8 Tips For Talking About Sex and Relationships

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Laura George

Laura teaches Years 4-8 at King's Rochester Prep. School and is head of RS and PSHEE. She has previously taught in secondary state comprehensive and grammar schools. She loves everything about teaching and often can be found telling her husband "Oh, this would be great...
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How do you teach children about sex and relationships?

Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) –  even the words appearing on a scheme of work or timetable can instill fear into the most able of teachers hearts.

The thought of having to stand in front of 30 adolescent pupils while discussing the ins and outs of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be daunting but it’s likely to be much scarier for them than it is you. In 2020 the government are due to make Sex Relationships and Education compulsory in all schools so it’s likely more teachers will need to cover some of the content.

Keep that in mind and follow these tips and it will hopefully make the process easier to bear.

1. Be frank!

It is better in the first lesson if you address the elephant in the room. Acknowledge that this isn’t going to be the most comfortable lesson and that you know it will be hard to hear some of the words you are going to discuss. Just making the point that it’s going to be hard can actually make it easier for all involved.

2. Set the ground rules

Make sure that pupils know what they can and can’t do in the lessons. Make sure you speak about using specific examples and that any child protection issues. Pupils should be aware that anything said in the lesson cannot be kept confidential but that the school will be there to help and support them.

3. Release the giggles

Allow a lesson for pupils to get the giggles out the way. It is inevitable that they will find the content makes them giggle and we can’t really blame them. It’s likely to be a nervous giggle that comes across badly. Maybe ask pupils to write all the words for genitalia they know. Then you can go over what is acceptable in the lesson. This is a good way of avoiding silliness and incorrect words at a later date.

4. Don’t use ‘horrific’ images

It might be tempting to use images to put pupils off of doing something but there are quite a few reasons this might backfire. Firstly, it’s hard to decide what age images should be shown to pupils. Secondly, especially with STIs/STDs, not every illness has horrific effects. If that is the image pupils are told to look for to determine an illness they may miss something when they have no symptoms at all.

5. It’s not about saying “No”

This brings us to another important point. It is not your job to tell pupils what to do and what not to do. It is your job to give factual information. If you tell them what to do they might switch off and not listen.

Make it clear to them that you won’t be there in situations where they make the right or wrong choices. It’s your job to give them all the tools they need to keep themselves safe. The responsibility is ultimately with them.

6. Have a comment/question box

It can be quite awkward for both pupil and teacher to either ask or answer questions in Sex Education. It might be that the pupil doesn’t want to open up in front of the class of a teacher doesn’t want an inappropriate question asked.

To combat this have an anonymous questions box. Allow all pupils a little slip of paper at the end of each session to write a question and post it in a box without their name. You can then address ones that are relevant at the beginning of the next session and leave the inappropriate ones.

7. Consult the guardian

Let parents know what is being taught prior to teaching it. Parents have the right to currently remove their children from SRE lessons, but this can be avoided if you are clear with what is being taught.

It can be via an email but a session talking to parents about SRE may be useful. It could be informative about how to support children learning about relationships from a parents perspective. I have always found doing this allows parents to understand the need and content of SRE better.

8. Relax

It might not be easy, but try to relax. It is likely to be one of those things that is worse in mind than in reality. Once you get over the initial shock and giggles, it’s just another lesson.

In a synthesis of findings from five research packages, Pound et al (2017) ask What is best practice in sex and relationship education? Their findings are well worth a read, particularly in relation to what they say about young people.

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