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Skills for Educators

All Skills for Educators

Facilitating Positive Sexuality Dialogue with Students

Welcome to Skills for Educators!

This educator skill is designed to help educators facilitate a positive dialogue about sexuality with students. After an introduction, the skill is divided into sections that define and discuss aspects of sexuality. A list of references can be found at the end.

Specifically, this educator skill consists of the following sections:


Facilitating Positive Sexuality Dialogue with Students

Introduction

Sex educators are often given the responsibility to inform youth about the dangers associated with sexuality (unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections [STIs], HIV, rape). However, by only or mostly focusing on "dangers," we run the risk of portraying sexuality as something negative instead of something that can and should be enjoyed. Teaching sexuality in a positive way can empower youth to take charge of their sexuality and make responsible, appropriate decisions.

Sexuality education is often presented through lecture, handouts, reading, and guest speakers. Although these teaching methods are important tools, they do not allow for student input or dialogue. Facilitating a dialogue with youth gives them the opportunity to express their views and beliefs about their own sexuality. It also provides the educator with pertinent information about the students' culture, behavior, and values around sexuality. These concepts are defined below, and suggestions for creating positive dialogue are provided.

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Some Basic Assumptions

In order to develop a positive dialogue about sexuality, the educator needs to begin with several assumptions:

  • Sexuality is a part of everyone's life.

  • Sexuality begins at birth and ends at death.

  • Sexuality is complex and encompasses emotional, physical and social factors. It includes one's gender, gender identity, body image, sexual orientation, sexual behavior, relationships, intimacy, and sexual health.

  • People learn about sexuality from a wide variety of sources including family, friends, the media, religion, and school.

By working from these assumptions and the following skills, the educator will be able to present sexuality education to youth in a way that is respectful and affirms the positive aspects of sexuality.

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Gender

Definition:
Gender roles are the way people act in order to fit into society's view of appropriate female and male behavior.1 We base gender roles on life experience, culture, and ethnicity. Views of gender roles range greatly from very rigid traditional roles — such as a male provider and decision-maker and a woman tending to the family and bearing children — to more liberal, non-traditional roles — such as single parent households and gay parents.

Creating Positive Dialogue:
Providing positive education around gender roles should begin with asking students what they perceive gender to be. This discussion will lead to a better understanding of their cultural and ethnic beliefs. Next, use the students' perceptions to introduce a positive, unbiased image of gender. Respect their beliefs but correct misinformation and challenge stereotypical and prejudicial beliefs.

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Gender Identity

Definition:
Gender identity refers to the gender — male or female — that people see themselves as belonging to. Most often, people identify with the gender they were born into. Some people, however, identify with the opposite gender; this is called transgender identity. Sometimes, people are born with chromosomes that do not match their external genitalia or with genitalia that do not reflect their internal sexual organs. This is referred to as being intersexed.

Creating Positive Dialogue:
Gender identity is a sensitive issue because of its controversial nature. But, if teaching about sexuality in a positive way is the goal, it's necessary to consider the possibility that there may be youth in the group who identify as transgendered or intersexed, or who have friends or family who are transgendered or intersexed. By acknowledging and including these differences in gender discussions, the educator is acknowledging and including ALL students. Students who are acknowledged are more likely to receive other messages regarding sexuality.

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Body Image

Definition:
Body Image is how a person views his or her body, either positively or negatively. Youth may have particular concerns with height, weight, breast or penis size, acne, teeth, or disability.

Creating Positive Dialogue:
Self-esteem and a positive view of our bodies are essential factors in having a positive view of our sexuality. Students who have a positive image of their bodies are more likely to protect and care for their bodies, allowing for less pregnancies and STIs. Students therefore need to learn how to take a positive view of differences in weight, body size, shape, and physical ability. They need to know that people come in all shapes and sizes, all of which can be sexy, sexual, and sexually active.

To reinforce a positive body image, make sure that the curricula being used have positive wording and images of people with different weights, disabilities, body size and shape. Also, do not allow disparaging remarks regarding body size, shape, type or disability.

Challenge media perceptions of body image. Have students bring in magazines or examples of advertisements, movies or television programs that shape how society views the human body. Allow students to praise positive media messages and challenge negative ones.

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Sexual Orientation

Definition:
Sexual orientation refers to the gender a person is erotically attracted to. There are three types of sexual orientation:

  • Heterosexual — people who have sexual relationships or are attracted primarily or exclusively to members of the opposite gender.

  • Homosexual — people who have sexual relationships or are attracted primarily or exclusively to members of their own gender.

  • Bisexual — people who have sexual relationships with or are attracted to members of either gender.2

Creating Positive Dialogue:
Teaching or acknowledging different sexual orientations may cause controversy in the classroom and in the school. However, to discuss sexual orientation in a positive way, it's important to be inclusive of all students whether heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.

One step in presenting a positive view of sexual orientation is not to perpetuate gay stereotypes or slurs in class. Another way is to inform students of local gay youth groups or possibly gay and lesbian community groups, and let them know if the campus offers a Gay/Straight Alliance.

For more information about sexual orientation and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, please see ReCAPP sections related to this topic. These include: the June 2000 Topic in Brief: "Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth"; the Learning Activity: "Toward Understanding …"; and Skills for Youth: "Increasing Tolerance for Diversity."

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Sexual Behavior

Definition:
Any action that expresses our sexuality can be considered Sexual Behavior. Many people define sexuality as only genital behavior, but genital behavior is just one part of sexuality and only one type of sexual behavior.

Creating Positive Dialogue:
When discussing sexual behavior, it's important to describe the behavior and not relate it to a sexual orientation. For instance, instead of saying "gay sex," it's better to say "men who have sex with men," and best to clarify the actual behavior, whether it is anal sex, oral sex (mouth to penis) or (mouth to anus). When the educator identifies who the partner is and what the behavior is, students can recognize their behavior without having to identify themselves as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.

When discussing sexual behavior, it's also important to discuss abstinence as a sexual behavior. Present abstinence in a positive light. Acknowledge that students who choose abstinence are still sexual; they just choose not to engage in certain sexual behaviors.

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Relationships

Definition:
Relationships, the need to connect with another person, are a basis for sex and sexuality. Relationships include casual acquaintances, dating, friendship, parent/child, committed partnership, marriage, etc.

Creating Positive Dialogue:
As sex educators, we often spend a lot of time discussing genital behavior and the consequences of sex. We rarely take the time to discuss the relationships that are involved when two people have sex. It's important to teach students about relationships. Talk about sexual and non-sexual relationships. Allow students to discuss and examine ways that humans express their sexuality without having sex. These discussions can allow students to begin to understand their own sexuality, sexual experiences, and relationships that do not involve intercourse.3

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Intimacy

Definition:
Intimacy is a way of relating through feeling or action with someone in a personal or private way. Intimacy may occur within a variety of different relationships, including within family, friendships, and partnerships.

Creating Positive Dialogue:
Discuss the role of intimacy in relationships and the importance it plays in our lives. Intimacy is not synonymous with sex, but it is a part of our sexuality. Explain that a relationship may become more intimate once sex is involved, but sex does make intimacy. In our society, sex and sexuality are thought to refer specifically to intercourse. Teenagers may feel pressure to have intercourse as a way of affirming their relationship and becoming more intimate with their partners. Have students discuss non-sexual ways to become more intimate with their partners.

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Sexual Health

Definition:
Sexual Health pertains to a person's physical and psychological wellness as it relates to his or her reproductive system and sense of sexuality.

Creating Positive Dialogue:
Sexual health is the part of sexuality education that is usually covered by sex educators. However, often the messages that are given are negative scare tactics about pregnancy, HIV and other STIs. So, what is the best way to cover these messages in a positive way? Teach students to respect their bodies. Have students think and plan for their sexual health by considering the following:

  • Do they want to abstain from sex until marriage? What steps will they take to make that happen?

  • Are they thinking about becoming sexually active soon? Provide them with the information they need to make the decision to have or not have sex. If they decide not to have sex, what steps will they take to remain abstinent? If they decide to be sexually active, what precautionary measures will they take to protect themselves and how will they negotiate safe sex?

  • Are they already sexually active? Give them resources and information to plan steps they can take to protect themselves from pregnancy and STIs.

  • Do they plan to have children in the future? Teach them the importance of keeping themselves STI free. STIs can cause sterility in both men and women.

  • Do they already have or have they already had an STI? Tell them where they can go to be treated and what precautions they should take to keep from getting another one, or transferring this one to a partner.

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References

1 Maurer, L., Transgressing Sex and Gender: Deconstruction Zone Ahead? SIECUS Report, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, Inc. 28, 1, October/November 1999.

2 Allgeier, A. R., and Allgeier, E. R., Sexual Interactions, 1995, D. C. Heath and Company, Lexington, MA: p 486.

3 Brick, P., Cooperman, C., Positive Images: A New Approach to Contraceptive Education, 1986, The Center for Family Life Education, Planned Parenthood of Bergen county, Inc. Hackensack, NJ; p 1.