Feminist Relationships and Sex Education

For International Women’s Day we wanted to highlight some of the activities within DO… that you might find useful when teaching about sexism, societal messages about gender, and power dynamics. 

As you can see there is something in each lesson which is relevant to these topics. So running the whole DO… programme would be a great example of feminist activism (whilst also being engaging and great RSE for all genders).

In lesson one students can explore how they feel about themselves and how we all feel about ourselves is in a large part shaped by the messages we receive from society, our communities, the people around us as well as our own self-perception. Of course, discrimination is one of the factors that can have a huge affect on how we feel about ourselves. Also the unrealistic beauty standards of how people are supposed to look can affect everyone, and particularly women. Given all this is can be quite difficult not to be critical of oneself, so we included an activity for students which is all about self care. The importance of self-care in tackling oppression (particularly racism) is an idea from Audre Lorde.

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In lesson two we make the whole thing about gender expectations and the rigid rules that society has about how to be a woman. This lesson has a fun creative element allowing students to draw rich characters with different backgrounds, races, disabilities/abilities, classes, names, hobbies all of which can bring in different intersections. So this is a way for students to learn about intersectional feminism (shout out to Kimberlé Crenshaw). One of the things that this lesson raises is to think about is to what extent so-called ‘feminine’ traits such as being caring and sharing might valued less in society (and certainly paid less) than ‘masculine’ traits such as being dominant and independent.

Lesson three is about love and relationships which is all about critiquing why romantic relationships are all too often regarded as being the most important kind of relationships, usually at the expense of friendships. If we could treat our friendships as being as important (or even nearly as important) as romantic relationships then how might that help women to create more space, time and resources for other women?

Lesson four is all about consent. The sobering statistic from the latest Natsal study shows how consent is an issue for all genders, with 1 in 10 women reporting having had sex against their will, compared with 1 in 71 men. There is also now a greater awareness of the violence that trans folk face on a daily basis, particularly thanks to the work of activists like Paris Lees.. Consent and power are at the heart of DO… and in the post #MeToo world there is a huge opportunity for all schools to centre these issues in their RSE — we have got you.

Safer sex is a subject that affects all genders but we try to tackle this differently in lesson five by specifically framing different sexual activities that people may choose to do or not. Getting away from the message that sex = intercourse, opens up many more possibilities for women to negotiate different kinds of sexual activity that they may find more enjoyable but also are more safe from unplanned pregnancy or STIs.

The final lesson features real life scenarios for students to answer. Armed with their 5 weeks of best in class RSE; their mobile phones; and links websites like Brook, FPA, The Mix, Bish and Scarleteen; the students get to answer questions that are likely to affect them or their friends at some point in their future. Questions about: unhealthy relationships, painful sex, access to services, coercive sexting, abortions, and contraceptive services are of course all relevant to all young people but will resonate with a lot of women especially.

And yes, there is an International Men’s Day and I will post a similar thing on 19th November.

© Justin Hancock, 2023

Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people and adults in person and millions online at his website for young people BISH. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Find out more about Justin here and stay up to day by signing up for the newsletter.