The way we learn about sex and relationships can have an impact and play in a part in our lives as we develop our own relationships as adults. We should be using sex education as a platform to learn more about sexual and gender identities, as well as safe sex practices, sexual health and consent. But what I’ve often found is a lack of diversity and intersectionality within the sex education space. This conversation feels even more prominent with the ongoing Black Lives Matter campaigns and J.K. Rowling’s recent transphobic comments. Sex education is key for young people, so how can we ensure it is relevant and educational for all, no matter what your race or identity? How can we promote inclusive sex education?
Delivering sex education through an intersectional and diverse perspective recognises the complex identities of those we are trying to educate. We’re honouring the ways that different parts of our identities – cultural heritage, ethnicity, race, religious beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, politics, socioeconomic status, education level etc – make us who we are, and recognising how these factors influence our decision making and experiences with regard to sex and relationships.
To continue to promote inclusive sex education, we need to constantly assess the ways we are teaching young people about sex and relationships and ensure that everyone can feel like they are part of the conversation. This means educating on a variety of different family structures, on differing religious beliefs with regards to sex, including a variety of bodies of all genders, colours, shapes and sizes in our sex education to raise a generation that is informed and has a sex positive approach.
Here are a couple of practices that I have read up on that can make sex education more inclusive:
Use diverse and inclusive sex education resources
It’s a bit of a given, but using diverse resources can be really helpful to not only help those in the room see themselves in these scenarios, but also to educate others on a broader range of gender identities and sexualities. You can also try to include resources created by women, people of colour and minority groups, trans people, and non-academic grassroots sources. Some good examples include Ericka Hart, Jimanekia Eborn, Calum McSwiggan and Kenny Ethan Jones.
Get on the same level as those you are trying to educate
This essentially means speaking in the same language as those you are trying to educate. Sex and relationship education is often more well received when given in an informal tone, rather than a more formal style. Use scientifically accurate vocabulary, yes, but also remember to use words that are more accessible and relatable, and relate personally to who you are speaking to. Depending on the setting, it can be useful to start discussions where you share lived experiences, and craft learning around conversations rather than lectures. Think about how easy it is to talk about sex and relationships with your friends – this is the open dialogue we should be aiming for with inclusive sex education.
Be aware of who is in the room
It’s important for young people to learn that others may have differing opinions. Allowing that open discussion is really important and it will not only educate those involved, but the whole group. Create a intersectional space that is safe for everyone by allowing the conversations to happen under guidance, whereby you can lead the discussion with everyone still sharing their view. Obviously any negative comments should be addressed, but even this is an opportunity to educate that individual on any bias or misunderstanding that they may have.
Address diverse family structures
It’s just as it’s important to make note of single parent homes and adoption as it is the classic two parent family. It’s also crucial that sex education doesn’t assume a cis, hetero, two-person, married household when talking to young people about what makes a family or a valid partnership. These conversations should be age appropriate, but think about ways in which you can discuss things such as open relationships, polyamory etc.
Teach gender expressions and sexual identities
Again, a bit of an obvious one but don’t shy away from teaching young people about the wide range of gender and sexual identities. Whether you identify as gender fluid, masculine-of-center, butch, femme, or whatever, young people should be taught that gender expression is a separate identity from their sexual orientation, and why it is important.
This ties in to being inclusive of sexual orientation and include LGBT+ education. It’s really important that young people understand sexual orientation not in terms of gay and straight but in terms of a continuum. “Bi-erasure” happens too often, and for young people questioning their sexuality, learning that there are viable options beyond the binary can be life-changing. Teaching safe sex practices for LGBT+ relationships is also a must.
What are your experiences of inclusive sex education? Do you recall being taught about LGBT+ or trans issues, or being introduced to different relationships styles? I’d be really interested to hear your experiences in the comments!
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