A Spectrum of Sexuality Education

Five happy cartoon children of varying skin colors in a line with their arms over each other's shoulders

When I go into the schools to teach sexuality education, it is only for a short period of time, depending on the grade, the school, and the district.  I usually do not know if the teacher who invited me continues the conversations I have started.  When I answer questions about birth control, puberty, anatomy, and various others, I hope that the information I dispense is adequate.  However, to shift from a guest lecturer once (or maybe twice) per year, to incorporating this info within the entire curriculum would be beneficial to all students.

I have also spoken to classes that include students with various ability levels. It is interesting to see how they are divided in the various schools and districts. Some students are in small classes with no inclusion available, some are in multi-level classes, and some are in stand-alone schools for those with special needs only. Grouping these students by age is often not appropriate when teaching sexual education. Many of these students are embarrassed, and often are not given adequate time for them to process the information. Teachers of these students should meet with the sexuality education instructor ahead of time (or by email) to set the tone for these type of classes to maximize comprehension. Because there is such an increase in the number of autistic children, decisions need to be made as to how best to impart the information. Whether these students attend a school for the autistic, are mainstreamed into the general population of a school, or are kept in segregated classes, accommodations must be made, especially for these students, some of whom may be engaging in high risk behaviors.

This is a website that I have found to be beneficial when creating lessons geared towards students with special needs.  The Family Life and Sexual Health (F.L.A.S.H) curriculum is grounded in social learning theory.  Social learning theory emphasizes that observing other people’s behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions greatly contribute to our own behaviors.  The principles that guide the theory include: an individual is more likely to adopt the behavior if the outcome is what they desire, and the observer “first recogniz[es] and rehears[es] the modeled behavior symbolically” before enacting it overtly”  (Bandura 1977).  These principles apply to the curriculum, as it models the behaviors of others.

If you are interested in a curriculum for adults with disabilities, please check out these sample lesson plans that have been taken from Planned Parenthood, and these, which are based from a cognitive development perspective.

My vision for the future of sexuality education should be a prototype of what we are aiming for, the key components of a successful and student-oriented curriculum. The more I visit schools, the more I see a very unequal and often times narrow scope.  What I envision in the future is that all students are treated equally when it comes to learning sexual education, that all students are given the necessary background knowledge to make informed decisions about the lives and their lifestyles.


Bandura, A.  (1977).  Social Learning Theory.  New York: General Learning Press.

4 responses to “A Spectrum of Sexuality Education

  1. This is brilliant! I never considered meeting with a teacher before hand to discuss the class, abilities of students, or even start them with some material before a guest lecture. This is a great idea because, as you noted before, some students may not be given ample time to process all of this information. And if we can’t process it, how can we make behavior change?!

    The website for autism is a great resource as well. I am particularly thinking about inclusion classrooms and how to address some of these issues with autistic students in a way that won’t leave the child vulnerable to bullying. Most of my previous experiences with sexuality education in a gen.ed. classroom with one (MAYBE two) student(s) with autism have all resulted in other students mocking, bullying, remarking, or snickering at students on the spectrum. I will have to see what implementation methodology I can look into in order to resolve this issue. Great article!

  2. This is very useful. I agree that you should meet with the teacher to understand the classroom environment. I think it is very important to do research on who you will be teaching information to. I imagine children will be a bit shy when it comes to the topic of sexuality education, so adding a developmental challenge to that will be a barrier in the classroom that you will want to know about before you step foot in the room.
    You also gave some great resources.

  3. Phenomenal resources!!! The curricula you included is invaluable and I will definitely reference it if I ever teach students in special education. And I agree that, when guest lecturing or any situation where it is unclear what information the students have been given prior or will be expanded upon later, it is really difficult to grapple with varied classes. It is already a challenge as an educator to vary the methods for students with multiple ability levels, let alone try and figure that out over an extremely short period of time.

    One thing I still haven’t found a lot of resources for is talking about sexuality with students who are deaf. In my brief experience working with deaf students, I found that they used different terminology not only to refer to sex, both category and the act, and gender, but also cognitively processed concepts differently. For instance, when asked what the opposite of a boy was, instead of saying a girl like other students at that age level, the deaf students answered “man.” I felt like I was shooting in the dark a bit, and I simply took their lead and provided accurate information to their questions (there is no right answer for the opposite of a boy), but it was a slow process. It would be great to have tangible resources for this work, or even better, create some!

  4. This is a great read! Oftentimes when we write lesson plans, we fail to realize that the lesson itself has to be geared towards a diverse population of learners. We also can’t be under the impression that everyone has had the same background experience. I have referred to the F.L.A.S.H site for lesson ideas and I like the diversity within them. Thank you for writing an article with those on the spectrum in mind.

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