Thesis project takes on a taboo topic
“This is what happens in class,” said Ellen Thompson, a senior journalism major with a track in public relations. “This is what happens in school and this is what happens in church.”
She is talking about sex.
More specifically, she is referring to the education, or lack thereof, on the topic of sex and the different situations in which people first learn about it.
Not only is Thompson talking about it, she is blogging about it, researching it, writing a play about it and asking people to submit their own experiences. All of these elements encompass her vision of Project Sex-Ed.
“It’s about how everyone is connected by [sex-ed], how we are made and how we live in the society that we are in,” Thompson said.
The idea for Project Sex-Ed started as an exchange between Thompson and one of her best friends, who were inspired by the off-Broadway play My First Time. The two thought of how cool it would be if someone put together all of the embarrassing and sometimes traumatic stories about how people first come to learn about sex.
Since the initial idea sparked Thompson’s interest last spring, she has started a Web site, www.projectsexed.com, where she blogs about the process of the project, provides links to health-education sites and takes anonymous submissions from anyone who wants to share his or her story.
“People send me stories that range from a sentence to three pages long about everything from the people in their class, to how awkward it was, to stories about their grandma talking to them about sex,” she said.
A long list of suggestive topics is provided for anyone who visits the site but is unsure of where to start when writing.
“It can be anything from what did you learn about sex, where did you hear about it and what did your mom say when you first asked her where babies come from,” she said.
An interest in sex education is not a new passion for Thompson; in fact, she says she first got involved with the process soon after she arrived at Rider when she attended her first VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood meeting.
“I was so excited that there was this real forum for people to get real information and to talk about sex,” she said.
Thompson served as the vice president during her sophomore year and the president last year. Now, she serves as an adviser and helps whenever she is needed. While in VOX, Thompson took part in organizing the walk to end domestic violence, Take Back the Night, and also produced The Vagina Monologues.
Through VOX, Thompson also became educated on the forms of sex-ed in the
classroom, which turned out to be an underlying theme of the project.
“The way that I proposed the project is that there are two separate forms of sex-ed,” she said. “There is comprehensive and there is abstinence only and these two schools of thought are fighting it out.”
But Thompson does not want her involvement in her own sex education groups to fog people’s perception of what she is trying to accomplish with Project Sex-Ed. Her opinion will remain silent in the overall outcome of the project.
“I don’t want people to be turned off by the idea simply because I have my own views,” she explained. “I am trying to get people to tell me what they think and what they feel so I can better judge the situation as a whole, [rather] than make my own conclusions, because it could go either way.”
As for the play, Thompson plans on writing different scenes dealing with the classroom: kids learning about sex-ed and all of the laughing and embarrassment that ensues.
The play itself, she said, will be a monologue with no real interaction between the characters and no real set, much like the setup of The Vagina Monologues.
“My overall goal is to get people talking about sex, getting interested in knowing things and how to protect themselves,” she said.
Thompson anticipates that the play will open in April of 2009.
Project Sex-Ed has also gone from a passion of Thompson’s to a recognized research study; it is the subject of her senior thesis for the Baccalaureate Honors Program. The project helped Thompson secure the URSA Scholarship, which awarded her $5,000 to fund her study.
“There have been a lot of people who I don’t know and who don’t go to Rider who are interested,” she said. “It seems people are forming this web of ideas and it has been really cool.”
To submit your own stories to Project Sex-Ed, visit www.projectsexed.com or e-mail