marriage or not, with a man or with Ellen DeGeneres. She also knows it is time to put her hands in the air and her bootie on the floor and start the party, and find the pictures on Facebook in the morning.

I was not much older than Jane when I got my first kiss — back in the days when “Lay Lady Lay” was a really hot song. As Caitlin Flanagan points out in her new essay collection, Girl Land, which meditates on these same worries plaguing me now, Dylan’s song was not just erotic, it was romantic. Whatever colors you have in your mind/ I’ll show them to you and you’ll see them shine. Romantic is one thing commercial hip-hop is not — at least not about sex.

Glen Willis kissing me on the golf course in 1970 was not all that romantic either — what I remember most about the first few years of doing things with boys was (a) that I felt nothing, and thought I might be “frigid,” especially since private experiments had demonstrated that I could both experience desire and solve the problem, (b) I kept track of all the boys I kissed in a little notebook annotated with ones, twos and threes to indicate what base we got to, though the exact meaning of the bases was a matter of continual debate with my girlfriends. Really, I didn’t get it. But believe me, I kept at it until I figured it out. And once my passionate soul and my fresh young body caught up with each other, and with a copy of the 1970s classic, The Sensuous Woman, I’m afraid we were trouble.

Trouble. That’s what we’re looking at here, with my beautiful peach of a girl and PitBull and hormones and middle school and Dawson Leery’s daily monkey-spanking. Nothing has ever made me feel as conservative as being the mother of an 11-year-old.

I can’t tell you how much I’m going to miss her.

 

Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.

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