How to Teach Sex Ed

One of the most important things to do as an educator is to ensure that students are given factual information in a straightforward and honest manner. They need an opportunity to engage with the information, enabling them to make the best decision for themselves. The Teacher’s Toolkit is an online resource created for teachers in order to familiarise themselves with teaching communication, relationships and sexual health issues in the classroom in order to empower educators and student decision making.

Educators should first familiarise themselves with sexual health issues and the factual information and resources so that they are at ease with and prepared for the subject:

  • examine your own values, attitudes and beliefs with regard to sexuality
  • invite representatives from different organisations in your community to present some of the issues that you find difficult
  • discuss successful and unsuccessful activities and actions with other educators

The Role of Educators is to:

  • stimulate and encourage youth to verbalise their thoughts, questions, fears and concerns about sexual health
  • create a safe environment where students feel comfortable expressing their opinions and sharing information without feeling that they will be judged or discriminated against
  • guide youth toward appropriate resources to gain a greater awareness of the risks associated with certain activities, while at the same time not using scare tactics
  • begin to assess the needs of the students in your school

Language Use

For both teachers and students, the language of sexuality, sex and sexual identity shapes our understanding of these issues. Special attention should be placed on the vocabulary used when speaking with young people. Keeping in mind the probable sexual diversity within the class, it is important not to use language that may exclude or alienate students. For example, the terms “partner” should be used instead of boyfriend or girlfriend.

For more on using inclusive language in the classroom, see SextEd’s Inclusive Sex Ed Language Presentation.

Part of meeting students at their level means reflecting the language used by youth: while there is no need to reflect vulgarities, technical or clinical language can also be alienating. Notably, differences in sexual language use (eg. “inappropriate” language) is not always meant to be harmful, but often reflects a student’s understanding and relationship to sexuality, sex and sexual identity.

Establishing ‘Safe Spaces’

‘Safe spaces’ is a term used to indicate a place where people feel comfortable to speak and listen openly and safely about what’s on one’s mind. Though sexual health issues can cause discomfort for both the educator and the students, youth should be encouraged to create spaces that are open with the assurance that their peers and adults will be respectful of their values, concerns, feelings and opinions. The following are suggestions of ground rules that can be used to create safe spaces:

  • Respect and Non-Judgmental Approaches: Giving undivided attention to the person who has the floor (permission to speak) and being able to disagree with each others’ points without attacking or putting anyone down.
  • Confidentiality: What is shared in the group remains in the group.
  • Openness: It’s best to discuss things in an open and honest way without disclosing others’ personal or private issues. It’s okay to discuss situations, but we won’t use names or other identifying terms. For example, instead of saying, “My older brother….” we can say, “I know someone who…”
  • Right to Pass: Reassure students that it’s always okay to pass if they don’t feel comfortable answering or participating at certain times.
  • Sensitivity to Diversity: Be careful about making insensitive or careless remarks; people in the group may differ in cultural background, sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
  • Anonymity: We encourage teachers to have a question box so that students may to ask questions anonymously that they don’t want to ask in front of the class.

Remember, it’s okay to have a good time! It’s also okay to feel uncomfortable when talking about sensitive and personal topics such as sexuality. Creating a safe space is about coming together as a class, being mutually supportive and enjoying each other’s input and qualities.

Educational Strategies and Approaches to Teaching Sex Ed in the Classroom

While there is no one way to incorporate sex ed into the classroom, the following are a few suggestions on how to start:

  • Provide visibility for issues like HIV/AIDS, STIs, relationships, and sexual diversity in student reading material
  • Organise meetings with guest speakers to give first person accounts
  • Set up informational kiosks or sexual health fairs
  • Organise activities on sexual health issues (e.g. sexual health workshops, movie and discussions, student organised forums and plays)