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There's a new kind of sex ed being taught in some classrooms around the country that's not about sex at all. Some schools have decided to add some G-rated lessons on love alongside the more explicit sex ed lessons. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: If old-school sex ed covers the mechanics of love, this is the mushy side.
MATTHEW LIPPMAN: So first thing - can you guys write down your favorite contemporary love song?
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: What?
SMITH: At the Beaver Country Day School, a private school near Boston, Matthew Lippman loves teaching about love.
LIPPMAN: This is my favorite love song.
(SOUNDBITE OF LUIS FONSI SONG, "DESPACITO")
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Are you kidding me?
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: It's so dirty.
SMITH: Just kidding, Lippman says, and then drills students like Tatiana Curran on what "Despacito" says about love and lust.
TATIANA CURRAN: It's sexual, but that doesn't mean it's love. You know what I mean?
LIPPMAN: I understand.
SMITH: Lippman then plays his real favorite.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FIRST TIME I EVER SAW YOUR FACE")
ROBERTA FLACK: (Singing) The first time...
SMITH: The tempo is almost intolerable to many of these teens raised in a world of instant gratification. Joddy Nwankwo says the song evokes a kind of love that's uncommon in today's hookup culture.
JODDY NWANKWO: It's showing that, like, love takes time, that, like, it's not something that you rush into.
SMITH: But even many who want to believe in that kind of slow dissolve into a deep and abiding bond are dubious. As kids who tend to text more than talk, many like Curran readily cop to teeny attention spans and huge intimacy issues.
CURRAN: Like, I hate eye contact. Yeah, I get really uncomfortable...
CURRAN: ...When it comes to, like, really, like, romantic things.
LIPPMAN: I think that's the biggest piece to all of this. So much of this intimacy thing is hard for them.
SMITH: Not everyone is afflicted, Lippman says. But the point does resonate with kids like Jade Bacherman and Lisa Winshall.
JADE BACHERMAN: Walking into the class, I felt like I knew a good amount about love, but now I'm realizing that there's a lot more to learn.
LISA WINSHALL: Like, I don't think we're prepared to know what a healthy relationship looks like and not just, like, don't hit people but, like, on a much deeper level - like, what really taking care of someone else means.
SMITH: It's exactly what Harvard researcher Rick Weissbourd has found. Kids need and crave more than just sex ed about pregnancies, STDs and sexual violence - as he puts it, disaster prevention.
RICK WEISSBOURD: I think we are failing epically to have basic conversations with young people about the subtle, tender, generous, demanding work of learning how to love. And you know, young people want to have those conversations. About 70 percent of them want to have those conversations.
SHAFIA ZALOOM: OK. You are going to come up with how to ask someone out.
SMITH: In a health class at the Urban School, a private high school in San Francisco, teacher Shafia Zaloom says she was so alarmed by teens' social struggles; she also started a kind of dating 101.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: Like, do you want to, like, go see a movie some time?
ZALOOM: Yeah, OK. Do you want to go see a movie with me - right? - 'cause it's not like, oh, come hang out with us, but rather go with me, which...
SMITH: Zaloom also tutors the kids on taking things to the next level.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) I love you, too.
SMITH: When they critique a Hollywood love scene as totally unrealistic, kids like Dominic Lauber start confessing how much more awkward their encounters are.
DOMINIC LAUBER: It feels like you're doing something wrong, so it could just feel - something you'd want to avoid.
SMITH: It's exactly why Boston College professor Kerry Cronin started giving her students a homework assignment to personally ask someone out.
KERRY CRONIN: It's mostly about pushing through awkwardness and finding out that even if you get rejected - isn't going to kill you because they're terrified of failure. And resilience is a major issue.
SMITH: Hard data is hard to come by, but anecdotally, private schools seem more apt to expand the usual reading, writing and rithmetic (ph) to also include romance. Ashley Beaver, a public school teacher in San Diego, says parents should educate kids about love, not schools.
ASHLEY BEAVER: I mean, they talk to middle schoolers about flavored condoms. It's just too much too soon. So no, I just don't trust the institution to do it correctly.
SMITH: Ideally, Harvard's Weissbourd says the lessons would come from school and home. And kids do want it even from their folks. As Professor Cronin puts it, this generation was raised by helicopter parents. They expect to be coached on everything. Tovia Smith, NPR News.
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