Playing with Adults: Using Games in Adult Sexuality Education

Educational games can be used not only as an additional fun component to create variety in a lesson, but also as a means of encouragement and teamwork (Gilbert, Sawyer, & McNeill, 2014).  Games, despite seeming initially inconsequential or possibly below the intelligence level of an adult, can, in fact, be an integral part of the classroom in regards to sexuality.  According to Adult Learning Theory (2012), adult learners tend to have different expectations for their classroom experience than young learners.  Adults are more likely to be self-directed, internally motivated, and purpose-oriented in regards to their education.  Furthermore, adult learners are keen on understanding how their learning is relevant to their current career or personal lives.  In other words, Adult Learning Theory is rooted in the idea that in order for adult learners to make the most of their education experience, they need to understand the implications of the material on their lives (Gerdon, 2012).  Due to the fact that relevance is a key component to adult education, the use of interactive games may not be the first technique an educator explores to employ in their sexuality workshop for adult learners, however, gaming is likely to promote affective, skills, and knowledge based learning (Shields & DiGioia, 2012).

Before utilizing a game it is important to for the educator to reflect on the goals of the workshop or class.  In adult education the goals often have some unique elements such aiding students understand their own values surrounding sexuality concepts (especially in relation to the values of others), creating an accordance of sexuality information into their own lives and the utilization of health education to aid students translate knowledge into skills (Bruess and Schroeder, 2014).  One caveat to accomplishing such skill based goals and objectives include establishing what the participants in the room already know.  The game, therefore, can become the medium from which the educator, as well as the student, can find out how much previous knowledge is present in the room about the topic in sexuality.

The authors of “Game On!: The Ultimate Sexuality Education Gaming Guide,” Shields and DiGioia (2012), explains that games are useful tools to

  • engage learners of various learning styles;
  • motivate participation;
  • review and bridge concepts;
  • amass and apply knowledge and skills;
  • preserve attention;
  • promote logical thinking and problem solving skills;
  • assist in converting knowledge to decision-making;
  • and sponsor teamwork.

Furthermore, the increase in student confidence produced from engaging in an educational game fosters the likelihood of applying new knowledge and skills, and promotes healthy behaviors (Shields & DiGioia, 2012).

The use of games, therefore, regardless of age, is a valuable education tool.  The difficulty with adult students, who according to Adult Education Theory, want to know that the game is fulfilling a purpose (Gerdon, 2012) other than just being fun, may be in convincing the group that the game does in fact has an educational value.  In order to make the use of a game work, the rationale for the game, as well as the game itself both need to be well thought out.  In some instances, sharing the rational for the game may be helpful in bolstering initial enthusiasm.  As for the game itself, it should be chosen wisely.  If running a workshop for a group of adults sixty and older, it may not be advisable to play a game that requires a lot of physical movement.  For this group, using a model of a well known game show such as Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, or Hollywood Squares may be better suited (Gilbert, Sawyer & McNiell, 2014).   The games included in “Game On!” also use the approach of restructuring a well known game to meet the needs of sexuality education.  These models include mock board games, bingo, trivia, game shows, and others (Shields & DiGioia, 2012).

Adult sexuality workshops and sexuality classes in higher education often share an application or skill based objective when utilizing games in the classroom.  According to Westera, Nadolski, Hummel, and Wopereis (2008), games can be utilized to aid the educator in developing the skills of their students by engaging the participants in what could be considered real world situations.  The games provide a means to practice skills without some of the risk of a being in an authentic situation.  For instance, if facilitating a workshop with a retirement home, providing a fun, maybe competitive way, for students to learn (or relearn) how to properly use a condom eliminates the risk of making a mistake when engaging in sexual activity.  Eradicating risk during practice can be crucial when building confidence surrounding sexuality related issues (i.e. teaching adults sixty years old and older how to properly use barrier methods).  Ensuring that gaming works for adult learner’s means that the game itself should relay on fostering problem-solving skills and strategies in order for the participants to be able to discover solutions on their own after the class or workshop concludes (Westera et al, 2008).

Despite the typical, potentially lackluster forms of learning, often suggested for adults such as website articles, podcasts, and PowerPoint presentations (Shields & DiGioia, 2012), games are becoming more widely accepted in an increasingly digital (read: interactive) age, even by older students (Westera, Nadolski, Hummel, & Wopereis, 2008).  With all games have to offer in the classroom it is clear that games are no longer just for young people: adults want to have fun, as well.  Adults may need more convincing in regards to how relevant the game is to their learning on the onset, however, by the end of the activity it is evident that learning would have happened, and furthermore, the training is likely to provoke new skills as well as a new depth to their sexuality knowledge base.


Bruess, C.E., & Schroeder, E. (2014). Sexuality Education: Theory and Practice (6th Ed.). Sudury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Gerdon, E. (2012). Adult Learning Theory. Excerpted from a The Learning House publication on online learning and provided in advance of the course as a .pdf document.

Gilbert, G.G., Sawyer, R.G., & McNeill, E.B. (2014). Health Education: Creating Strategies For School & Community Health 4th Edition. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Shields, J., & DiGioia, M. (2012). Game on!: The ultimate sexuality education gaming guide. Morristown, NJ: The Center for Family Life Education.

Westera, W., Nadolski, R., Hummel, H., & Wopereis, I. (2008). Serious games for higher education: A framework for reducing design complexity.Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 420-432. Retrieved from ReadCube. DOI: 0.1111/j.1365-2729.2008.00279.x

9 responses to “Playing with Adults: Using Games in Adult Sexuality Education

  1. Joli, thank you for a great article! I used games frequently when I was teaching youth theatre but, for some reason, have never thought of using them when I teach adults! Additionally, I have never thought of using skills based exercises as games – learning how to put on a condom, roll playing communication skills.
    I also think that games may lessen the nerves of adult learner – particularly in a sex education context. I can’t wait to sit and think about this more and integrate it into my teaching.

  2. I love your suggestions here! I think that games are great way to increase the comfort level in a room. I can think of situations where adults may wonder why have to be in a class or training and lighting the mood with a game that is also super educational is a great idea!

    Another important aspect of adult learning is the need to communicate and be social so games are the perfect way to do that.

  3. Adults want to have fun too! Great suggestions on how to implement games into education. I love the idea of explaining the rationale. I am definitely one of those people that would prefer to know the intent and why I am doing something before doing it! I appreciate the creative and out of the box approach you suggest here.

  4. Using games when teaching adults was not something that I would have thought of, as I typically think adults are “beyond” that stage in life. However, the rationale you provided using andragogy made me realize that frame of mind is lackluster and limiting my abilities to provide active, engaging workshops with adult learners. I wonder if you had encountered any research during the writing of this blog as to whether competitive or noncompetitive games were more effective at either engaging adult learners, or having a long standing impact on knowledge retention?

  5. Like Aimee, I am also curious about the effect of the competitive nature of certain games. Even just in our 625 class, some students mentioned how a competitive edge immediately took them out of the activity, while other students said it actively engaged them right away. Don’t get me wrong, I love games, have found them mostly beneficial and plan to utilize them frequently in my classroom, but after hearing about others’ noncompetitive natures, I experienced doubt about their inclusiveness. I don’t want my desire for and love of competition to heavily influence my curriculum, only to ultimately limit the learning of my noncompetitive students.

    • I agree. I hadn’t thought about that aspect while reading the article, but that is a problem. I am highly noncompetitive, and being placed in situations where I have to be competitive makes me anxious and uncomfortable. I check out if I’m asked to do so, and being anxious, uncomfortable, or checking out are some of the symptoms that we as sex educators try to avoid.

  6. I love the idea of using games when teaching adults about sex education. As an adult learner, one of the things that I find about using games is that they are very freeing. It’s almost like letting out your inner child, which can bring a new facet to learning and talking about sexuality. A freeing game can make a student feel more comfortable with the issues that are being brought up.

  7. I never realized all of the benefits to playing games! I can see how they could promote learning by accommodating all types of learning styles. In addition to learning styles, they could also be used for icebreakers and a way to help introverts participate in groups but on a smaller scale. According to Adult Learning Theory, adults seek relevance and things that are goal oriented. A game that was designed to a specific interest to them would definitely seem to work!

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