Exploring your sexual worldview through values exploration

As sexuality educators, understanding where people are coming from is an essential part of being able to teach them about our topics. It lays the foundation about where we start, how we teach and how to check in with our students/participants to see what and how they learn. Since sexuality can be a sensitive topic for students and participants, it’s important as the educator to assume that everyone is coming from a unique place and that it can be helpful to facilitate activities that allow people to hone in on their personal stories and establish their values.

Koltko-Rivera wrote extensively about a concept titled “worldview” (here’s a great summary) and examined literature from many different focus areas about the complexities of such a topic. He defines worldview as:

A worldview is a way of describing the universe and life within it, both in terms of what is and what ought to be. A given worldview is a set of beliefs that includes limiting statements and assumptions regarding what exists and what does not (either in actuality, or in principle), what objects or experiences are good or bad, and what objectives, behaviors, and relationships are desirable or undesirable. A worldview defines what can be known or done in the world, and how it can be known or done. In addition to defining what goals can be sought in life, a worldview defines what goals should be pursued. Worldviews include assumptions that may be unproven, and even unprovable, but these assumptions are superordinate, in that they provide the epistemic and ontological foundations for other beliefs within a belief system.

A person’s worldview about their sexuality comes from a variety of places: family, religion, peers, life experiences, and media. Koltko-Rivera stated that a person’s worldview defines what goals “can be sought in life” as well as what goals “should be pursued.” Sitron has been studying sexological worldview since 2008.  From a sexuality perspective, this can be applied to a coming out process, or an expansion of behaviors to an already established sexual life. It could also refer to the direction in which the person is going, and that goal may look something like, “to eventually let go of my ideas about shame and masturbation.” The person’s worldview may contain mixed messages, and we as educators, may be a part in the journey where the person explores messages with information and decision-making after ingesting the information we provide.

So how do we do this? Depending on the population (and the restrictions within that population, if any), doing values assessment can look different. If you’re doing a workshop between teens and their parents a values assessment like this one can be helpful. This activity not only allows the teen to think about when it’s okay to engage in certain activities, it allows them to compare their answers to the expectations of their parents (which may affect their decision to engage or abstain from the activity). If your population is in their early 20’s something like this could address the intersection of life events and sexuality as well as the feelings associated with those decisions.

Both of these assessments can start conversations both internally and in the classroom about sexual decision making, where these values come from, and overall worldview in the realm of a person’s sexuality. It’s important to acknowledge the feelings that come up from doing these activities, as those are important in developing future decisions. With reference to teens, it’s important to address specific issues in working with teens, such as parental consent to discuss matters of sexuality, which varies by state and you can find at http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx.

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11 responses to “Exploring your sexual worldview through values exploration

  1. I think this generally a really great post, but I’d like to hear more about why values clarification and understanding client/student backgrounds is more important with sexuality education than with other topics. You say that people are sensitive about sexuality and that’s true,

    Is it that sexuality is often viewed and presented very negatively in our culture? Certainly true, but race and sexual orientation are also frequently presented negatively. Is it that sexuality is so personal that everyone has a unique worldview? Well, if that’s true sexual educators are doomed and I think we can agree that certain messages, beliefs and outlooks are widespread. Is it that sex is innate to a person’s self-identity? Yes, but it it more innate than race and gender, both of which are part of our lives before sex (and,sometimes, after)?

    So I agree with you that we have to be especially careful to meet people where they are when we teach about sexuality and sex. I’m just trying to think about why this is different than other areas.

  2. Annalisa-
    Thanks for your reply… With regards to your comment about people being sensitive to sexuality, I think that people are sensitive because it can be a very personal experience that evokes both extreme positives and negatives. My thinking is to have the people you work with evaluate where they’re coming from when exposed to certain materials and how those views can change (or not) after exposure. I think, to some degree, that a person’s sexuality is innate to their identity and that that fluctuates throughout the lifespan. I think that that fluctuation is due to other factors and that we are generally intersectionalized beings with different priorities at different times.

  3. I have to agree with you both. While sexuality is a part of a person’s identity, thereby making it an extremely sensitive issue, so are other sensitive topics such as race, which means that we have to apply what Khara said here to a range of topics when dealing with pieces or aspects of people’s identity. Additionally, a sexual worldview will be affected by these other topics as certainly race and gender will shape someone’s view of sexuality. So, none of these topics can be taught or evaluated in a vacuum.

  4. I’ve heard some dictators say that ‘understanding that everyone comes from a unique place and allowing them to establish their personal values’ is a concept that is easier said than done. The eager educator in me wants to give every participant the stage/opportunity to do so. But sometimes it’s as simple as creating a safe space where participants are exposed to a worldview framework but choose to process in a way that is comfortable to them

    • Jesse, I totally wish dictators would say that. It would make dictatorial government structures much more appealing.

      So, I definitely agree with you that sometimes the best we can do is provide a safe space for conversations to happen. I also feel like I, with my white lady social work taint, would not necessarily be able to just sit back and have the conversations happen organically. Another skill educators need to have is the ability to be sneaky puppet-masters (Heh, Schroeder) so we can gently test the waters and facilitate those deeper conversations.

  5. What a wonderful inadvertent point!
    When does an educator become a dictator? A timeless question.
    Yes, perhaps this is a good reminder that if our worldviews become calcified, we may chastise our students instead of tipping them off to helpful information they may further investigate on their own, at their own pace. So I agree with you, commenter jandre9818, creating a safe space is more effective than cramming in extensive amounts of information delivered with dictator-like severity!
    A worldview that prioritizes the comfort of students over the comprehensiveness of material covered is a worldview I can get behind.

  6. Yes, I totally agree with this post. Values examination would be fantastic from this perspective. However, I would have loved to see this played out in some examples. I am about 80% on board. the illustration of these ideas would have helped me get the rest of the way there. But my own lagging comprehension aside, this is a very good synthesis.

  7. Values are immerse in our daily and sexual lives so we cannot forget them when planning a lesson. Values are like a the glasses we use to see life. I agree that we need to assess our values in order to create more effective curriculum. Thanks for the post.

  8. Another great activity to lead to a deeper discussion about sexuality within the context of one’s worldview is the exploration of one’s sexual philosophy. I have college students write their sexual philosophy during the first week of class because often times they are not even sure what that means. We then discuss the activity as a way to begin to discuss their worldviews in relation to their sexual philosophy. This approach allows student to move from a micro exploration to a macro discussion.

  9. I am exploring how to incorporate worldview with uncovering unconscious cultural beliefs – I think they definitely relate and inform each other. I’ve read the Koltko-Rivera article but need to read it again because it is very dense. This blog was a great re-introduction to the concept as well as an easily tangible presentation of a hefty topic. That said, I think there needs to be more expansion on the steps one might take in assessing one’s worldview. For instance, the author goes into detail about what some of the benefits to assessment could be, but not what some of the burdens could be. There are different stages to exploring worldviews, and one might not be receptive to the information that could arise. There could be a sort of “tissue rejection” causing people to get defensive, even self-righteous when thinking not only about what they know about themselves, but also how they know it. This is especially true when dealing with marginalized populations, people with histories of trauma, and others. A great follow up to this post would be a case example of assessment around one topic. I vote for the application to coming out since, with regard to sexuality, there are a number of things people could come out about – from sexual orientation to identity to behavior. Looking forward to reading more!

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