Yesterday I ranted about how being sex-positive is difficult but necessary. Today I’ll try and demonstrate how we can put sex-positive SRE into practice. (Suitable for over 14s, depending on the group).
In my humble opinion, a lesson which is entirely about STIs is a sex negative lesson. Even if it’s a really interactive lesson which involves mixing fluids or trying to work out how many millions of people you have effectively had sex with after having sex with just one person, if it’s just about STIs it’s sex negative and will only have a limited effect.
Giving young people lots of information about STIs, prevalence, names, causes, symptoms, long term effects, damage, tests, treatments won’t work by itself. It may convince some young people, who weren’t ready for sex yet, that sex generally is a bad idea. However in my experience, young people who are about to or have already started having sex will just switch off. If they are feel ready to have sex, they are going to have sex and they will just ignore information which they think is trying to put them off. They may think ‘I’ll wear a condom’ but they may also think ‘sod it, I’ll just get a chlamydia test and some anti-biotics.’
This is especially true if we use images of diseased genitals (something the kids are now referring to as blue waffle, I wouldn’t image search that if I were you) to try and scare people. In addition to portraying an inaccurate picture of STIs (symptoms are usually unrecognisable or absent) they stigmatise STIs and the people that have them, they portray people with STIs as dirty but also they ‘other’ STIs. They are very very common, sometimes shit happens, we can all get them.
So how I would go about teaching a lesson about STIs is to give a brief overview about the key messages (see the leaflet above), either through a quiz or a brief talk. But then I would introduce an activity which looks at how to make sex safer (see the back of the leaflet above). This makes the information relevant to young people because it reflects the experience of many young people who want to know how to have enjoyable safer sex.
I give young people in small groups a pack of sexy behaviours: sexy things you can do with someone else (or I get them to brainstorm their own sexy behaviours) and I ask them to put them in order of safety. No or low risk, some risk or high risk (I also explain that this in terms of safety from STIs rather than whether you can get in trouble doing it!). They have a conversation with each other about what they see as safe, which in itself is giving them the language confidence to negotiate this in relationships.
We run through what is in the various piles and it’s a good opportunity to clarify things, to provide a little bit more info on STIs. Processing this part of the activity we want the key message to be that penetrative sex can be made safer by using condoms, but also that non-penetrative sex can be super hot but also super safe.
Then I ask the young people to sort them out into 4 new piles. 1st base, 2nd base, 3rd base and 4th base. Bases are how far people might go sexually at different stages of a relationship. 1st base might be a first date, 4th base might be when you trust each other loads and know each others middle names. See my bishUK post with a poll about this here
To process this I ask whether there is any link between what was in their risk piles and what is in their base piles. Usually the higher risk activities are also the ones which go on 4th base. So not only are condoms and non-penetrative sex methods of having safer sex, but also the ability to negotiate risks and to communicate within the context of a mutually trusting and intimate relationship.
See? Sex positive is not that scary.