FAQs: Sexuality Education in Schools

Are Sex & Sexuality the Same Thing?


Sex can refer to both:
– biological characteristics (penis, vagina, x & y chromosomes etc) that define humans as female or male. While these sets of biological characteristics are not mutually exclusive, as there are individuals who possess both, they tend to differentiate humans as males and females. (WHO)
– sexual intercourse which may include intercourse involving penetration of the vagina by the penis or intercourse (such as anal or oral intercourse) that does not involve penetration of the vagina by the penis. (Merriam Webster)

Sexuality is a bigger concept. WHO defines it as “a central aspect of being human throughout life (that) encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction.”

“Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.”

Why Teach Sexuality in the Classroom?

  • Teaching sexuality is not just talking about sex. Sexuality education is key in preparing children to be informed, well-rounded, happy and capable individuals.
  • Sexuality education includes empowering the children with information on a broad range of topics including
    – awareness of biological changes in their growing & transforming bodies
    – building and maintaining healthy inter-personal relationships with parents, teachers & friends
    – having a positive self-image
    – developing capability for sound communication & decision making
    – forming the right attitudes & values
    – understanding sexual behavior & feelings
    – comprehending gender roles in society & culture
    – enabling them to safeguard themselves from unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, abuse or exploitation (click here for the sexuality wheel)
  • Even as we may try to deny it, the fact remains that we live in world where sex is everywhere. It is on the internet and in movies, songs, tv shows, newspapers, & magazines. A growing child is bound to be curious. It is time to acknowledge this and act accordingly.
  • Information is the first step towards safety. With increasing exposure to television and internet, children may pick up incomplete or even harmful knowledge around sex & sexuality. As teachers, you are capable of ensuring that the children get the right age appropriate information. Thereby, empowering your students to better understand & protect themselves.
At what Age must Sexuality Education Begin in School?

Sexuality and gender identity typically begin emerging during very young adolescence defined as the period between the ages of 10 and 14. Children must be educated and empowered about these aspects of themselves before they undergo changes and feelings associated with them. Some experts recommend that the basics of sexuality education (calling body parts by biological names, personal space etc) can begin right from kindergarten.

What are the (Age-Appropriate) Topics that need to be Addressed in Sexuality Education?
  • Early elementary school students (6 – 10 years) need to learn the proper names for their body parts, the difference between kinds of touches, the concept of personal space and boundaries along with ways in which they can be a good friend (the foundation for healthy intimate relationships later in life).
  • Fourth- and fifth-graders (10 – 13 years)need information about puberty and their changing bodies, Internet safety, and the harmful impact of bullying.
  • And seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders are ready for information about body image, reproduction, contraception, H.I.V. and disease prevention, communication, and the topic they most want to learn about: healthy relationships.
  • The content of the session can vary depending on the age of the children and the duration of the session. However you must cover the following for kids above 10 years of age:
    – Puberty and Bodily Changes
    – Conception & Contraception
    – Healthy Relationships & Communication
    – Gender Identity
    – Gender Equality
    – Relationships
    – Consent
    – Bullying
    – Protection from Abuse
    – Prevention of unwanted pregnancies, HIV & other STDs
(Source: Tarshi, New York Times)
The Parents of the Students may be Opposed to Teachers talking about Sex & Sexuality with their Children. How should I Overcome this?
It is essential to take the parents of the children into confidence before you start talking sex & sexuality in your classroom. Some parents may welcome this move but others may oppose it and some may just be confused by it.

  • You can take the support of the parents welcoming this move to help the other parents understand the importance of these sessions.
  • You can help parents overcome their fear and confusion by sharing with them the details of the content that you have planned for your session.
  • You can invite the parents to participate in an orientation program in which they sit through your session and can later ask you their doubts and questions. You can incorporate their suggestions and strengthen the content of your program. Involve the supportive parents in facilitating this session.
  • Help the parents understand that sexuality education programs helps improve parent child communication and builds trust among them.
  • It is important to involve parents because the lessons & values that you teach at school must be the same that the child receives at home.
Why should Teaching Sex & Sexuality be a School or Teacher’s responsibility? Shouldn’t Someone External be doing this?

You may involve an external person to conduct the sex and sexuality session in your classroom. However it may create a notion in the minds of the students that the topic is ‘special’ or ‘different’ or ‘hush-hush’ and therefore someone had to be called in to deliver it.

The external person will come in for a day or two and then leave. However in case the child has a query about the topic after they have left, they will be confused as to whom they need to reach out to with it. There are chances that the child may not open up about it.

When you as a teacher deliver the session, you are building trust and confidence in the child to reach out to you in case they have any problems or doubts. Most importantly you are helping to normalize the topic and dispel notions of the issue as ‘hush-hush’ or ‘taboo’.

Sexuality education need not be a ‘special program’. You can try and incorporate the issues into your regular classes and subjects.

What Should I Do If I am Uncomfortable talking about Sex & Sexuality in the Classroom?

It is quite common to feel uncomfortable talking about sex. Each person has their own inhibitions, misconceptions and confusions. However, you can also learn to overcome your anxieties. These are a few options:

  • 1. It is something that can be learnt. You may sign up to get trained by a specialist organisation/individual. (click here for a list of sex educators)
  • 2. Ask another teacher or a supportive parent to help you deliver the session.
Will Sex & Sexuality Sessions encourage Experimentation among Students?
No. Children who are well informed and comfortable in talking about sexuality are the least likely to have intercourse when they are adolescents. Lack of information poses greater risks.
Why Can’t I just tell the Children not to have Sex and Abstain until Marriage?

Abstinence-only sex education is a form of sex education that teaches not having sex outside of marriage. It does not cover information on contraceptives, sexually transmitted infections, masturbation, abortion etc.

Systematic reviews of research evaluating abstinence-only sex education have concluded that it is ineffective at preventing unwanted pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Across the world, programs to promote abstinence have had no meaningful impact. Experts therefore recommend that schools implement comprehensive sexuality education.

Should I separate Boys and Girls while conducting Sexuality Education?

Some aspects of sex education are gender specific and hence gender relevant. Therefore, separate sessions for boys and girls give opportunity to discuss the concerned topics at length, avoid embarrassment while discussing the subject and overcome shyness and anxiety while listening and enable them to share their doubts and views openly.

The general topics of sexuality and health could be discussed in a male-female mixed group, while specific issues related to different sexes should be discussed separately in the respective groups. The advantages of combined sessions are saving of time and repetition, fostering healthy interpersonal relationship between boys and girls, developing mutual respect and reducing inhibitions and anxiety about the subject in the presence of the opposite sex.

Also, some experts maintain that girls and boys may feel more comfortable if the resource person is of the same sex as theirs.

(source:Sex Education to Adolescents By Dr. Vithal Prabhu)

What if the Session results in Children asking Uncomfortable Questions to me or their Parents?

Parents/teachers should not be panic stricken or shocked if the child asks questions or indulges in exploration. Curiosity is normal. Such situation should be handled without rebuke, punishment or creating guilt feelings.

If you do not have the right answer handy, tell the child that you will search for it and let them know in due course.

This is not a Problem in our School yet. Do We still Need to Conduct The Sessions?

Increasingly, there is a rash of reports in the media about children being involved in unsafe sexual behavior or victims of sexual abuse while being at schools. When these situations crop up, the schools realize that are not equipped to deal with the scenarios. Instead of waiting for an issue to occur, taking positive, enabling and preventive steps will be beneficial to your school in the long run.

How You Can Handle Sexuality Related Questions in Class

  • Equip yourself: as a teacher you may want to prepare and train yourself to handle sexuality-related questions in the classroom.
  • Keep Calm: If a student asks an unexpected question about sexuality, do not act shocked or surprised it may make them feel judged and could put them off. You’d lose an opportunity to talk about sexuality.
  • Assess your own abilities: Only give an answer if you know that the information is accurate, Else, let the student know you will get back after checking.
  • Stay true to your word: Inform the student what you can and can’t-do at the beginning If you offer to provide a resource help the student to find it.
  • Keep relevant resources handy: Have a list of website helpline numbers, books or contacts of experts in the field who you can refer young people to.
  • Follow-up: After a while check how the student is doing with respect to the sexuality concern shared with you. Be supportive, not intrusive

(source: Feminism in India)