Sex Ed Module 3: How to be a Sexuality Educator, Part I: Qualities of a Sexuality Educator
Speakers (in order of appearance)
Linda Sandman, Katherine McLaughlin and Tia Nelis
We want to welcome you to the third module of the training series "What's Right about Sex Ed." This series is designed to help you provide sexuality education to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The title of this module is "How to be a Sexuality Educator: the Qualities of a sexuality educator." The topic how to be a sexuality educator is a big one. And it's really important. So for this reason, we decided to cover it over two separate webinars. This is part one. We're glad you've joined us today.
This training, and the other modules in the "What's Right about Sex Ed" series are being brought to you by Blue Tower Solutions, Incorporated and the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. Blue Tower Solutions is a nonprofit organization that works to empower individuals, organizations and systems to create cultures of respect, inclusion, dignity, and equality for people with disabilities. The Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities' mission is to help lead change in Illinois, so all people with developmental disabilities exercise their right to equal opportunity, and freedom.
The training series on sex education, "What's Right about Sex Ed," contains eight modules. These modules cover information about the law (Module one), the sexual rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (Module two), and how to be a sexuality educator. That's this module and module four. There will be information on how to provide trauma informed sex education, and how to locate and use the approved curricula and resources. Guidance on how to design a sexuality education program at your organization, and how to partner with parents and guardians will also be addressed.
Experts speakers from around the state and country including self-advocates will be involved in presenting the information. All of the modules will be posted to the Department of Human Services Developmental Disability Provider Training platform, so they can be viewed as often as needed. If you have any questions about this training series, my contact information will be posted at the end of the training module, please feel free to reach out to me.
During today's webinar, we will focus on the qualities of a sexuality educator, specifically, the types of skills and knowledge or information that can help prepare you to teach sex education effectively. We will also look at the quality of respect for self and others, along with an awareness of one's values and opinions, and how these qualities impact teaching sex education.
We will also hear about the self-advocate perspective on what makes a good educator and how self-advocates can be educators too. During this webinar, we will draw examples from two of the approved curriculum: Elevatus Training and WEAVE. The Curriculum Committee from the Implementation Workgroup spent a lot of time reviewing curricula. And currently there are seven curricula that are approved and posted to the Department of Human Services website. We're trying to highlight these curricula in each of the training modules. And so today we're really going to be focusing on two: Elevatus Training and WEAVE, so that you can become more familiar with them.
In part two of the topic: How to be a Sexuality Educator, we will focus on strategies for teaching sex education to individuals with disabilities. This will include strategies to keep in mind as you plan your program, as well as strategies for teaching the sex education content, and working alongside self-advocates to teach sex education. Today's webinar includes three handouts and a reflection exercise. Please make sure you have a piece of paper and pen or pencil handy for the reflection exercise.
Today's speakers are Katherine McLaughlin, Tia Nelis, and myself, Linda Sandman. Katherine, would you like to introduce yourself?
I would. Thank you. My name is Katherine McLaughlin and I've been a sexuality educator and trainer for over 25 years. And my specialty is sexuality education for people with developmental disabilities. And, you know, years ago, there weren't a lot of curriculum available and so I started working on designing a curriculum and worked with self-advocates to create the curriculum. And used their thoughts of nothing about us without us throughout the curriculum. But now I have a business called Elevatus Training. And we provide training and educational materials so that others can address the topic of sexuality with people with developmental disabilities, including self-advocates as sexuality educators. I also have lived experience with disability from a spinal cord injury in my 20s and I use a wheelchair. And I live in New Hampshire, and I love to swim for exercise.
Thanks, Katherine. Tia, would you like to introduce yourself?
Sure. My name is Tia and I live in Elmhurst, Illinois.
I work with TASH, which is a nonprofit advocacy organization to support people with significant disabilities find their dreams and goals. And I also am with Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered, which I support the President of Self Advocates Becoming Empowered to the missions of self-advocacy at a national level. And I've also worked with both Katherine and Linda around sexuality training.
Great, we're so glad you're here. Thanks. And as for myself, Linda Sandman, I am a licensed clinical social worker in Illinois, and a Co-Director with Blue Tower Solutions. I have over 35 years' experience, mostly working in clinical roles with people with mental health and intellectual and developmental disabilities.
I've also had the opportunity to be part of several statewide anti-violence projects like Illinois Imagines and Envision Illinois. I'm bilingual in English and Spanish and bicultural, as my mother was born in Mexico, and I have a large, extended family there.
It's very special for me to present this webinar today with Katherine and Tia. I first met Katherine in 2009, when she facilitated a multi-day train the trainer session on teaching sexuality education to people with developmental disabilities. So I was trained in her curriculum. And Tia was my training partner at that time! So this webinar is a reunion of sorts. It's so wonderful to be here with both of you.
So let's start out today's webinar with the time for reflection. There are two questions here on this slide. If you needed to talk to someone about sexuality, who would you go to? And second, why would you pick this person?
Please pause this recording and take a moment to write out your answers to both questions. If you are taking this training in a group, maybe you could pair off with a partner to talk about your answers together. (Time to pause the recording and complete the reflection exercise.)
Welcome back. So what are the qualities that stand out for you? Most people would probably say they would pick someone they trust, someone who's a good listener. Maybe you would pick someone who seems knowledgeable and comfortable talking about the topic.
Another quality that might be important to you, is that it's someone who would give you factual answers without judging you for your question. These are all important qualities. So we hope that you found this a helpful way to start thinking about the important qualities that we will be covering more about during today's webinar. And keep these things in mind as we go through the day.
And when we think about the qualities of a good sexuality educator, they tend to fall into these four categories: skills that are helpful in being effective, as well as having information and resources, respecting all people, and values and opinions. And we'll go into each of these in more depth. But before we do that Tia and I are going to do a roleplay around Tia coming to me and asking me a question. And I will respond. Then you can see different kinds of qualities that are used in the roleplay.
Hey Katherine, can I ask you a question?
Absolutely. What's up?
So there's this guy at work. And, um, he's really nice. And I was thinking about asking him out.
Mm hmm. That sounds great. What's his name?
His name is Tom.
Uh huh. Awesome.
Well, you said he's really great. What's great about him?
Well, I just think he's fun to hang out with. And we do talk a little bit at break time. And we seem to have, like, some things in common that we like.
That's great. Awesome. So what are you thinking you want to do? As far as, that you said you want to ask him out? - what are you thinking about asking?
I was thinking of asking him to go see the movie Jungle Cruise.
Mm hmm. Great! Awesome idea. And sometimes, I suggest to people that they think of a another option as well, like, start with that one. And then have another idea in your back pocket. So if they say, "Man, I don't like that movie." You can come up with something else. Maybe, or "I don't like going to the movies." Do you have another idea? Just as a backup?
Yeah, maybe we could go out for pizza. But - What if he says no?
Yeah, I know. That's the hard part about putting ourselves out there like that. There is that risk. But how about we roleplay it? Let's roleplay, you know, that he says "Yes", and we'll roleplay that he says "No", and then just see how you might handle it. Want to do that?
Okay, cool. All right. So I'm going to be Tom.
Hey, Tom, there's a great movie out called Jungle Cruise. Would you like to go?
Katherine (as Tom)
Um, yeah, I would. That sounds really great.
How about Saturday?
Katherine (as Tom)
What time is the movie? Cuz, um, cuz I work all day until like five. So I don't know if I'd be able to go.
Oh, there's a seven o'clock movie.
Katherine (as Tom)
Oh, okay. That sounds great.
Great. Where should we meet?
Katherine (as Tom)
Oh, right. Yeah. Do you want to just meet there?
Yeah, sounds good.
Katherine (as Tom)
Okay, I'll get there a little early, so we can get a ticket.
Katherine (as Tom)
Okay, great. See you then.
Alright, Tia, let's try it where he doesn't want to go. Alright? And then we'll talk about that, because that went really well. Right? Like you got yourself a date! Yeah. Okay. So let's try it again. And see what happens.
Katherine (as Tom)
Would you like to go to a movie? There's a great movie called Jungle Cruise out there.
Katherine (as Tom)
Well, I don't really like the movies.
Oh, how about pizza?
Katherine (as Tom)
I don't think so. Thanks, though.
Oh, okay. Maybe we can talk later. Maybe another time.
Katherine (as Tom)
What was that . . . So now I'm not Tom anymore. What was that like, Tia?
Um, well, it was a little sad, because I thought he really liked me. And he didn't say too much about why he didn't want to go. So I don't know if it was that he didn't like me or he was nervous or . . .
Right? I know.
Maybe he didn't know how to tell me he had another girlfriend.
Right. Exactly. We really don't know. He didn't give you much, did he?
Yeah. And maybe you could like you said talk later, and maybe you can find out a little bit more.
Yeah. And how do you feel? You said you're a little sad.
How you gonna . . . ?
I felt a little sad because I thought we were, um, I thought we were, like, having more things in common, and maybe it would work out.
Yeah, I know. That's really hard. What do you do to take care of yourself when you feel sad, or, you know, someone says no to you?
Um, well, maybe I could go to the movies with another friend? And then maybe talk to them about it a little bit. And maybe think about some other things of how I can maybe do some things differently if someone says no.
Mm hmm, great. Yeah. All right. So now we're out of, we're out of that again, and you're ready to do this? Ask him out on a date?
All right, keep me posted.
Wow, that was really great. Tia and Katherine, thank you so much for that roleplay, and for that scenario. So I have some follow up questions for you. First, I'm going to ask Tia. Tia, why did you decide to ask Katherine your question?
Well, um, I knew Katherine for a while. And I felt comfortable with her. And when I asked her, if she was willing to answer some questions, she didn't like, back off. And, or, like, when I asked her questions, she didn't say, "Oh, you can't do that." She was really respectful and helped me think of answers on my own, instead of just telling me what to do. Um, and she really had good body language. She didn't like, show me that she was, like, afraid to answer my question or didn't want to agree with me, or just wanted to give me her opinions. So I think that that's helpful.
And also, I knew that I could trust her because I talked to her about other things. And she didn't go and like talk to staff or to anybody else about my business. Because I think that once you do that, it's really harmful to trust to go back and talk to her, to her about anything else. And it kind of breaks that trust, and then you don't want to go to, you're scared to go to anybody else again. So it kind of takes away your power to be able to do that again, and trust somebody else, maybe that you want to talk to you about these things. And you know, when they're really important, just besides dating, it might be something else that you want to build trust around and talk to them about. But if they break that you're not going to ask them any more questions, or think that you can go to them for anything more important, also.
That's really a good point, Tia. So in some ways, self-advocates may ask a question, to kind of see how the person responds. If they're able to follow up then with even more personal questions, or more sensitive questions. That's, that's a really good point. Katherine, how did you know what kinds of questions to ask Tia?
Yeah, I think I just put on my curiosity hat and thought, okay, I want to hear more about this. And, and I think sometimes as educators, we start to get really nervous inside, like, "Oh, my God, what's gonna happen? All these bad things will happen", and really just try to, you know, trust that good things happen. And I know Tia well, and I know, she's a confident person, and, you know, in charge of her life, and so it was really kind of easy to just listen, and maybe give her a few tips or something like that. But it felt, it felt pretty easy.
That's great. So what if this scenario had happened in a group setting? If Tia had asked her question, in a group meeting? How would you, would you have done anything differently?
Yeah, I think I would have brought the group into the conversation and sort of, you know, kind of taking it away from Tia asking Tom, and maybe like, "Well, how do we ask someone out? What tips do you all have around what works?" Maybe something you tried before worked. Maybe something didn't. Let's just create a big list for Tia, but for all of us on how do you ask somebody out. What works, what doesn't? Or even use some of the participants in the class - one to be Tom and one Tia - and Tia does it, or maybe someone else, and try some different scenarios, different outcomes, like we did too - maybe the next time he says no. And so just using it as a scenario in the class.
Yeah, that's great. And with that, you know, you might have other people share experiences, too, that they've had. And so everybody can kind of learn from each other. That would be great.
Tia, How would you feel having something so personal kind of opened up to the group?
Um, I think I would feel good about it. Because I would want people to learn how to help people with disabilities, talk about these things that are hard for them to talk about, and to have someone to be able to share that with, and get some advice and feel like you're listened to. And then there's also other people with disabilities that maybe you can ask their advice too. So you can get some of all the information from like, a person like Katherine, and then also from some other people with disabilities, that might have some advice about how you can handle this situation, and how they might have handled something like that, if that ever happened to them. So that you can know that you're not the only person that this might happen to, that other people have had that happen to them, and so that you could really then teach other people about the situation and how to do it, and who to be safe to go to so that they know that they can go to people out there that are willing to listen to them and willing to help them speak up. And if they do say no, who do I go to after that? So they don't feel alone.
Yeah, that's, that's good. That's good. Well, thank you both for that scenario and roleplay that - I think, that will be really helpful for people to see.
Right, so we're going to take a look at the different qualities of a good sexuality educator. And there's a handout that goes along with all of these ideas. And I'm going to take us through them briefly. And then we'll get deeper into them throughout the module.
But the first one is, we're going to look at is skills. So you may have saw some skills, or Tia talked about some things that she would want in someone to talk about sexuality with. But the first one is able to communicate with others in a warm and kind way. And I think that's smiling and nodding, but also acting, you know, being interested and curious and kind of leaning in and tell me more sort of enthusiastic, helps people feel comfortable.
And then knows how to help people feel comfortable talking about sexuality. So we know that this is a sensitive topic. And so not only being warm and kind, but even just acknowledging that this can be uncomfortable, and kind of awkward and embarrassing. And I will often say that, you know, we have all kinds of feelings, and we talk about sexuality and relationships, and one of them can be kind of embarrassed, and we might giggle and turn red. And that's okay. A lot of us didn't have anyone really to talk to in our lives about this. So we may be a little uncomfortable, and that's fine. So sort of just naming that as important.
And also being a good listener, and will listen to other people's feelings and opinions. And I think this is a really important skill. And also really difficult when we first start teaching this topic, because we're worried about what - what should I say next? And what are they going to say, and so we're kind of distracted, and it can be really hard to listen. So the more that we can kind of settle down and relax, the better listeners we can be, as well.
And then some more skills is does not judge the person for who they are, what they believe, or the choices that they've made. And this one, we'll talk about more, but no one wants to feel judged. And I know if you've ever felt judged, it makes us not want to go to that person anymore, all of us. So we really want to create a safe learning environment for people and, and a non- judgmental learning environment. And we'll talk more about that in a bit.
Is able to keep their conversations with others confidential unless . . . . And Tia really addressed this as well, around if someone comes to you around wanting to ask someone out, that we really keep that private. It's between the two of us the conversation, but the "unless" part is around if somebody is being abused or abusing someone else. So if someone came to me and said that they're being sexually abused, I would have to tell someone so I would not keep that private. I would report that it's important that people know that ahead of time. And also that I'm not going to tell everyone all of all your business like Tia said, unless you're being hurt or hurting someone else.
And then the last one helps others make their own decisions by listening and supporting them, does not tell them what to do. And, you know, we really, truly have to believe that people with disabilities are in charge of their lives. And so we want to be sure that we believe that people have that right. And if we don't, it'll backfire. And people won't learn how to make their own decisions and, and be in charge of their lives.
And then another area, besides skills is information. So a good sexuality educator knows lots of information about sexuality and relationships. But also knows where to find the information, if they don't have the answers. We, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to know everything, and it's okay not to know everything. And we'll give you some resources, so you can look things up and find out more.
It's also important to know the difference between facts and opinions. And we will go into that in more detail, as well. What is a fact? What is an opinion or a value or a belief? And also just being open to learning about sexuality that, you know, many of us don't know a lot about sexuality, and a good educator's always learning. And I'm learning still, after many years. And then, also understands their own sexuality and is comfortable with it. If we're uncomfortable with ourselves and our sexuality that might come across either in body language or things we say. And so it's important to be comfortable with who you are, and your sexuality as well.
And I think one thing with information and, is that people with disabilities are often denied sexuality education, in schools, as adults. And so a good sexuality educator knows the sexual rights, the history and its impact. But many, many people have lacked that opportunity to receive sexuality education. Some people think, "Oh, they don't, they don't need this. They don't want this." Or "They, they won't be able to handle it. So I'm just going keep this information from them." And there are so many negative consequences to that lack of information. And so, you know, lack of information increases people's risk of abuse, of being charged with a sex crime, of losing their job because of sexual behavior. But also things like unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and just plain loneliness. And so even though we ourselves might feel a little uncomfortable, it's worth pushing ourselves through that because the, the negative impacts are so great. And so I would choose being a little uncomfortable, and maybe a little unsure of myself as an educator over people having all of these negative consequences.
The other area is respect. So a good educator is respectful of all people - no matter their skin color, how much money they have, what religion they believe, who they're sexual with, whether they're gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, what their gender identity is, and what kind of disability that they have. And I think, with this, with these aspects of people's identity, and these different kinds of identities, if you're really struggling with that, you know, some people say, you know, "Maybe I wouldn't be a good sexuality educator, because I'm uncomfortable with these differences." And that's okay, lots of people may decide not to teach this topic. But also, if you're struggling, you could learn more, and talk to people with disabilities and find out more, just to get more comfortable with some of these differences yourself.
And then the last thing on this, this slide is that we understand that people have different values and beliefs and we've created an environment that respects those values and beliefs. So I often talk about being "values inclusive" so that everyone's values in the class or in our one-on-one conversations are respected by me even if they're different than mine. And so all values are okay, in class or in our one-on-one conversations.
So now I'm going to be talking about respect and values. Values is the fourth quality area that we would like to highlight. A sexuality educator recognizes the difference between protection and correction versus education. Historically, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been shielded from sex education, like Katherine was mentioning, denied access. A lot of times that came out of a desire to protect them. Many times, sex was described in negative terms. It was painted as inappropriate and even dangerous, so that people with disabilities began to believe that their own bodies, feelings and desires are something to be ashamed of. They may feel that their feelings and desires are to be eliminated, or buried, not discussed or acknowledged. It's important for the sexuality educator to be prepared for some of these learned negative attitudes to be expressed by the individuals they serve. The educator needs to recognize that these behaviors arise out of the messages a person has been taught, perhaps over their lifetime. It's a great opportunity for the educator to counter these messages with positive and affirming statements that both respect and recognize that we're all sexual beings.
It's also important for the educator to recognize and value that sexuality education is comprehensive and positive. It shouldn't only be limited to messages about how to stay safe. Safety is a part of sexuality education, but it's not the whole some of it.
So Dave Hingsburger was a sexuality educator from Canada. In response to the culture of overprotection that he observed in working with people with disabilities, Dave proposed a model for supporting sexuality education called the "Ring of Safety." And I'm going to take the time to go over the components, kind of briefly, of this model, the Ring of Safety.
- So one component is Sex Education. Sex education needs to teach that sexuality is a good and healthy part of all people.
- Another component is Privacy Awareness. People with disabilities live in a world where typical privacy does not exist. So sexuality education needs to include support for developing privacy awareness.
- The Ability to Non-comply. So that's an interesting idea. Too often, people with disabilities are viewed as non-compliant when they speak up and say no. But it's important for people to learn how to use their voice, and to set their own boundaries. It's really hard when you can't say no to what you have for breakfast. How are you going to learn to say no, if someone's touching you inappropriately? People with disabilities need the ability to non-comply and make their own choices.
- Someone who Listens. Hingsburger says "People with disabilities need to be taught to speak up, and staff and family need to be taught to listen up."
- An Understanding of Personal Rights. All people with disabilities need training regarding their rights within the systems in which they live.
- A Healthy Self-concept and Self-confidence. When a person has a healthy self-concept and self-confidence, Hingsburger points out, they're going to feel that they are wanted and that they are powerful. It's easier to make good choices in relationships when a person feels good about themselves.
- And the last, or seventh component, is an Opportunity for Healthy Sexuality. Develop a system that respects relationships. That means more than just learning about sex education. It also means opportunities to express oneself and to be engaged fully in dating, relationships, romance, whatever seems right for the person, and that they choose. If you are interested in learning more about Dave Hingsburger's model, the Ring of Safety, we have included a link to an article about it in the Resource handout that accompanies this training.
A good educator understands that people have different values and beliefs shaped by their family background, culture, religion, and lived experiences. For example, some people will say "sex is okay before marriage," and other people may say "sex is not okay before marriage." A good educator is prepared for the experiences that not everyone will share the same values. We can call these personal values. Creating a safe space, as Katherine talked about, where personal values can be expressed respectfully and kindly, is important. A space where one does not feel judged, because their personal values are different from another person's personal values.
One of the key elements to creating that type of culture of respect for individual or personal values is to recognize that you cannot impose your values onto another person. While we can recognize that there may be differences in what people value, we can also recognize that there are some values which are more universal. For example, we can agree that people with disabilities are sexual beings, just like all people. We can agree that sexuality is a natural part of life. We can agree that it's important to learn how to take care of your body, and that we all have the right to be safe from abuse and exploitation.
Sexuality education is a large topic. A universal value is to emphasize that sexuality education should be comprehensive and positive. I like this quote from Katherine. It appeared in Module Two, and I'm going to use it again here today: "Protection from exploitation must be balanced against the right for sexual expression, and the emphasis is on building a person's capacity to give informed consent." Comprehensive and accessible sexuality education is the path forward to that knowledge and capacity. Elevatus Training has a great article on their resource page called, "Can you be a vegetarian and work at McDonald's? Managing values and attitudes as professionals". This article includes many helpful tips and prompts to help you think through the important work of managing values and attitudes. We've included a link to that article on the resource handout. And while you're there, explore a lot of the other resources that are there on the Elevatus Training Resource page. There's just a lot of very helpful articles and links to really good websites. It's a great resource tool.
So the other curriculum that we're talking about today is the WEAVE curriculum. WEAVE was developed in 2019 by a collaboration of agencies in Central Michigan. It was funded by the federal government. The WEAVE Healthy Relationships curriculum is designed to give people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the tools and skills to be safe and happy in their relationships. The WEAVE curriculum is made up of 17 lessons ranging from 45 minutes in length to 90 minutes. All of the materials are located in a Google Drive folder, which you can access from the link on the curriculum description that is included on the Department of Human Services website on Sex Education. In addition to the 17 lessons, there is an initial folder with documents for facilitators, or a Facilitator Guide. Each lesson includes folders with additional Facilitator Guide information, and then a Participant Workbook. So in the Facilitator Guide, the WEAVE curriculum states some universal values and that, I have that here on the slide.
"In this curriculum, sexuality is a beautiful, diverse part of the human experience. Sometimes sexuality is used in unhealthy or abusive ways. This curriculum seeks to show how sexuality can be healthy and positive."
Now it's time to turn it over to Tia. And we're going to hear her perspective on what makes a good sexuality educator.
Okay, thanks, Linda. The difference between friendship and a sexuality educator: there is, there is a difference. First of all, let's talk about friendship. Friendship, when you talk about sexuality to your friends, they might not listen to you. They may put their own beliefs in there. They might think something is weird, that you're asking them. They might have, they might laugh at you, because you don't know what's - um, what's, what's that question is all about. Your friends might share it with other people. They might say, "Oh, can you believe that? They want, they want to know about this. They don't know about that." They might say, they might go and tell the person that you're talking to about what your conversation is all about. They might tell staff. So, your friends may do that. And then they might also not have all the correct information. And so they may tell you something that's not right. They, because they're just guessing and trying to give you an answer. They might not know all the things that are happening between the relationship, between you and the other person, so they might give you some wrong information. And they don't know all the answers.
And an educator would be something that's really important, that you keep on hearing all through this presentation, is to listen. Listening to the person is very important. Because if they feel that you're not listening to them, then they might not come up and talk to you anymore about those things. The other part is your body language. If people ask you a question that you might be - not sure how to answer or you make a face about it, or you might be scooting around in your chair, when they ask you - people might not feel comfortable then asking you any more questions about those things. Because the way your body language is sometimes. It tells them what you want them to say also. Then they might be like, "Oh, it looks like you don't want me to go out with that person." Just by the way you show your emotions about that. And so they might not, never, go out and have a date with somebody. They might also know that, if you're really listening to them - by repeating what you heard - is a good way to do that. So a good educator might repeat what they said, so that they know that you're really listening to them, and they really know that you got what they said. Those are really important.
And trust, trust is really important. I think once you break that trust, and talk to other people about what the person has told you, it's really hard for you to get back to that relationship, a trusting relationship for them to ask you anything more.
And then, what I also really liked is talking about learning about all the information that you can before you teach. I like to learn about the information that, so I'll have some correct answers. And then, also saying, "I don't know that answer", also helps the person with a disability not feel, like they feel dumb or stupid because they don't know the answer. And then, if they show, if you show them that sometimes you don't know all the answers either, they might feel more comfortable about knowing, not knowing the answer and then be willing more to explore it and to talk to you more about how to find out the answer, instead of just going out and trying things on their own. Because a lot of times people will not know the answer, and they'll go out and experiment. And wouldn't you rather them have the education around that experience, and know what's happening, and what's not happening, and what's the truth and not the truth, so that they'll be more educated? And then you'll be educated around some of the things that you don't know. So it's kind of a role modeling - what you want that person to do. And I think that the more that we practice, and learn, and work together, the better educator that we could be - if you decide to become an educator around sexuality and help your friends learn how to be safe and also learn about relationships, and that not everything is all bad. But there could be some really good relationships that you can have out there.
Sex education is an ongoing process. As people continue to grow, they will have new experiences and their learning needs can change.
So, we're now going to move into the next section of this webinar. We've talked a lot about these qualities that are kind of the hallmarks of a good educator and we know you're probably asking, "Ok, how do I develop those qualities?" Maybe there's an area you've identified that you feel like, I could use some more work on. So we're going to try to give you some ideas and tips on just how you can do that.
So, one way that you can check your skills as a sexuality educator is to pay attention to the language you use. Are you being inclusive? Inclusive language is an important skill and it reflects respect for yourself and for others, as well as supports universal values that all are welcome and accepted. People with disabilities have so many experiences of being excluded in our society, so it matters a great deal to model inclusion in the words and methods that we use for teaching sex education.
This is another example from the WEAVE Facilitators Guide about inclusive language:
This curriculum is intended to be inclusive of gender, race, ethnicity, religion and ability. There will be language that reflects this.
For example, there are gender neutral names and pronouns in some activities. This is intentional.
There are also some points where the curriculum says, "take a step or wheel forward." This is meant to show that everyone can participate in any of the activities.
So, you may be wondering "What is a gender neutral name?" These are names that tend to be unisex, like Kendall, Tyler or Sam. Gender neutral names have become very popular these days and you can find a list of them just by looking them up on the internet. Gender neutral pronouns are also being used more commonly now. One suggestion is to switch to neutral pronouns when giving examples, using words like "they" instead of "he" or "she", even if just speaking about one person. It can take some practice, as Tia was saying, "practicing is good" . . . it can take some practice, but in many ways it's easier once you get used to it.
Another important skill is to be aware of gender stereotypes, likes women are flirtatious and overly emotional or men are more stoic and not emotional. Sometimes, we can be unaware of the gender bias that we have developed over the years. This is why it can be helpful to practice or check with a colleague about examples that you plan to use in your lessons.
Isn't it great how this example on the screen, also emphasizes being inclusive about different types of disability? Being aware of the language we use and not relying on statements like "everyone stand up together" or "as we can see", but moving towards examples that include everyone like, "take a step or wheel forward".
Let's pause the recording a moment and maybe you can list or discuss with your peers, if you're in a group, some other examples of inclusive language that you can incorporate into your sex education groups.
Another important set of skills in learning how to keep material accessible is, how to keep material accessible. Sorry about that. I have spoken to many people with disabilities who participated in sex education, perhaps in school, but they came away with only partial understanding or even misunderstandings about important information, like maybe about sexually transmitted infections or how the reproductive system works. I remember there was one gentleman that I worked with, who believed that his girlfriend had her children all by herself. He didn't believe that there was any sperm involved in her having children. There was another gentleman that I worked with, who regularly got mixed up when talking about public and private because both words began with the letter "P". People with disabilities need to know and understand about how their bodies work and how to have healthy, positive and safe relationships.
This slide lists some of the missteps in the way sex education material has been presented to people with disabilities. These practices keep the material from being accessible.
We could take this same list and generate some guidelines on how to improve the accessibility of sex education. Please pause this recording and use your pen or pencil, write down the skills that you would use to help ensure accessibility.
So, hopefully, your list includes items like this:
Take your time when covering new material. Break it down into parts that are more easily managed. I heard a self-advocate speaker once, who would talk about that all the time. When people would give complicated topics, she would say "No, no! Break it down, break it down." And it was always be such a great reminder not to load too much information into one teaching moment.
Check your language - make sure it's inclusive and that you are explaining new terms, big words, acronyms and abbreviations. Think through the format that you will use. Does it combine verbal instruction, with visual support? Have you given an opportunity for people to practice and talk about the new learning? How do you handle questions? - Do you answer them as they come up or do you delay it until the end of the lesson? I've seen some groups where they used a whiteboard or a large piece of newsprint to write down the questions, they called it kind of like a "parking lot" and then they would come back to it, so they wouldn't forget the questions that had come up, but it wouldn't necessarily interrupt the lesson. Those are just some strategies. Hopefully you have also come up with some strategies on your list. I'm wondering about strategies that you can use to check for understanding, that wouldn't put someone on the spot or embarrass them? It's also important for people to have a safe person that they can approach with questions. A good educator can help people figure out who the trusted adults are in their lives. Obviously the teacher or group leader could be an option, but it is also helpful for individuals to identify other trusted adults that they can go to with questions or to process what they are learning.
Those are just some examples of how to help keep material accessible. And we'll return to this topic in Module 4, where we're going to talk about teaching strategies for sex education.
So, in the previous slide, I asked about ways that you can check for understanding without putting people on the spot or embarrassing them. One skill that can be very helpful, is to remember to use open-ended questions. On this slide we can see some examples of this.
Instead of asking "Is respect important to you?", you could try asking "What is important to you?" This can allow the individual to come up with their own answers and helps accomplish a couple things: 1) it can give you insight into their values and 2) it gives you a chance to check for their understanding of what you're talking about.
Similarly, asking "What messages have you received?" is more effective than asking "Have you gotten negative messages?" You'll get a more complete picture of a person's understanding by using an open-ended question. It is also helpful to keep the conversation positive and open to different viewpoints.
The third example on this slide is: asking "How do you show respect?" rather than "Does eye contact show respect?" This is a great way to check for understanding. You're opening up the opportunity for the person or the group to explore the many ways that one can show respect for another. Developing a skill like asking open-ended questions is a great tool for adding to your toolbox in providing sexuality education.
Another area is information. And we've said that it's important to, you know, be okay with saying "I don't know the answer. I'm looking it up." But there is also, it's also important to learn as much as we can before we start teaching, as well. You don't have to know everything, but here are some topics that it would be good for you to explore and have a sense of. So, the first is human sexual development. So, as soon as somebody's born, what are the different tasks that they go through as they develop their sexuality? There's lots of information on that, for you to read and just get up to, you know, up to speed on.
And then, also, how do we maintain sexual health? What is sexual health? And then, how do we maintain that, as a sexual being? So that's another piece of learning you can do ahead of time. And then, what are the qualities of a healthy relationship, whether it's a sexual or romantic relationship or a friendship, or a big family? What are healthy qualities in that, versus unhealthy? And then, also what is sexual self-advocacy? We talk a lot about self-advocacy, and many self-advocates say that they get lots more support in being a general self-advocate, like "I want to, you know, live on my own." Or "I want to get a job." Or "I want to go to school." People say, "Ok, great! Let's figure that out." But, when someone says "I want to start dating," like the example that Tia and I used, people get nervous. So, understanding what is sexual self-advocacy, as well.
So those are important things to learn about, but also having a tool. Like Linda has said, there's seven curricula that have been approved and they have lots of content in them, for you to review before you use them. The Elevatus Training curriculum is scripted. And I mentioned earlier that it was designed for a self-advocate and a professional to teach the curriculum. So it's well scripted for everyone. Because we don't have a lot of experience teaching and talking about these topics, we can use the script. And it gives you sort of an anchor, as well.
There's 22 lessons in the curriculum. And as I mentioned it was developed with people with disabilities and they also said, "And yep, we want to teach it as well." And so, it's had disability perspective throughout the curriculum. It's comprehensive. We also have, we've developed some communication boards for people who are non-speaking, as well as some slide decks to go with the lessons. Now that there's lots more teaching online, they've come in handy. But even just to have them for you, it's a nice tool. Like okay, you turn the slide and you know what the next thing is to do when you're teaching. You can preview all of those things, as well. And Tia mentioned earlier to me, just it's so nice that you can pick and choose.
So here are some of the topics. There are 22. But, you can pick and choose based on the learning needs and the requests of the people in the class or the person you are talking one-on-one with. They want to learn about different types of relationships, you can go to that lesson and use that one-on-one or you can use it in a group.
But these, gender identity and expression is one of the topics that we included a couple years ago in a revision of the curriculum. People said that was a topic that people were asking about and wanting to learn about, as well as internet and social media. So those are two new lessons.
There's also public and private, like Linda mentioned. Both of those words begin with P, so how do we distinguish those? What are the different private places, public places? What are the different private topics, public topics? As well as the different kinds of relationships and how do we interact in those relationships? And what kind of topics do we talk about in those relationships? As well as moving from friend, like the scenario we used, to a sweetheart or a partner. How do you ask someone out? How do you let them know you're interested? As well as communication and decision-making, just general communication and decision-making, and then around sexual relationships. Body parts and how do you take care of your body, as well. And sexual feelings, and attraction and sexual acts, and how to have a pleasurable and safe sexual relationship. As well as, talking about sexual health, how do you avoid getting a sexually transmitted infection? Or avoid an unplanned pregnancy, if you don't want to have a child? So it covers lots of topics, and like I said before, you can pick and choose and make it fit for your individual or your class, based on what they're looking for and what they need, as well.
One of the things that I really like about the Elevatus Training curriculum and the WEAVE curriculum is that they are comprehensive. And, I think as Katherine pointed out, one of the strengths of a comprehensive curriculum is that it really allows you to better select the learning material that really fits the individual and where they are at, at that point. And then you have resources within that same curriculum to come back to when they get to a different place in their life. And so that's really great.
Going back to the WEAVE Curriculum, in their Facilitator's Guide, they have again, another kind of universal value statement: Sexuality is complicated. It is a big topic. And it covers a wide range of human experience. So similar to what Katherine was talking about with Elevatus, the WEAVE curriculum covers a range of topics: Gender identity, sexual orientation, reproductive health, romance, communication, consent, power dynamics, social and cultural expectations.
So you can see a lot of similarities across these curriculum. I like the way that the WEAVE curriculum emphasizes the wide range of human experience because not all people are going to be at the same place in their lives, regarding their sexual feelings, their interest and expression.
A good sex educator is familiar with the range of topics included in the curriculum and is willing to learn about the topics that they may not have as much experience with.
So, on this slide, we're talking about how you can get more information. As Katherine pointed out, there are great resources out there. The Sex Ed webpage from the Department of Human Services has an extensive Resource list. We're providing you here with the information about the Elevatus Training, where you can find out about the curriculum and, as well the resource, the additional resources that they have developed on the website. The WEAVE curriculum, as I said is at that Google Drive folder. This third dot point is another one of the approved curricula by the National Council on Independent Living, called Sex Ed for people, Individuals with IDD. I should say that this is the only one of the curriculum that we have that is really just videos. It is a series of ten videos that were made by and for self-advocates that cover a range of topics in sexuality education. The SIECUS Comprehensive Sex Ed for Youth with Disabilities is a relatively new publication, that just came out in March of this year and it really provides, kind of a comprehensive look at the state of sex ed in our country, and it does give a particular "shout out" to Illinois and the important work that we are doing here. So it's a great place to get more information about where things are headed in the field.
So another piece of being a good sexuality educator is recognizing our own barriers to being respectful, or using these skills or talking about this topic. So the first one is embarrassment. Many of us didn't have these conversations growing up, and so we don't really know what it sounds like. And it might be uncomfortable for us to say these words and, I think Linda mentioned earlier around practice, and Tia mentioned it, as well. Practice saying the words. It helps us become more comfortable and we can get over our embarrassment. I tend to kind of stay in my head when I'm teaching. I don't, sort of, pay attention to my feelings around being nervous and really just get very, sort of, factual and in my brain. And just thinking of it as another topic, just like how you wash windows, or something. Just, um, very "heady". So that helps. But also many participants in the trainings that we provide say that, at first, they're really, really nervous. They go back and they start teaching and they realize, it wasn't as difficult as they thought it was going to be. So that's a really good thing. And plus, the more they teach, the more they talk about it, the easier it gets. So I'm just giving you a little bit of reassurance that many people might be feeling nervous listening to this, and I've had people say they were, and they went back and it was easier than they had anticipated. So that's one thing, you can get over the embarrassment and get comfortable.
The other thing is shame. And we've talked about how people with disabilities may have received negative messages, but so have we! All people, as a culture we give negative messages. We give very fear-based messages. And we may feel a lot of shame about sexual relationships and sexual feelings. So we, as educators, may have to unlearn some of those messages that we got and say to ourselves, "This is healthy and normal, part of life." And sort of train ourselves to be more positive, because, like I said, culturally we are not very positive about it. So you can too, also unlearn that. And then you're helping others that you're teaching and talking with, unlearn some of their negative messages.
And then the last one, we talked about quite a bit, but perceived, that you need to know everything before you start. It's just sexuality is a big topic, but it's also changing, too. And we're all learning, all the time about this. And we've said before, it's okay to say "I don't know" or "let's go look it up" or "let me find out". And then make sure you go back and give that information after you look it up. So, it's a process. And we have a 3-day training called "Becoming a Sexuality Educator", and we used to call it "Become", but we realized it's really a process. It's not going to be done after listening to this module or after a 3-day training. It's an ongoing thing. Just like sexuality of people, in general, it's a lifelong learning process.
And then, this other thing about respect, is how do we maintain a non-judgmental stance? You know, how do we do that? And, I'm always saying to people - "Respond, don't react." And not only are we negative and shameful in our culture, we are also very reactive about anything about sexuality. So one of the things that many of the people in my trainings say is, "I got to learn that 'poker-face'. I got to figure out how to not have my mouth drop to the floor, when they say something. And so that's something that we have to get good at and just remain really neutral, and remain curious. "Tell me more about that." Like the slide says, "Ok, I'm listening" and "Tell me more", rather than "Oh my gosh!"
So, and also learning about, maybe pieces that we don't have lived experience in. Maybe it's a racial or cultural . . . we want to learn more about racism, or different cultures, or maybe LGBTQ. We just don't have that lived experience to fully understand. And so, learning more helps us be more non-judgmental, because we understand it!
And then the last thing is the values and opinions. We've talked about this and we'll talk more about it, too. But really, we have to think about what our role is. So rather than thinking, "I'm just going to say whatever comes out of my mouth - what is my role here?" And so, knowing your role is really important. And so, it's to provide medically accurate, factual information for people. And that, and that information needs to be age-appropriate. So I often will say, it needs to match the biological age of the person that you're talking one-on-one, or the people in your class. But also, the Illinois group worked on, it also needs to be developmentally appropriate. And what that means is - "what are the learning needs and styles of the person I'm working with individually or the class?" - and maybe adapt things based on what people need and how they learn. So, both biologically based, but also developmentally - "what are the needs of the people that I'm working with?", as well.
So, we've got our role, and then we have our other, our other piece is creating a safe learning environment. And we've talked about many ways you can do that, like using inclusive language, making sure people know what you're going to talk about, there's all kinds of ways to help people feel safe in their learning.
And then the other thing is this belief that you're here to help people make their own decisions. And I think Linda talked about "informed decision-making" or "informed consent". So, the more information that we have, and the tools to learn how to make our own decision, and the support, the better we are at making these decisions and that makes us really strong sexual self-advocates, as well.
All right. So, Tia and I are going to talk about these, these different "Facts" or "Opinions". So Tia is going to read them off and then we'll take a minute to pause the video and think about - "Are these facts? Or are these values or opinions or beliefs? And why?
"You have to be married to have a baby."
"Two people have to be in love in order to have sex."
"Being LGBTQ is a choice."
"You need to be 25 years old to get married."
So, hopefully you spent a little time thinking about - "Is that a fact?" or "Is that actually an opinion or a value or a belief?" And we're going to go through each one and talk about this. So, go ahead, Tia.
"You have to be married to have a baby."
Yeah, so, one of the things that I do is I say, "Is that really true, like all the time?" And it isn't. That might be what people choose to do, some people - maybe not all people, right? So it might be more of an opinion or a belief, than it is a fact. So really the fact is you need a sperm and an egg for a baby to be made. And the two people involved, or the person involved in that, may be married or may not. It's not a fact. It's more of a choice or a belief.
"Two people have to be in love in order to have sex."
Yeah, and what you might notice, too, is that you start saying things and you go "Oop, wait, wait. That's a value." So, you don't have to be in love to have sex. Many people are in love when they have sex. Many people aren't. It's not, it's not a definite that always happens that way. So, really thinking, noticing your language and whether it is a fact or an opinion.
"Being LGBTQ is a choice."
Right. So again, the fact is that being LGBTQ is part of who somebody is and their identity. And so it's not a choice to say: "Oh, I'll think I'll do this" or "I think I'll do that." It's really about who a person is. So that would be an opinion.
"You need to be 25 years old to get married."
Yep, so that's just a random number, right? That's, you know, that's not a fact. You don't have to be . . . . There might be some laws that maybe there's a certain age. But that's really just an opinion that someone's saying. And so, what we really want to focus on is things like - "Well, what would you need in order to get married?" "What do you need to do?" "What would you want to have in your relationship in order to get married?" So you would want to help explore these things, rather than say you have to do this at a certain age. And I like to tell a story about my daughter on the playground when she was six years old. And she, a little girl said "You have to be married to make a baby." And my daughter said, "No you don't. You don't have to be married to make a baby." And yet, so my daughter was being very factual, and the little girl was actually being, was talking about a belief. And sometimes our beliefs actually feel like facts. So she probably thought "No!" and they kind of got into this argument about it. And it was probably, you know, parents saying, "When you grow up, you'll get married and then you'll have a baby. And, you know, it's important to be married when you have a baby." But that's not a fact, that's more of a belief. So always ask yourself - is this really true? - before you make a statement.
Another thing is really looking at - we talked about the difference between a fact and a value or a belief. But some of the negative things that can happen when we do try, when we do impose our values, or we do use values as a way of teaching. And Tia is going to talk about this a little bit and some of her feelings when, someone tries to impose their values on her.
* People may not come to you if they feel they cannot talk to you about the things going on in their lives. This may mean they don't tell anyone.
So, sometimes people don't come to you when they don't feel that trust. Or they don't feel that, - or they feel you are going to judge them or tell them that you don't want them to be a part of that. And I think that once you do that, and you react negatively about what they're saying or you don't listen to them, then they may not come to talk to you or even, maybe, not talk to anyone because they're afraid that they're going to be judged or pushed away or not listened to.
* Parents/guardians can get upset if you share your values and they differ from the family's
Sometimes parents and guardians have really strong values and sometimes when you tell them what your values are, they may get really upset at you. And so, they don't want to then talk about it, or they may get mad. And some people then feel like, "Wow! I'm so scared to say anything else because they don't want me to do anything." Or "they might not believe the same way that I do, so why should I talk to my parents or guardian about this?"
* People may feel judged and ashamed
Sometimes, it's really hard to talk about sexuality. And if you, if someone goes up to someone and talks about it and you say something negatively about it, again, they may feel like you are judging them. And they may feel ashamed because not all the time people with disabilities know about all the topics around sexuality or all the answers to questions. And so they may already feel embarrassed about talking about it and then if you act negatively and make them feel ashamed about the question they're asking, and show different body language. And when they are asking you a question, they may feel like, ashamed then, that they didn't know that answer. Or they may feel ashamed that talking about sexuality might be a bad thing because you didn't know everything and why are you coming to them and asking them those questions.
Yeah, and Tia, when you and I did the role play earlier, what would it have been like, if I said something like, "No, I don't think you should date. That's not a good idea."? What would that feel like to you?
I probably would have been, like, upset about that. Because then I wouldn't, I thought I could like, share information with you and we would talk about it. Instead of already, just saying no right away and not explaining anything or helping me learn or asking me questions more about it before you make that choice for me. I would have felt like you were making that choice for me, instead of helping me make that choice for myself.
Right. Yeah, so we have to learn how to manage our values, so they don't come out of our mouths when we're teaching. So one way, is to remember the role and we said it was to give accurate information, to create a safe environment, and to believe that people with disabilities have the right to make their own choices. We didn't say anything about telling your values. So, we have to learn to set them aside. And, you know, you may have heard "Leave your values at the door", right?
So remembering your role, and then also ask open-ended questions. You're going to roll it back to them and give them the time to explore and help them sort out what they want in their lives, as well. And we can also give a range of opinions and values as well. So we could say, "Some people think this. Some people think this. What do you think?" And maybe my value is one of those, but I don't need to say it's my value, right? So I'm just giving some options and then rolling it back to the person for them to sort out what their value is and what they believe about it. So those are some tips around how do we manage our values.
And then, the last thing is, and Linda referred to this earlier, universal values. So we do share some values, but they're values that all of us would agree with. So, this person, the thing about should I date or not? - some people may say yes, some people might say no. But universal values, most people, if not everyone, would agree with.
* Everyone is a sexual being.
Um, hm. From birth to death. It doesn't mean you are having sex. It means that you have a sexuality. That is true.
* Everyone deserves to learn about their bodies and relationships, no matter who they are.
It's true. Because we want people to have information so they can take care of themselves and live full lives.
* Self-advocates can be sexuality educators
I've seen it done in different states in the country, where they're teaching the topic. So we know that. And that's a value that we have around people with disabilities can be teachers, as well as people without disabilities.
* A relationship should be healthy and positive, and not abusive.
Absolutely! So we're going to talk about it in that way.
* Respect for the rights of others and respect for your own rights is important.
And so, respect as a value is a universal value - to respect others and yourself. And then -
* Communication works best when it is two-way.
So, that's a value around teaching, too. We're not just going to be lecturing to people about things. We're going to talk and have a discussion, and have it be two-way, because it's more effective than talking at someone.
So these are universal values. And the Illinois group also created a Sexual Rights Statement. It's on the website that Linda has referred to. And it's really helpful in breaking down the different sexual rights that people have. And it's also in Spanish, as well. So, a great resource to make sure you take a look at. Tia - ?
Remember - Education gives people power! And people with disabilities deserve that power as much as anyone else.
I think about a friend of mine, who was at a Conference with us, with her boyfriend. And one of the things that happened is they kissed. And they didn't know that if you kissed somebody, you can't become pregnant. So they ran upstairs to our room and talked to us about "Oh my gosh, we're pregnant because I kissed her!" And so, one of the things that we did is we talked to them about "Ok, do you know how a person gets pregnant? And do you now all the things about a relationship and what you have to do?" All the things about what it takes for someone to be pregnant. And they didn't know, so then we told them and we gave them that information. So the more education you can give somebody, that give them the more power to know whether or not something is a good thing in a relationship or something is not so good. Or questions that you have that someone else might have told you that was wrong, like having a baby just because you kissed. So yeah, the more that you can give people the power and tools that they need, and to educate them, the better off it will be.
Tia, that is such a great example of what you were talking about earlier today - the difference between friendship and educators. And the way you responded, you and your friends responded to those friends who were worried that kissing had caused a pregnancy, is such a great example of being an educator! You responded with some factual information, right? Instead of reacting in some way, like saying "Oh that's so silly that you think that" or something. But you really were able to respond as an educator, which is really great. And it does give people power.
So, the final section in our training today is about how to feel comfortable talking about sexual topics and behaviors. We're going to take time to cover this because we know that this is a topic that many people are uncomfortable talking about. In fact, they may not talk about it much with their family and friends, much less as part of their jobs!
There was a review in 2016 of over 50 research studies about young people's attitudes toward school-based sex education and relationship education that they had received. And one of the most common complaints was that teachers were uncomfortable teaching about sex.
We hope that this module and the entire What's Right about Sex Ed series will help you gain more comfort and confidence providing sex education to the individuals that you serve.
So, the next series of slides, we're going to call "Points to ponder". And we're going to propose several different kinds of situations and give you some time to think about them, and reflect either alone or with others, if you are taking this training as part of a group. Tia is going to read each of these situations, then after she does that, please pause the recording and think about how you would respond to the question. Please keep in mind the qualities that we have been talking about today.
What can you say if you are asked what having sex is like?
(Pause the recording)
Yeah, so, one of the skills is to listen, like we said and give factual information. Well, first and this kind of touches on Tia's story about her friend, the first thing I would ask is "What do you mean by sex?" Just to make sure that I understand the question. If they mean kissing, then I would say something different, right? So, making sure you understand the question.
But then, you might say, "So, you're wondering what it is like to have sex?" So, you're repeating it, I heard you. "What a great question." You're sort of giving that message. "Oh, okay. That's what. Yeah. And then you're going to give factual information about what it means to have, what it feels like to have sex. And, this might feel, if it's a personal question to you, "Ewww." But you don't have to answer it like a personal question. You can say, "You know, it's really different for everyone. But the point of it is mostly for pleasure and to feel good. And if you're being sexual with someone and it doesn't feel good, there might be something going on. Maybe there is an infection. Or maybe you don't really want to be doing this. So, if it doesn't feel good, that's something to look at. But it's supposed to be a positive, pleasurable experience." So, that's a way to deal with the facts.
And then, keeping that non-judgmental attitude, too. So, no matter what people say or ask, you are accepting of that person, whether it's about their identity, or whether it's about their choices. And whatever your opinions are, you keep them to yourself. And you make sure that people feel accepted for who they are and for the decisions that they've made.
A good sexuality educator creates that environment that respects others' values. So, again, it's giving that factual information, but also giving that non-judgmental, values-inclusive way of being.
What can you say if you are asked if you have ever masturbated?
(Pause the recording)
So, getting asked personal questions is perhaps one of the biggest fears for prospective sexuality educators. As Katherine just talked about, one helpful strategy is just to affirm the question: "So it sounds like you have questions about masturbation."
It's also important that you can set boundaries about your personal life, behaviors and choices. This is a great way for you to model privacy and respect for yourself and your partner, as well as respect for the self-advocate. You might say "I can see that you are curious about me, but that is personal and private information." And then you can go back to that strategy about reflecting the question back: "It sounds like you have questions about masturbation. What would you like to know about it?"
You could also respond by stating some general factual information about masturbation. You could say something like, "I can tell you, generally, that masturbation is something that many people enjoy as a way to stroke or touch their genitals for pleasure. It sounds like you have questions about masturbation. What are you questions?"
If the follow-up questions that the person brings up about masturbation or any topic area are something where you feel you need to learn more about before you answer, then you can let the person know that, as we've been saying. I had that experience once, where I was working with a gentleman and he asked me about premature ejaculation. I didn't know what to answer. So I told him that it was a subject I needed to find out more about before I responded. I did my research, so that I could follow up with him and give him factual and accurate information, rather than just on the spot trying to, you know, give him what I thought, I went and checked it out, so I could be sure the information I provided was more factual. And then, this last point: The goal of sexuality education is to give people correct information, the time to think about it and then make their own decisions.
What can you do if there is a participant who says mean things about others like "gay people are sick"?
(Pause the recording)
Yeah, so when we're in a classroom and somebody says something that might be hurtful to another person, we really want to stop that, um, those conversations. And, you know, make sure that people don't feel discriminated against in our classes. And that might also be, not themselves but, maybe their uncle or someone else that they care about, that might be hurt by this. So, all people have the right to be who they are and to not feel discriminated. So if you're teaching a class and there's a man in the class, who's attracted to men, he needs to be accepted for who he is. Just as I wouldn't tell someone with a disability, they don't have a disability; or someone who's black, they're not black. It's part of a person and their identity, so I would never do that, and so, I wouldn't do that around sexual orientation either. And, as a teacher, we want all people to feel accepted and welcome in our classes. And many people who are LGBTQ talk about, when they went, when they had sexuality education, they felt invisible, because no one talked about them. They talked about, "Oh, the guy and the girl . . . ." And so we want to be inclusive and make sure people feel that they are visible and that we acknowledge that they're there. And that they're part of being a human.
We also want to, not only just have that belief, but we want to also address this comment about "gay people are sick." So we might say something like, "It's okay to have your opinions, but you have to express those in a kind way. So you might say something like, so you might say, 'I don't know any gay people' or 'When two people are attracted to each other of the same sex, I feel uncomfortable.' That's, that's not being hurtful and directly saying mean things", like Tia said. So I think that what we want to do is stop it and say, "You know what you just said could really hurt someone, so we're going to stop talking about that and let's talk about that afterwards, you and I." Because it might be something different. It may, it may not be that they're saying mean things. They might say something like, "Well, gay people have HIV." "Oh, okay. So you're talking about 'sick', like they have a disease or an infection and they don't . . . .". Yeah, so then that's different. But, we also want to protect people in the class from feeling hurt. So, we want to kind of stop that conversation and address it in private and find out what it is. So that people don't continue to feel hurt.
So, as Katherine was just saying, a really great option is to be able to turn to a private conversation to explore a little further what the person may have meant, what's behind the questions that they bring up. There are other opportunities, too, where having a private conversation could be a great way to support a person in learning sexuality education. Maybe the person is struggling to be a part of the group. You know, a group format doesn't work for everybody. There might be someone, for example, who's just been put on some new medication and is finding it very difficult to sit and be attentive during a group meeting. There might be people that feel very hesitant to ask their questions in front of a group, and will ask you if they can have a private meeting. Another possibility is that the person has disclosed something that merits a more private follow-up conversation. We'll be talking about this in one of the other modules, but it's not uncommon that there be a disclosure of an abuse incident in sexuality education classes. And, so you may need to set up a private conversation with that individual afterwards to, to be sure that you can ensure their safety.
It's also important to be open and available for these types of private conversations in a safe and respectful way. So that doesn't mean just taking someone to a corner of the classroom to have a "private" conversation, that's not really private. If the group leader is not the best person for this, then you may want to consider a team approach, with another staff member offering more individualized support. That person should be introduced to the group and their role made clear. It's important for people to feel that they're not getting into trouble if they are recommended to have a private meeting, right? Because sometimes that will really shut things down. They need to know that asking questions is ok. And that there is respect for all people and the different ways that we learn best. What matters is that the education process is there to support individuals in gaining knowledge and building their capacity to make their own choices and decisions.
So in the WEAVE curriculum, that's one of the things brought up in the Facilitator Guide, that you can set up these private conversations. It's also true in the Elevatus Training curriculum that, that kind of option. These curricula should be adaptable for the needs of the individual.
What can you say if a participant asks you, "Should I have sex with my partner?"
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So, again, remember in our role, right? - it's to help people make their own decisions about sexuality by giving good, you know, accurate information and helping them become sexual self-advocates. So, as I've said before, I roll it back to them. "It doesn't matter what I think. This is your decision. So, what do you think? What would you need to be ready? What does your partner think?" It's about getting curious. And they might push back, "Well, I just want you to tell me what you would do. What do you think I should do?" Again, you can say to them, "Again, this is your decision. Part of growing up is we have to make our own decisions. So, I'm here to support you in making your own decision, but it really is your decision. It doesn't matter what I think." So, we're going to roll it back when you feel you have a values/opinion question coming your way.
And I really love how this slide also talks about - you can explore, "What are the things that you need in your relationship to feel ready for this step?" So you may be able to kind of help the person think through what might be involved, just so that you can be sure that they have an understanding about it. As we've talked about, sometimes people may bring up the topic of having sex and for them, sex really means just kissing or holding hands. It isn't necessarily that they're talking about sexual intercourse. So, you just don't know. And it's a great way to explore what their thinking is and their understanding.
So, we've talked about a lot of different qualities today, important qualities. And we hope that this has been helpful to you. We've looked at how you can develop these qualities and we've learned about the self-advocate perspective on what makes a good educator and how self-advocates can also be sex educators.
And then, through those "Points to Ponder", we've considered how you can feel comfortable talking about sexual topics and behaviors.
As we close out this webinar, we want you to think about those qualities and where you see yourself today and how those qualities apply to you.
So you can really just take the handout on all the different skills, information, qualities of a sexuality education, educator and think about, "Which ones do I already possess?" And maybe check them off, or cross them off or something. And then see what's remaining. And think about, "Okay, these are ones I probably need to develop a bit more. Let me make a plan on how I'm going to improve on these different qualities here." So you can use it as sort of a checklist in a way. And you can ask yourself, "Oh, am I sharing too many, am I sharing personal stories? Am I telling people what to do? Or am I imposing my values?" So you can use it as a checklist and check in on what, what we already have and we can say "Yes!" and areas we need to improve as well.
So, we've mentioned handouts. I just want to review that there are three handouts that come with the training module for today. One is our presenter bios, so you can look at that and learn a little bit more about each of us that had a part in providing this webinar today. A second one is exactly that handout that goes over the different skills and qualities, information, respect, values and opinions that we've been talking about. That Katherine said that can be very helpful for you and forming your plan about areas you may still need to develop. And then the third handout is a Resource handout. So earlier, I had a slide with resources, and this slide and the next one have the additional resources that are on that handout. So here we have about the curriculum. And the tips that we drew from, from Elevatus Training curriculum and resource page and the WEAVE curriculum Facilitator Guide. The WEAVE curriculum, of course, also has the actual education content, as well. And then, these are the articles that we referenced today. The article by Dave Hingsburger on Ring of Safety, the Elevatus Training article on Managing Values and Attitudes as Professionals. And then there's an additional handout I want to speak to - uh, not handout, resource I want to speak to. This comes from another one of the approved curricula by the Sex Ed Workgroup and that is the Family Life and Sexual Health curriculum. And they have a really nice and comprehensive handout about Strategies for Answering Sexual Health Questions When Teaching the FLASH Curriculum. So I think you'll find all of this very good materials and resources for you to explore.
So, this has been the third module in the "What's Right about Sex Ed" training series. The next module will continue its focus on How to be a Sexuality Educator with Part 2: Strategies to teach sex education. As a reminder, it's not necessary that you watch these modules in order and you may want to watch a module more than one time.
This slide contains my contact information and the contact information for Cynthia Schierl-Spreen. She's the Bureau Chief for the Bureau of Quality Management. We encourage you to reach out to either of us if you have any questions about this training series.
And now, as we close out today, I want to give a big thanks to Tia Nelis and Katherine McLaughlin for joining me today to talk about the Qualities of a Sexuality Educator. It's been a lot of fun to work with both of you.
Thank you and we hope to see you back for the next module!