In the 12 years since Girlology, an innovative sex education program for girls, was started by local Drs. Trish Hutchison and Melisa Holmes, much has changed, and the program’s curriculum and reach has grown and evolved.
In the past year, the Girlology and the newer Guyology programs have gained business partners with the goal of making the it available across the nation.
Dr. Hutchison discussed the milestones, methods and future in a sit-down interview in late August.
Q: What was the genesis of Girlology?
A: I’m a pediatrician and Melisa is an ob-gyn. I saw Melisa’s patients (children of her patients) in my office. She delivered my babies. We’re very close in that aspect and are good friends.
We’d get together and talk about things we saw in our practice. Things like, “Fix my child, I think she’s gay.” Or teach my daughter how to wear a tampon. My favorite was virginity checks. “Will you please tell me if she’s still a virgin.”
In a 10-minute well-child visit, you just can’t get everything in there. So this program became an extension of our busy clinical practices and it fed our passion on getting the information out there without being in a rushed clinical environment.
When we started our program, it was mainly just a puberty program. But as the girls aged up, the moms kept coming back to us and asking when the next program would be. So our curriculum aged up with the girls.
Q: For those unfamiliar with Girlology, describe your approach.
A: Our mission is to give medically accurate, age-appropriate, cringe-free information so that kids can grow up safe and healthy, especially when it comes to sexuality.
We’re clinical in these programs because we definitely just give information that research proves works, but we also just make it fun. We’re sassy sometimes. When we say we’re cringe-free, we just put it out there. We just hit it head on.
Q: Sex education seems to always get bogged down with politics and religious views. Was part of your motivation for starting the program borne out of frustration with that?
A: It (sex education) is a political issue, but we have no judgment and no political or religious views in our program. We stay non-judgmental. We used to argue with abstinence-only education, but energy is just wasted there. Our whole point is to protect the health and well-being of that adolescent in front of us.
We do teach that abstinence protects you from pregnancy and STDs, but it’s not my place to tell them (the teen) when they should and shouldn’t have sex. That’s up to the parents or guardian at home.
But the public schools are not doing a good job, still not. They (state lawmakers) have been trying to pass a bill forever and it won’t pass. If it does pass, you have to find teachers that are comfortable talking about it (sex education subjects).
My personal experience was a PE teacher showing a film about sex education and that’s what sex education is. And private schools hardly touch it at all. There are several private schools which come to us for the programming.
Q: How did you come up with the term Girlology?
A: When Melisa and I started the program a long time ago, we went on a girls art buying trip and had a bottle of wine. We were just throwing out names for this. ... Our whole path has been very grassroots and serendipitous and this is one of the examples. Melisa went back to work the next day and one of her patients was a trademark attorney. The next day, we were around the kitchen table, I had a baby and was breastfeeding and we trademarked Girlology.
Q: In a nutshell, why is Girlology needed and why do you think it resonates with parents and kids?
A: Teenage brains are wired so much differently than adults. What we’ve learned over the years is its not just knowledge that makes a healthy decision. Teens are going to make mistakes. They are going to learn from their mistakes. The part of their brain that is so active is the primitive reward center.
I love the teenage brain research. It’s absolutely amazing because it makes you understand why teens act the way they do. If parents understood the teenage brain, it changes your parenting technique. You can sit here and say don’t do that, don’t that, but they are going to do that.
Teens’ sense of risk and reward are different. They see reward way above the risk. They know what’s right and wrong if they can make a good decision, if they have time to think about it, but they usually don’t have time to think about it.
Most of the time, they don’t have time to think about it. They are with a crowd of teenagers who are wanting to do something and they are going to want to go for the reward.
At Girlology, we don’t sugarcoat the message. We don’t do scare tactics. We just give them medically accurate information that they can use to help them make a decision or if they have made the wrong decision, how to fix it or find someone to help them with it.
Q: Another key component is that Girlology is led by physicians. That must be working, but have you thought about letting other health professionals teach it?
A: We only use physicians right now. We struggle with that because we know there are a lot of health educators, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants who do a fantastic job. But what we’ve learned from parents and kids that physicians get an immediate trust.
So we only have two hours with this parent-child (group) and we don’t want to waste any time gaining trust and credibility.
Down the road, we may get health educators, but right now we want physicians to answer the questions.
Q: Do the physicians volunteer for this?
A: No, parents pay for the program and they (physicians) get paid for doing the programs, but they are not doing it for the money.
They make much more money in their office than they would doing these programs, so most of the physicians who train with us have a passion for talking to adolescents and just want that touch point and feel comfortable talking to them.
Q: Within the last three years, you added Guyology. How did that come about?
A: It is new. We have so many requests from moms who say, “My son needs this.” Melisa and I felt like we needed to focus on the girls because that was important, but we realized the boys were missing out. We had a male pediatrician in Greenville develop a curriculum for our first Guyology program in 2012.
He teaches them. I teach them. It’s hilarious because a lot of times the moms sign them up and the fathers walk in not knowing what they were getting into.
Dads go away and are very appreciative to get words like erection and masturbation out there.
We trademarked Guyology, but the person who owns the domain name won’t sell it to us. So it (a link) is on our Girlology site.
Q: What has been one of the major changes that you’ve had to adjust the curriculum to since it started?
A: Now kids have cell phones and can get porn in a second. That’s changed since we started, so it’s changed our message totally.
Nine years of age is the average age that kids are now being exposed to pornography. Not just nudity, but pornography.
This is their sex education, and if parents aren’t talking about it, this is what they are learning. Boys are learning about sex from pornography and are having erectile dysfunction because they can only have erections to 2-D images.
Since we start talking about pornography in puberty program, we’ve had only one dad who said they didn’t feel comfortable about that. All the rest of them say thank you.
Parents can’t even track their kids (Internet) history because of these social media platforms now. Go to Vine or Snapchat, you don’t even know your kid is seeing pornography because its hidden behind that social media platform.
It’s crazy. It’s a crazy world, and we know kids are going to look at it. When we started out, it wasn’t even there.
Q: Tell me about the evolution of Girlology and the new effort to make it more of a national program. Where is Girlology headed now?
A: Melisa moved to Greenville about five years ago. In that five years, we’ve trained physicians who are friends. Two years ago, we brought about 12 physicians to downtown Charleston for a training, but we realized it’s just too hard for physicians to get a weekend off to do the training.
So now all our training is online. It’s turnkey and we’re slowly getting more and more physicians from all over, from Syracuse, New York, and Indiana.
In November, one of the women we trained in Boise, Idaho, had a mom came to her program. She’s in business and always wanted to do a business venture with two friends, all of whom went to Duke together.
She thought this is really cool and as a mom realized she saw what a great service it was. She also looked at it from a business point of view and knew that it was scalable (making it possible to expand it nationally).
Melisa and I always wanted to do that, but they don’t teach business courses in medical school, so we didn’t know how to scale it out beyond the bubble of where we are.
With the three of them and their connections and business sense, we’ve hit a lot of new markets the last six months.
It’s been crazy because we’re getting requests and emails from all over. Our inbox is crazy and we’ve had to hire some people to help out
Q: Girlology has long focused on suburban children, but have you started to make it available to less privileged and urban children?
A: That’s an arm that we’re working on right now because when we started, we focused on suburbia, because kids there were oversexed, overscheduled, underparented.
So our next reach is definitely (urban families). That’s why we are partnering with hospital systems such as Wake Med that are offering it for free in their community in Raleigh, N.C.
We are really working hard with our national expansion, not just to do suburbia.
There are more resources for certain socioeconomic groups, but higher suburbia didn’t have those resources or utilize them. Regardless, a lot of them don’t involve the parents and I think that is another thing that singles us out.
Q: Tell me more about that parent-child dynamic in Girlology and Guyology.
A: We feel the importance of the parent being there during the message so they can take it home and continue the conversation.
We just hope that the two-hour program is a springboard to start the conversation and to continue using us as a resource.
It’s not a one-and-done thing. It can’t be. Not in this world today. You (parents) have got to continue the discussion.
And we provide the resources to continue that discussion with our books, an active website, Facebook page, newsletter and other things to follow up. They just have to reach out to subscribe.
Q: You ended your private practice but are now working part-time at the College of Charleston’s Student Health Services. Why did you do that and is that adding to your knowledge base?
A: I missed clinical medicine and felt like I want to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening.
This is the grown-up versions of Girlology. Some kids come in with good knowledge but others are totally clueless about what they are exposing themselves to, from STDs to the emotional consequences, the drugs, the alcohol.
It just underscores how we have a lot more work to do.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.