Relationship Curriculum for Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Heart divided into five pieces that represent health relationships - concern, commitment, trustworthiness, mutual respect, care

In a recent editorial published by the Delaware County Times, a murder case that occurred on May 25, 2013 was discussed. Julianne Siller, a senior at Spring-Ford Area High School, Royersford, PA was murdered on a park trail with Tristan Stahley, a “friend” and graduate of Perkiomen Valley High School, Collegeville, PA. Were these two teenagers boyfriend and girlfriend? No they were not, but according to court records the two were dating. Even though they were not dating, dating violence is serious and perhaps a comprehensive sexuality education program should teach teenagers (teens) about dating violence and healthy relationships.

What is Dating Violence?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014), dating violence is defined as the physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence as well as stalking that can occur within a dating relationship. A few examples of teen dating violence are:

  • Relationship abuse
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Relationship violence
  • Dating abuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • Domestic violence

What are the aspects of a healthy relationship?

Two cartoon individuals with their arms around each other in front of a heartAccording to Love is Respect, the key element to a healthy relationship is communication. Suggestions for creating and maintaining a healthy relationship include:

  • Speaking up
  • Respecting your partner
  • Compromising
  • Supporting
  • Respecting each other’s privacy

According to Nemours, a healthy relationship consists of respect for one another, trust, honesty, support, fairness, separate identities, and good communication. In an unhealthy relationship, one of the individuals gets angry when his or her partner does not focus all attention on them as well as criticizes their partner, keeps him or her from seeing friends or from talking to any other males or females, and wants them to quit an extracurricular activity that they enjoy. They also might raise a hand when angry, physically abuse their partner, and/or try to force their partner into going further sexually. A healthy relationship curriculum can help students understand the aspects of a healthy relationship as well as give them.

Why Teach Teens About Healthy Relationships?

Not all teenagers are involved in romantic relationships, but many of them have friends whom they socialize with on a regular basis. With so many teenagers being bullied via social media and text message, and relationships being subjected to violence, it is important for teens to understand that having positive relationships with friends can yield positive outcomes. Many teens do not know what a healthy relationship should look like.

Black paint splotch with multi-colored text on it that says

What Does a Healthy Relationship Curriculum Look Like?

Peace Over Violence has implemented In Touch With Teens Violence Prevention, a curriculum for junior high and high schools and other community based youth organizations. The curriculum has eight units, which cover the following aspects of relationship violence:

  • Roots of Violence: Global & Local
  • Roots of Violence: Power & Control
  • Relationship Violence
  • Cycle of Violence
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Issues of Sexual Assault & Coercive Control
  • Media Impact on Gender & Violence
  • Building Blocks of a Healthy Relationship

Another curriculum available to educators is Love is not Abuse. Unlike the curriculum by In Touch With Teens, this curriculum is in three lessons of 45 minutes each and discusses the following:

  • Dating abuse
  • Power and abuse
  • Digital dating abuse

The curriculum by In Touch With Teens Violence Prevention is a good curriculum in that it provides teens with an overview of the various forms of violence as well as how to build a healthy relationship. The benefit of a healthy relationship curriculum is that it can be taught at any age and students can apply the information to any type of relationship regardless of whether it is a romantic relationship or a friendship.

There is not one curriculum available for healthy relationships. However, it is important for us current and future educators to consider creating a healthy relationships curriculum to include with comprehensive sexuality education.

13 responses to “Relationship Curriculum for Comprehensive Sexuality Education

  1. I’m confused…your post says ” Were these two teenagers boyfriend and girlfriend? No they were not, but according to court records the two were dating. Even though they were not dating, dating violence is serious and perhaps a comprehensive sexuality education program should teach teenagers (teens) about dating violence and healthy relationships.”
    Were they dating or not dating?
    I agree that dating violence is an important topic, but the intro to this post does not make sense.
    Also, I think that a sex-positive educator may want to avoid using “scare tactics” as the rationale for education.

  2. Hilary,
    I was stating what the article said. To their families, they apparently were not in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship but the court felt they were. Sorry to have confused you.
    Krissy

  3. I do agree with you that students should be taught what a healthy relationship. I feel this curriculum would be stronger and have a better impact if parent were involved. Many people use their parent’s relationship as a guide for their relationship and that can be the problem why students are involved in unhealthy relationships.
    I do agree that education teens on violence is very helpful and needed. Teaching respect and demanding respect is something that is taught at home and from parents. By the time students are able to reach this class and learn the curriculum, they have already experience some form of a relationship and I feel it may be to late for teaching students about healthy relationships.

    • All of what you said made sense. Like any curriculum, this does have its cons and you presented them. I worked with adolescents in the past as a teacher and many of them were from abusive homes so of course they saw it as the “norm.” I just looked at this as a topic that sexuality education could cover and I understand that it won’t change everybody.

  4. I would agree that teaching about healthy relationships needs to be a critical component of comprehensive sexuality education especially for teens. However, I do struggle with the structure of many of the current healthy relationship curriculums that exist. While most appear to do an excellent job in informing participants about the signs and/or characteristics of a healthy and/or unhealthy relationship, I believe that many fail to address value construction. Meaning, few curriculums ( at least in my experience) discuss the individual construction of personal values surrounding relationships. For teens in particular, it seems that much of the curriculum is geared toward rogue fact memorization ( i.e- a healthy relationships looks like x,y,z and an unhealthy relationship looks like a,b,c) instead of trying to encourage individual value construction. I think teens need to have the skill to cultivate their own values surrounding relationships. They need to be able to assess their current relationships and recognize both healthy and unhealthy characteristics. Memorization alone only gives teens facts, but does not allow them to frame said facts within the context of their lives. By not reinforcing individual value construction, we (educators) essentially reinforce a ” blind spot”, where teens cannot conceptualize how their relationships are potentially problematic or productive. This is a very interesting topic, thanks for posting Krissy

  5. I agree that teens need to be taught about healthy relationships, along wit that should be lessons about self-esteem and confidence. Sex education seems to be about sex, STIs, HIV/AIDS, pregnancy prevention, & abstinence. I have been thinking about ways to incorporate healthy relationships into my lessons. I like the lesson plans that you included. Some teens want to be in a relationship so bad that they will withstand violence to stay with that person. We as educators need to equip them with the tools need to become sexually healthy adults and maintain healthy, safe relationships; where they are loved and respected and able to reciprocate.

    • It was difficult for me to find examples of curriculums for healthy relationships because there is not much info available. I do agree that we need to someone incorporate healthy relationships with other topics in sexuality education.

  6. I absolutely love this. I want to be a comprehensive-sexuality educator and I had not even considered connecting the sexuality part to just friendly relationships. That is such a great idea. Students need to know how to respect themselves in all aspects of life and I think this is a great time to show that to them. I like the idea of showing qualities of good relationships and not-so-good relationships and letting them figure out what might need to be adjusted to make the best situation for everyone involved.

    We spend so much time focusing on domestic and dating abuse, but I think it is important that we show where that can stem from, aka friendships and social interactions. Nicely done!

  7. I always have mixed feelings around teaching about dating violence. What makes it complicated is that when kids are in high school, a big portion of your audience will be desperately looking for a relationship and of the small group that are “officially” coupled, few would be considered abusive. As Lorin mentioned, having students recognize fact memorization when it comes to something as emotionally charged, there will be a big disconnect in learning and in practice.

    If schools focused on self-esteem and respect from an early age, then worked up to peer pressure and social expectations, then lessons on abusive relationships would naturally arise but not necessarily be the focus. Overall, students should be able to talk about healthy vs unhealthy relationships but I see that as one element of overall sexual and intimate health.

  8. This was an interesting read and it’s a very important topic. I think something that needs to be considered is not only the phenomenon of teen dating violence, but also the nature in which it occurs. There is an entire month dedicated to teen dating violence awareness and prevention for a reason, but in my experience teaching high school youth, they all roll their eyes and repeat the same narratives about violence in relationships. Don’t hit. Don’t call people names. Respect. Communicate. But then the bell rings and they’re swinging at each other and using curse words. One youth texted me asking why we don’t talk about bullying in relationships. The answer? We do, but we call it “dating violence.” All too often curricula are developed with the youth in mind, but it’s really key to find out what language they are using to talk about what’s going on in their lives. Then, and only then, can we develop curricula and interventions that will be implemented in ways to improve safety and health.

  9. Thank you for bringing awareness to the idea that comprehensive sexuality education needs to acknowledge the ever-important social aspect of a developing teens life. As we have discussed, adolescents are battling with the “group identity vs. alienation” psychosocial crisis, in which they live to “fit in”. Thus, we can teach adolescents how to put a condom on 1,000 times, but whether or not they will use it when the time comes, is heavily influenced by their partner and the social messages from their peers.

    Without trying to sound like a sales rep for them (I reference these two a lot), but both the Dibble Institute (https://www.dibbleinstitute.org) and Dr. Michael Carrera have developed curriculum that hone in on this. Dr. Carrera’s holistic approach to empowering “at-promise” (at-risk) youth is based on the idea of developing the youth as a “whole person.” The curriculum addresses adolescent behavior within larger contexts, seeking to expand their world (by incorporating sports, employment and academic education, etc. into the program) to encourage a mindset that considers overall health, instead of solely sexual health. The Dibble Institute incorporates sex education into their “Relationship Curriculum.”

  10. I really enjoyed this article. I think teaching about healthy relationships around junior high and high school would be very helpful. It would have been very helpful for me when I was younger to know some signs of healthy dating relationship when I was a teen. I’ve had speakers come to my school and talk about dating violence but I never thought of myself as a victim. So I agree with Jaymie, that the curricula that is out there isn’t really using the language that the youth are using.
    I do think “Relationship Curriculum” could be very useful as long as we are using effective language and we are researching our audience, but I think you should also be prepared for the content not permeating the group all the way.

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