Recently, my 13-year-old daughter started a sexuality education unit in her 8th-grade science class. On the day when they covered sexually transmitted infections (STI’s), she asked me if she could take it to class; I consented. The science teacher loved it and wanted to keep it there (note: next gift idea for the teacher!).
Later that night Marcia had her weekly Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education course at the local Unitarian Universalists church. As we drove there, she asked me if she could take the hangtag off my little spiral Syphilis STI. I said ‘no,’ since I wanted to keep it on because the hangtag has STI facts about Syphilis. Marcia chuckled as she read the label aloud:
“Safety Precaution: remove plastic hangtags and ribbons before giving to a child under three years of age.”
She continued with her thought process – sure, give this snake-looking syphilis toy to a three-year-old and tell them the correct name: “It’s called a Syphilis, honey.” Later, when the child encounters a snake in real life they will say, “Look, mom, it’s Syphilis!” Could there be a more embarrassing moment for a parent?
I related this anecdote to a conservative friend of mine. He wondered about the following questions: Why make STI’s this soft and cuddly? Why make it fun? Why would you want to cuddle with a Syphilis? Valid points, but in my opinion, one reason covers it all: people need ways to talk about difficult topics and humor tends to work for lots of people. I don’t think they intend to make STI’s a “fun” item per se – just one that people can talk about without the anxiety that it holds right now. The value, therefore, lies in the open and honest communication it allows people to have now so it is easier later when they will need to talk about STI’s and their own status. Presumably, this ease with the topic will help one protect themselves and their partners from getting an STI because they are not too embarrassed to talk about it.
The gamification of “collecting the complete set” is likely reserved for the science and sex geeks among us …or for the child who asks for the whole set for Christmas just so that she can tell her friends who ask “What’d you get for Christmas?” – “I got some STIs!”
This kid is a riot.