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For Teachers & Professionals

For Teachers & Professionals

Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Emotional literacy

Too often sexual education is limited to topics such as preventing pregnancies, avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and knowing how the body works. These are all important topics, but sexuality is a broader spectrum. It encompasses themes like identity and relationships. “Comprehensive Sexuality Education” is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical, social and legal aspects of sexuality. Comprehensive sexuality education is a contemporary approach to sex education that aims to help children and young people build knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to realize their health, well-being and dignity, develop respectful social and sexual relationships and consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others. Being in interaction with others requires sensitivity to one’s own and others’ vulnerabilities, considering the well-being of others, as well as questioning norms and social expectations. Emotional literacy is made up of 'the ability to understand your emotions, the ability to listen to others and empathize with their emotions, and the ability to express emotions productively. To be emotionally literate is to be able to handle emotions in a way that improves your personal power and improves the quality of life around you. Emotional literacy improves relationships, creates loving possibilities between people, makes cooperative work possible, and facilitates the feeling of community. Emotional literacy is often used synonymously with emotional intelligence, but unlike emotional intelligence, emotional literacy is a skill that can be taught. Supporting the development of children’s emotional literacy in sexuality and its social context, as well as responsive sex communication is key to building one’s sexual identity, and respectful relationships early and to foster children’s health and well-being throughout their lives. 

Teaching emotional literacy can be done by guiding learners in group activities and interactional discourse that culminate with self-reflection on thoughts, behaviour and feelings. Through taking perspective, active listening, and learning to listen to one another’s imagination, teachers and students become aware of one another’s feelings, hence strengthening their capacity to become more mindful in times of confusion or doubt.

Here are some strategies to implement emotional literacy:

1. Anti-oppressive literacy practice

“Unlearning” social norms such as traditional family structures or gender roles. Anti-oppressive literacy practices, such as prompting reflection through critical questions like, “how does this story reproduce stereotypes?” or “which aspects of their lives are left silent?” help young people to look beyond the surface and question their own thoughts and beliefs.

2. Allowing emotions to have their place

Teaching them to recognize, name and face what they feel. This involves engaging the emotions of young people, and getting them to feel happy, sad, angry or concerned about aspects of the topic; being emotionally articulate helps in breaking down one’s embarrassment and emotional reserve. 

3. Use of contextual stories

By talking and writing about deep emotional experiences, and treating feelings and values as confidential, young people will be encouraged to feel safe when expressing themselves. Talking about one’s experience is the first step to acknowledging and validating it.

4. Social media

Practice on them. Encourage active seeking and critical discussion about what is found and learned on the internet.

5. Participatory involvement

Sex educators should allow young people to develop their own themes and priorities, offer their perspectives, set the pace and use different strategies in sex education.

Applying emotional literacy to sex education would improve social awareness and responsible decision-making and in so doing, contribute to raising young people’s educational achievements by addressing their emergent sexual and social identities. It is time to enrich sex education modules by adding what is now known to be helpful for the aim of sexual education.

REFERENCES Seiler-Ramadas, R., Grabovac, I., Winkler, R., & Dorner, T. E. (2021). Applying Emotional Literacy in Comprehensive Sex Education for Young People. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 16(4), 480-500. 

Steiner, C. with Perry, P. (1997) Achieving Emotional Literacy. London: Bloomsbury.

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