Existentialism

Existential-mirrorExistentialism is a philosophy that stresses perception and subjectivity over universal absolutes. Learning begins with the “human subject” and hence is student-centered. In terms of sexuality education, students should be apprehended as individuals working from their own life experience/cultural messages, etc. The ideas of choice, freedom and individual needs are major parts of existentialism, as well as ideas of ephemerality since humans are in constant flux; thus peoples’ realities are transitory.  Beliefs can be changed and constructed  by attending to a particular learner, rather than adhering strictly to any agenda or lesson.

In a classroom setting, a teacher gives students opportunities to form their own ideas, beliefs, and values. The teacher is responsible for assisting with individual growth. One example of existentialism in human sexuality education is the Sexuality Attitude Reassessment (SAR). The SAR allows students to reassess their attitudes, beliefs, and values about particular topics in human sexuality. There is a large focus on the individual’s thoughts and feelings.

Strengths of utilizing this philosophy to teach sexuality are that we, as individuals, would like to be appreciated! This philosophy trumpets the context (general self-esteem, a sense of where one’s values lie) over content (specific lesson plans, external mandates). Sexuality education from existential perspective would be tailored and personalized, attuned to individual realities, not overarching agendas. Weaknesses of this approach may be that trust is a requisite part of the teacher-student transmission of information so if one doesn’t trust the other, information is less likely to be relayed/retained, etc. A particularly recalcitrant learner might not take to an idea and this more fluid approach might not reach the person. This is not a strict, punitive philosophy. Existentialist teaching approaches cannot force any student to learn something; it encourages but does not guarantee knowledge.

Lesson Plans

Challenges in Human Sexuality Education

1.  Balancing the needs/desires of the self and community

In thinking about how information about sexuality is transmitted, we have to take into account two seemingly disparate things: the needs of the individual and those of the community in which the individual is situated. If one of these components is healthy (meaning here: knowledgeable, empathic, curious and open-minded) it follows that the other will be influenced in this manner as well. A healthy society helps foster healthy individuals and a healthy individual helps change the conception of ‘health’ in society.

Some challenges associated are:

  • How to fortify/convince people of this progressive idea of “health”
  • Is balance a positive concept in our capitalistic/Judeo-Christian society?
  • What if the individual needs/desires of an individual are in opposition to those of their society?

2.  Understanding of what constitutes ‘sexuality’ is too limited

The idea of sexuality itself is overdetermined. What constitutes sexuality? Just sex, as an act? What act? Sensuality, touch, emotions, fantasies–never acted upon? The common cultural conception of sexuality is too limited for people to have a rich, comprehensive conversation about it. Marcuse believed in an “enlargement of the idea of sexuality itself” (Sears Chapter 2, 50) but there are so many repressive measures and social functions for certain kinds of sexuality that others are invalidated. The idea of sexuality must cover a greater breadth

Some challenges associated are:

  • How peoples’ personal feelings about sexuality get extrapolated to encompass the whole culture–people in power define sexuality based on their own personal feelings–personal feelings are valuable but one person’s ideas do not encompass a whole nation’s, etc.
  • Different ideas, cultural regulations about sexuality

–by Sarah Diamond and Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

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3 responses to “Existentialism

  1. I appreciate the resources you share.
    About your comment of weaknesses of the approach, I don’t see trust as a weakness but the opposite. Creating trust between the student and the professor is necessary to learning. Trust is believing that the professor is well-prepared, trustworthy if you have a problem, etc. On the other side, trust means that the professor believes that the student can learn and can provide interesting content to the class. I think trust is a strength of this approach.

  2. I really like your analysis of the word “sexuality” and its meaning in regards to existentialism. You’re right. How does one define sexuality in any finite terms? Certainly our culture and society places a vice grip on what constitutes sexuality. Perhaps more of an existential view of sexuality is needed to expand it and give more meaning to such a broad term.

  3. I liked that you incorporated trust as a potential weakness actually. I agree that having trust in an educational setting is in fact a strength, as Lorena said. I took away a different message, however, in that part of the post. As an educator, building trust is necessary. If one cannot or does not build that trust, it is a weakness as an educator because in an existentialist classroom, you cannot effectively educate. (I think in any classroom, trust is necessary, however for the purpose of this post, we’re discussing existentialism.) I’d be interested in seeing how an existentialist educator proposes to build that trust, or how they might do that if, for example, they were a guest lecturer. I find that it’s more difficult to build trust with a group I only see once as opposed to students who know my work ethic, my expertise, etc. because they see me on a regular basis.

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