Okay, class, raise your hand if you’ve had chlamydia. Hmm. Nobody? What about syphilis? Still no one? And you’re teens? You surprise me. I suppose I don’t even need to ask about HIV…
Even the most skilled educator knows that talks with teens about matters of sex and intimacy can be fraught conversations. In any given room there’s likely to be a wide range of knowledge and experience, but few of those rooms are going to feel – to a teen – like a safe space in which to share real knowledge and experience (or real questions and an honest lack of experience). Any student who may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI), is hardly likely to raise their hand when asked a direct question – and in the absence of any raised hands every student who has had that experience feels isolated, that they alone are suffering.
Conversations about intimacy, safe sex practices, boundaries, and consent are critical – both to keeping teens healthy and to help them realize that they are not alone if they have already had an encounter with an STD or STI. So how can such uncomfortable conversations be made more comfortable? Interactive audience response (AR) systems provide one path. AR systems can be configured to mask the identity of a respondent, and that can wholly change the dynamic of the conversation. Students are much more likely to answer questions honestly if they know that their identities are shielded from their peers. Instead of no student raising a hand to admit that they’ve had personal experience with chlamydia or syphilis, the screen tabulating the votes at the front of a classroom might indicate that, in fact, several students have.
And that can be a life changer for everyone in that room. Students who may have been feeling isolated and humiliated can realize that they are not alone. There are openings for frank discussions about what treatments they can get. For those who have not personally encountered an STI or STD, the presence of peers who have been honest about their encounters makes the reality of the risks much more real and much less abstract. That can make real the need to pay attention to the conversation so as to avoid contracting a condition that one really would prefer to avoid.