However good the intentions, sex education can fail at being inclusive of all realities, bodies and identities.
A good way to learn and to get better at what we are doing is to LISTEN to those who are on the receiving end of sexuality education, and to understand how our content and delivery may affect them.
The following content about sex-ed fails and how sex educators can do better is inspired from “Here’s Your Anatomy…Good Luck”: Transgender Individuals in Cisnormative Sex Education” by Steven Hobaica, Kyle Schofield & Paul Kwon, published in the American Journal of Sexuality Education in 2019. This paper explores how trans individuals experience cisnormative sex education, describes the possible consequences of these experiences, and proposes suggestions for improvement in sex education curricula.
Here are tidbits about some of the things we should pay attention to when teaching sexuality education. Because WE CAN DO BETTER!
Puberty happens in a lot of forms and configurations. When sex education stops at “boys get erection” and “girls get periods”, it’s failing to give information about bodies, body changes, body image, gender/sex spectrum, gender dysphoria, etc. Puberty is a sensitive time for everyone, with bodies transforming in ways that can be long awaited, long dreaded or just unexpected. Sexuality educators should address those changes and their possible impacts for cis, trans, non binary and intersex youth to help them navigate this very special period.
Oh boy! Do we love it when things fit precisely into boxes? …Well, nothing wrong with it if you are talking about cupboard organization! But when talking about sex and genitalia, there is no such thing as “tick this box” or “tick this other box”. Sex and gender exist on a spectrum and the variety of it should be celebrated. You have the intact ones, the circumcised ones, the bended ones, the ones that have given birth vaginally, the ones that have been mutilated, the ones that are slowly transformed by hormonal supplementation, the ones that have been reshaped and redesigned, the ones that refuses to submit to any classification…Don’t miss a chance to talk about all those possibilities as you can be sure that some of the youth you encounter don’t fit in the narrowly defined sexual typology, and everyone needs to learn about this wonderful diversity so the world can become more welcoming to all.
SHAME AND TABOO
Sexuality education can happen in lot of ways, and be delivered by many people, ranging from family, teachers, sex educators, nurses, etc. Whatever the setting, this is not a place for educators to convey shame and embarrassment. Bodies, desires and sexual expressions are things that accompany every human from craddle to grave, and they take many forms and configurations. There is nothing to be embarrassed about!
If for some reason one is not comfortable with inclusive sex education content, they should call on people who are, so youth can be provided with accurate, positive content.
Sex happens in a lot of forms and configurations. When sex education stops at “penis in vagina” sex, it’s failing to give information about other activities like masturbation, fondling, kissing, fingering, oral and anal sex, etc. It’s failing to provide youth with information about different forms of pleasurable, consensual and safer sex.
Representation matters. Being silent about some gender identities or sexual orientations, or only presenting them in a negative light fails to provide youth with options that could help them navigate self-discovery.
No one exists in a void. We all need to have images of what we could become, to have role model who look like us to inspire us, to be able to dream about our future. How can that happen when there is no representation of our reality or identity, that no one even speaks about it positively or even name it. Representation matters.
There are many reasons why folks decide to engage in sexual/sensual activities, depending on context. But it should be mandatory for sex educators to mention at least one of them, which is PLEASURE. Not only the absence of pain and discomfort, but just pure, unalterated joy and fun. For everyone involved, whatever their bodies and body-parts. Because…just because it’s what consensual intimacy should feel like.
Sometimes it may seems like a good idea to separate the class by gender or dis/ability during sex-ed to provide youth with spaces which feels more safe, more adapted to their needs. But what may seem like a good idea from an educator point of view is definitely not welcomed by youth as no one wants to feel singled out during this type of activity and most people are interested in learning about anatomies and realities other than their own. Oh, and not to forget that gender binary is not a thing.