Author: Nicole Albanese
If you had to come up with a list of the qualities a sex educator should have, what would this list include? Maybe some of these qualities could include openness, having knowledge of the content, cultural competency, being reasonable, humorous and flexible, having appropriate boundaries and so on. From this list, what qualities are necessities? All too often, culturally competency is a consideration but not a necessity. Part of the job of being an educator is being able to teach a variety of people at the same time. Sexuality educators must be able to deal with sensitive topics that arise frequently and must be able to teach these same topics to a variety of people. Ultimately, sexuality educators must be able to embody the ability to be culturally competent and to have the skills to put this to work.
Cultural competency in this context does not just refer to race or ethnicity. According to Bruess and Schroeder (2014) it includes gender, ethnicity, race, religion, societal mores, physical ability, personal histories, socioeconomic level, and family compositions. Other contextual variables include age, disability, physical health, and sexual orientation. All of these aspects contribute to how one’s attitudes and values of sexuality are formed. Sexuality educators’ understanding of multiple perspectives, abilities, and reactions to topics are conducive to meaningful and effective sexuality education (Bruess & Schroeder, 2014).
Many topics in sexuality education naturally bring out different reactions in people. Being flexible, intuitive, and conscious of the material being presented as well as the participants in the room can be a challenge for an educator but essential. Often educators must work with limited material and have to meet certain requirements. This does not mean that the educator cannot be creative and adjust the actual lesson plan to fit the population they are teaching. For example, sexuality educators must be able to adjust a lesson written from a hetero-normative perspective for LGBQ participants in the room, an activity that involves multiple movements for an immobile individual in the room, and topics pertaining to reproduction or family planning for participants that cannot have children. Other examples include adapting a curriculum that has been written by white suburban women for white suburban students for inner-city multiracial students, and discussing gender norms from a Western curriculum/lesson plan for participants who are first or second generation Muslim students from non-Western immigrant families.
“A good learning community is a warm, friendly, and accommodating environment. Within this community, students feel safe, and they are physically and psychologically free to take risks that deep learning requires. Students learn best in an accepting, positive, and safe environment” (Estes, Mintz, & Gunter, 2011, p.9).
Sex educators NEED to be flexible enough to change activities in the moment to create this environment, and intuitive enough to notice how an activity or lesson is affecting participants. In other words, they must be conscious of the material being presented in terms of their participants’ cultural contexts. Imagine there is a disclaimer on every curriculum or lesson plan stating, “Please appropriately adjust to fit the population.”
However, this does not mean that educators have to be “psychic.” Knowing everyone’s background and being aware of all the cultural differences is not an easy task to achieve. Allowing yourself to be conscious of differences and being sensitive to them is, however, a requirement. How are you supposed to know the different ways that diversity is present in my room?
Gilbert, Sawyer, and McNeill (2001) suggest using social indicators such as public records, surveys and questionnaires already collected by educators on targeted populations, and contacting community leaders or agency representatives. Another suggestion, with a more intimate approach, is sending out a needs assessment to the participants (if possible) before the class/workshop to get a sense of what participants hope to get out of the workshop/class, why they are there, things they hope to be covered or believe they will have issues with being covered, and asking if there is anything the educator needs or should know about them. This can also be done in the beginning of the class/workshop. If this is an ongoing class/workshop giving an evaluation with prepared questions about the lesson or teacher at the end creates an opportunity for participants to reveal information once they feel more comfortable (E. Schroeder, personal communication, September 6, 2014).
The first step sexuality educators must take to be more culturally competent is to become aware of their own biases and what issues are sensitive to them (Gilbert et al., 2011). This helps to ensure the material that is being presented is not being influenced by the educator’s values and views. The point is not to eliminate the effect of cultural influences or biases or to pretend that educators are not affected by them. Instead, the goal is to not let them influence how the material is taught and to elicit other cultural influences. Having a higher level of self-awareness is not easily acquired. Being a sexuality educator is not a job that just anyone can do because it comes with a lot of responsibility. An essential aspect of this responsibility is undergoing training to explore their cultures, biases, and views on sexuality. This enables the educator to have the ability to notice and respect the differences of others, and to act accordingly while teaching sexuality.
“Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work,” Andres Tapia
Bruess, C., & Schroeder, E. (2011). Sexuality education: Theory and practice (Sixth ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Estes, Mintz, Gunter. (2009). Instruction: A models approach (Sixth ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, INC.
Gilbert, Sawyer, McNeill. (2011). Health education: Creating strategies for school and community health (Third ed.). Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.