Proper education on sex is essential in promoting healthy living both mentally and physically. Teaching sex education can be difficult if you don’t know where to start, how to approach it, or even what to teach. Luckily, there are many ways in which you can teach sex education to young children, teens, and even some adults.
How to understand sex education programs Familiarize yourself with your local sex education requirements. Every school, state, province, or country will have its own set of requirements on how sex education can be taught. In most cases, if you are a professional educator, you will most likely be required to follow a certain curriculum provided for you. For example:
- In the United States, the U.S, Department of Health & Human Service identifies 28 evidence-based curriculums that are eligible to be taught.Your school or program may provide you materials and information from these curriculums.
- The Public Health Agency of Canada provides Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education. It is a guide that provides specific curricula and teaching strategies to teach sex education. Canadian sex education teaches key concepts like health, health promotion, health education, sexuality, sexual health, and sexual rights.
- In the United Kingdom, sex education is compulsory after age 11, and focuses on teaching children about reproduction, sexuality, and sexual health.Sex and relationship education (SRE) is part of the national curriculum and is based on the Personal, Social, and Health Education (PSHE) framework of knowledge.Guidelines can be found on the UK government website.
Make sure that teaching sex education is possible in your situation. In some countries, cultures, religions, and schools, sex education for children is not compulsory or mandatory. In these situations, teaching sex education to children can be difficult for many reasons. For example, sex education might not be welcomed and you may run into roadblocks before you are allowed to teach it. Before teaching sex education, you may have to:
- Speak to local officials about implementing sex education in your area. This might mean speaking to schools, your community, or members of your government.
- Prepare resources and evidence that sex education is needed.
- Join an organization or group that advocates for the implementation of sex education for the community.
- Plan your own sex education curriculum. You may be able to teach sex education but there are little resources available to you that provide tested and reputable sex education programs that can be taught in your area. In these cases, you may need to do extensive research, talk to sexual health professionals, and collaborate with institutions to come up with an effective sex education program.
Understand the different approaches to sex education. In North America, most curriculums advocate the need for comprehensive sexual health education, where multiple topics are discussed and taught extensively. Issues taught include contraception, gender, sexuality, abstinence, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, and much more. Comprehensive sex education is correlated with lower rates of teen pregnancies, and slightly lower rates of teens reporting having vaginal sex.Some other approaches include:
- Family life education: This program places emphasis on preparing children for family life and reproduction.
- Population education: This program focuses on the sociological, environmental and economic consequences of population growth.
- Medical/disease education: This program emphasizes on avoiding disease and provides medical information about sexual health.
- Fear-based approach: This program emphasizes the risks of sexually transmitted infections, diseases, and HIV.
- Abstinence-based education: This programs focuses on abstinence from sex a way to avoid pregnancy and does not provide much coverage on how to use contraceptives, how to have safe sex, and how STIs/HIV work. Research shows that it is not effective at preventing sex or teen pregnancies,and areas with abstinence-based education have higher teen birth rates.
- Sexuality education: This approach places more emphasis on the individual, sexual activity, sexology, biology and behaviour. It presents sexuality as a key part of life and includes the message that sexuality and sex can be pleasurable.
- Reach out to other educators who have already implemented or taught sex education. Ask them what was effective, what didn’t work, and how they approached sex education with their learners.
- You may need to establish your own curriculum if you are teaching groups that need special attention, such as learners who have mental disabilities, LGBTQ+ learners, or if you are teaching in a community with specific beliefs and religious views.
Educate yourself on sex and sexual health. To better prepare yourself to answer any questions a learner might ask, it’s important you understand the material you will be teaching. You can go online, to your local library, or bookstore to find information about sex, sexual health, and sexuality. There are also many organizations that provide courses and materials to help educators teach sex education.
- Sex education is more than just teaching about sexual behaviours. This means you should also educate yourself on issues such as abstinence, body image, gender, sexuality, sexual development, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual health, and sexual pleasure.
- Use established, evaluated sex education sources and curriculums to aid in your research. There are many myths and misconceptions that surround sex education and sex in general. Knowing what the truth is and having accurate information about sex education can help you teach better and prevent you from relaying inaccurate or negative information to your learners.
- Educating yourself about sex can help increase your comfort level with talking about sex or certain topics related to it to others.
Understand who you are educating. Age is an important factor that will shape how you educate sex to your learners. Some parents, guardians, and educators will be uncomfortable with sex being taught to children as young as kindergarten. But using age-appropriate information to teach sex education can help ease worries and discomforts about teaching such a sensitive topic like sex.
- Different issues or topics will be taught depending on a learner’s age. Established curriculums will have versions that are tailored to the age of the learner.
- Knowing the stage of sexual development of your learners will aid you in answering questions and help you provide age-appropriate information and resources for your learners. This way, you can avoid situations where you overstep boundaries or teach beyond what is appropriate to your learners.
Determine what your goals are when teaching sex education. Defining your goals or what you would like your learners to achieve after you teach is a helpful way to organize and teach your lessons. In general, most sex educators strive for these goals:
- To reduce negative outcomes from sexual behaviours, such as unwanted or unplanned pregnancies and infection from sexually transmitted diseases.
- To provide appropriate knowledge and skills for learners to make healthy decisions about their sex life and future.
- To build self-confidence in learners.
- To help learners develop positive relationships and experiences with their sexuality.
- To provide medically accurate information about concepts like abstinence, contraception, and other health concerns.
- To respect community, social, and individual values and beliefs regarding sex.
Provide a safe environment when talking about sex. If you are a teacher or someone who works for the community or a sexual health organization, you will most likely be teaching in a classroom setting. Whether you’re a teacher, parent, guardian, or a friend, it’s important you set up a safe environment to talk about sex. A safe environment:
- Allows learners to feel positive and confident as they learn and ask questions.
- Is free of negative judgments.
- Discourages censorship and instead, promotes an open and honest environment.
- Can be in a classroom, at a community centre, or at home.