Exploring Values about Sexuality: Challenging Assumptions
We all have personal values, a collection of beliefs and principles that guide decision-making and choices. Before talking with children and youth about sexuality, it’s helpful for parents and professionals to reflect on their own beliefs, values and assumptions and to be aware of how those influence their work.
As social worker, I like to think I do a good job of meeting clients where they are at. But today I’m not so sure. Katie came in, sobbing. She showed me a pregnancy test that she took. I looked at it and said “Katie, you can relax. This says you’re not pregnant. Let’s go to the sexual health clinic and get you some better birth control so you don’t have to worry about this again!” To my surprise, this just made her cry harder. Long story short, she ended up being upset about NOT being pregnant. This is a 15 year old street kid who has already had a baby taken away. She’s in an abusive relationship with a 19 year old drug dealer. How can she want to be pregnant? What is she thinking? Sometimes I think some people are better off not being allowed to get pregnant at all!
This exercise will help you to become more aware of your values and beliefs and how they may influence your communication about sexuality and relationships.
Read the value statements and then think about how that statement makes you feel:
Do you agree with it? Why?
Do you disagree with it? Why?
Are you unsure?
What are your emotional reactions to the statement?
After thinking about the values statement, click on it for a brief explanation
When you aren’t aware of your own beliefs and values, it may put you at risk for assuming that your personal beliefs are facts. People can have strong emotional reactions when their values aren’t in line with situations they encounter. When a person is aware of their values, it’s less likely that those personal values will impact their interactions with youth.
It is important to avoid making assumptions about your clients. Assumptions to avoid:
Youth would prefer to learn about sexuality from health professionals.
Everyone has the same cultural and religious beliefs.
Youth know how to access health services.
People always understand the meaning of the slang they use.
All people who are sexually active are having intercourse.
Service providers working with youth, play an important role in normalizing healthy sexuality and providing sexual health education. The relationships that form between service providers and youth create a trusting situation where teachable moments happen.
Youth can be influenced by a person who offers consistent and caring support; this might be an outreach worker, staff at a youth-serving agency, or a teacher.
For many people, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable when talking to youth about sexuality. Acknowledging awkwardness can make everyone feel more comfortable.
The use of slang terms by youth can make people uncomfortable; however it can be helpful to understand the language that youth are using. If you’re unsure of meaning, don’t be afraid to ask. You can then turn the use of slang into a teachable moment by acknowledging the word, defining it, and then using the more accurate, objective term.
It’s important not to confuse sexual experience with sexual health knowledge. Even youth who seem sexually experienced and knowledgeable, look to adults they trust for information and guidance. Many vulnerable youth have gaps in basic knowledge about decision making, bodies, health care, healthy relationships and safer sex.1 Setting boundaries to ensure that personal experience is not shared as objective facts is important to this process.
Comprehensive sexuality education programs are designed to give young people the skills to make responsible sexual decisions. Research shows that this type of education results in postponement of first sexual intercourse, a decrease in the number of partners, and increases in condom use.2
Our assumptions about sexual orientation or gender identity may be reinforced by personal experiences, but there are no “common” signs that let you know another person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. When we make assumptions about someone’s identity, we may marginalize sexual minorities. Discrimination, heterosexism and service providers’ lack of support for sexual minorities are reasons that youth do not access health services.3
When a service provider is able to overcome assumptions that lead to labels, they are able to provide better service. This type of inclusive practice creates safer spaces for LGBTQ2S+ youth.
1Lokanc-Diluzio, W. (2014). A mixed methods study of service provider capacity development to protect and promote the sexual and reproductive health of street-involved youth: An evaluation of two training approaches. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from http://hdl.handle.net/11023/1507
2Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN). (2010). Sexual health education in the schools: Questions & Answers (3rd ed.). Retrieved November 24, 2010, from http://www.sieccan.org/pdf/she_q&a_3rd.pdf
3Logie, C. H., Lys, C. L., Dias, L., Schott, N., Zouboules, M. R., MacNeill, N., & Mackay, K. (2019). “Automatic assumption of your gender, sexuality and sexual practices is also discrimination”: Exploring sexual healthcare experiences and recommendations among sexually and gender diverse persons in Arctic Canada. Health & social care in the community, 27(5), 1204-1213.