Date: August 17th, 2016
By: Valerie Sedivy
My work to promote Exemplary Sexual Health Education on a project with the Centers for Disease Control Division of Adolescent School Health (CDC DASH) puts me in close touch with school districts and staff who provide sexual health education. When I tell them about Healthy Teen Network and the Youth 360° approach we promote, I sometimes hear them say “That sounds great—but what does that have to do with teaching about sexual health?”
I tell them that using a Youth 360° lens means recognizing how a student’s identity, experiences, resources, and beliefs can affect how they engage with your sexual health lessons, and ultimately what they take away from them.
Here are just a few examples of ways you can put this into practice:
- Use a trauma-informed approach when teaching about sexual health. Learn to recognize symptoms of trauma such as disruptive behavior, and respond with sensitivity rather than harsh discipline. Make sure your group agreements include a right to pass. Remind students (and yourself) that not everyone who has had sex has done so with consent. Look ahead in the curriculum to identify activities or assignments that might be especially challenging for students who have experienced trauma (such as role plays), and have alternative assignments available.
- Recognize that some students who want sexual health services don’t know how to get them or don’t think they have the resources to get them. Include assignments that help students learn about sexual health services in their area, and talk about typical costs and what’s involved in getting these services. Have them research ways to get there and when services are available. Make sure you know how your school helps connect students with services if they need them. Take a look at what your school can do to break down barriers to sexual health services. Can your school help students get to a clinic? Does the school provide condoms? Can a student access a service during school hours?
- Learn about ways you can make sure your classroom and sexual health lessons are inclusive of all gender identities or sexual orientations. At a minimum, make sure your lessons use gender-neutral language, and look for opportunities to dispel common gender-related myths (e.g., boys are sexual aggressors).
How else would you use a Youth 360° approach to teach sexual health in school? Please share your ideas in the comments!
About the Author
Valerie Sedivy, Ph.D., Healthy Teen Network Senior Program Manager, has over 25 years of experience in the sexual health field and currently supports professionals to provide programs and services that empower youth to thrive. Her experience in multiple roles including program provider, researcher, evaluator, capacity-building assistance provider, resource developer and project manager has instilled a passion for translating research into practical messages and tools for field staff.