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Monica Derevjanik/MEDILL

Giselle de la Rosa, 19, a University of Illinois at Chicago student discusses her experiences at Wednesday night's speed-dating style "Who Framed Sex Ed?" event.

Speed-dating techniques help promote sex education

by Monica Derevjanik
April 16, 2009

In speed dating, topics usually include past relationships, where you’re from and, when the person opposite you is unbearably dull, the weather.

But not if you’re the Neighborhood Writing Alliance, which hosted a speed-dating style discussion called “Who Framed Sex Ed?” Wednesday night at the Jane Addams Hull House to address sexual health issues many people avoid discussing.

“It’s great to talk to people you don’t know but have maybe shared similar experiences and you get to see different perspectives,” said University of Illinois at Chicago student and Planned Parenthood volunteer Kim Kolak. “Sometimes with friends you feel more like you’re expected to say certain things, and here you’re a little more free. It’s definitely a very open experience.”

Kolak, 22, of Pilsen, was one of 12 participants – made up of students, parents and community activists – in this week’s session. Together they explored questions, such as, “How did you first learn about sex?” and “What do you think should be taught in sexual education?”

Participants paired up and got one minute each to answer the question announced at the beginning of every round.

At first, only murmuring conversations filled the room. One hour and several questions later, voices grew louder, hands start to move and faces lit up with each new question.

For Rupal Soni, the program director, previous panels and lectures did not effectively engage and encourage listeners, but she said this speed dating-style discussion could move the discourse out of the “safe space” and into the public.

“We need to be very aware of making sure that people weren’t dominating the space,” Soni said. “In a lot of spaces that we work with, people are disenfranchised and don’t get to speak their opinion, and this hurts further discussion.”

By creating a comfortable space for people to talk about sex education, assistant director Mairead Case said that the participants can feel safe talking about this sensitive subject as well as find commonality and empathy.

“Each individual takes away a different thing, but I would hope that everybody felt that they were able to express themselves and ask freely, and that anybody who needed a resource was able to get that,” Case said. “I hope that any of the mystique or guilt they might have had was taken away a little bit.”

While others might have left the event feeling more comfortable discussing sex education with each other, University of Illinois at Chicago student Giselle de la Rosa, 19, said she hopes that everyone she “speed-dated” with at the event can help others talk about sex without feeling uneasy.

“It’s a public health issue, so I think it’s important that we talk about it, as uncomfortable as it is,” she said. “The number one way teenagers learn about sex is through friends, so if you become that one friend that actually gives them good information, then that’s how the ball gets rolling."