Let’s Talk About Sex: Lehman Course Teaches School Counselors How to Do Just That

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On a recent afternoon, while temperatures outside hovered in the high eighties, 16 students sat at desks arranged in a half circle in one of Carman Hall’s classrooms. They were waiting for their guest speakers—Lehman Counselor Education/School Counseling alumna Theresa Wyre and her co-presenter to begin their presentation. The two were there to share their experiences as teen parents of a daughter who is now an adult, and how they navigated New York City’s array of family services.

Wyre was 14 years old when she learned she was pregnant. For years she struggled with a public school system that shunned young mothers and school counselors who lacked empathy. Wyre entered the school counseling profession to address these very issues. Today she is an assistant principal in the Bronx, where she ensures that her students receive accurate information about sex and how to prevent teen pregnancy.

It would be just one of several frank and deeply personal discussions about sexuality scheduled into Professor Stuart Chen-Hayes’ carefully crafted sexuality counseling course designed specifically for school counselors.

A former sexuality counselor, middle school counselor and college counselor, Chen-Hayes has been teaching the course at Lehman for the past 20 years. It’s an intense two-week elective in the Counselor Education/School Counseling program, and is usually offered each year during the summer. The course includes topics like comprehensive sex education, gender identity and expression; sexual orientation, technology and sexuality; recognizing perpetrators of sexual abuse; sex worker awareness and how to recognize its presence in schools; abortion counseling; paraphilias; and healthy teen and adult relationships.

In addition to the usual required reading and discussions, the course features an eclectic cast of guest speakers—ranging from sex workers to sexual abuse counselors to LGBTQ+ families. Their stories are often raw and powerful and reveal perspectives that are unique, yet not uncommon.

For Samantha Valcarcel, who graduated this past spring, the class defied her expectations. “I thought it would teach me to speak to students about sexual identity, but it was that and more,” she explained. “In human development, you touch on sexuality, but this class really woke me up.”

“I want students to feel that there is no human sexuality issue that they can't deal with once they leave the program,” explains Chen-Hayes. “Of course not all students are comfortable with all of the material or guest speakers so they are on a personal and professional journey as well and that's what makes the learning so dynamic. The level of trust between our students is fantastic and it allows folks to make mistakes, ask great questions, and collaborate in the learning process. It's always my favorite class to teach and students report it's their favorite class in the program as well.”

Chen-Hayes has been a counselor educator for 26 years. He is the author of multiple publications in refereed journals and books. His second book, which is to be published in 2018, is a memoir about his family’s two-generation, LGBTIQ+ journey toward marriage equality and parenting via surrogacy in Taiwan and the U.S. He is at work on a third book on college access, affordability, admission and school counseling.