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.