When it comes to teaching sex to youth, there are plenty of resources to help educators address anatomy, physiological responses, orientations, disease, contraception, and recognizing unhealthy relationships. The Circles of Sexuality diagram has been helpful in separating the different aspects of sexuality. I would like to examine how intimacy is being addressed in lessons. It seems easy when, or if, the idea of intimacy comes up, it is lumped in with the equally vague and mystifying concept of love. Avoiding the topic of intimacy in the classroom could come from not having a clear assessment rubric or general discomfort around the subject.
Here, I not only want to address some examples of lessons on intimacy but also suggest ways they could be more applicable to modern teen intimacy. Specifically, I want to look at how peer pressure – often present in drug and alcohol curriculum – is not explored in much depth.
In one 25-minute lesson on “Intimacy and Affection”, students brainstorm different expressions of intimacy from cuddling, to talking, to intercourse. The objective of the lesson is “Participants will identify ways of showing love, intimacy, and affection that do not involve a risk of pregnancy or STI.” There are about seven follow up discussion questions although realistically, only one or two could be covered in the time allotted.
While I like this exercise, there is not much reflection on peer pressure or internalized societal expectations. It has been researched that comprehensive sex education delays sexual initiation but I believe that really pushing the intimacy agenda would delay it further. Through this inductive model students will be able to achieve the objective (identify ways of showing love, intimacy, and affection that do not involve a risk of pregnancy or STI) but below I’ve written some other possible discussion topics that would facilitate broader reflection and affective learning.
- What are outside influences that dictate expressions of intimacy?
- How aware are you of the sexual behaviors of your peers?
- Does the potential reaction of others impact intimate behavior?
Here is another lesson plan on Emotional and Sexual Intimacy that I think does a better job of addressing insecurities though not quite getting into peer pressure specifically. The objective is, “Students will develop an awareness of elements that are important to the experiences of emotional and sexual intimacy. They will gain an understanding of the importance of self-awareness, respect for oneself and for others, as well as communication between partners.” Through a group activity where students brainstorm an ideal relationship and a personal reflection assignment students explore their needs in an intimate relationship and insecurities that impact relationships.
My biggest criticism of this lesson is that it doesn’t seem to make the connection between what fuels insecurities and what types of intimate expression we prefer. This could be part of the inductive process but there could be at least one or two discussion topics that would guide the lesson in that direction. To add to personal reflection activity on insecurity, I would have the students reflect on why they are insecure and who or what provokes that insecurity.
When working with teens it is important to remember how peer relationships are just as much part of their learning experience as the classroom, if not more. It is important to incorporate “life learning” (media, friends, family etc.) in classroom learning in order to combat any negative influence and enrich the experience.
I like this lesson on Peer Pressure for Middle School Students could also be applied to a sexual health class. I also think this lesson on Media Literacy and Body Image is relevant when trying to address and unravel outside influences that would “teach” a student how to behave.
Life learning is about reaching the students by not only accomplishing the learning objective but also by developing strategies to overcome everyday obstacles (social, family, internalized expectations) that would impede the objective from long-term effectiveness.