I went to high school in East Tennessee, in a predominantly conservative, predominantly Christian county. Rev. Billy Graham dedicated our school chapel in 1991, if that gives you any insight into the culture. Perhaps surprisingly though, my sex education class was comprehensive, informative and thought-provoking.
The head of our health program was also my adviser and one of my dorm parents. That meant for those of us in the boarding student community, at least, Lisa was frequently available outside the usual hours and environments of the classroom. I ate meals with her, babysat her children, cooked in her kitchen and asked her all of my questions about sex and sexuality.
Lisa Drew is from New York; she’s a realist, and she isn’t naive enough to believe that an abstinence-only program is going to be enough to protect her students. So, unlike many of the programs in surrounding schools, we learned about rape culture and using protection in same-sex practices. We even went around the classroom and all had to say the words ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ out loud.
Lisa’s approach was to normalize sexuality, even for us as teenagers, and she was right to do so. Many high school students are at least sexually mature, even if their brains and emotions haven’t caught up yet. Teenagers are sexual beings. By normalizing and validating our feelings, Lisa gained our trust and normalized us asking questions.
People would text her, or come into her office during a break, or find her outside walking her dog and ask questions like “Can I get herpes from kissing?” or “Can I get pregnant if I have sex on my period?” Lisa always answered matter-of-factly and calmly, and made sure to check in and size up the entire situation.