Monday, April 23, 2012

Teaching sex ed from a different angle

My job consists of working on an evaluation project of a positive youth development (PYD) program.  I had never known what these programs were until I started working on this job.  PYD programs are intended to develop a youth’s sense of self for being a good person and productive citizen.  This particular one I am evaluating has, in essence, a side effect of preventing teen pregnancy in addition to its intended goals of decreasing school failure and dropout rates.  When I was talking to a friend about this it struck me that sex ed does not always have to be taught from a direct angle.  This program has taken a different approach to addressing youth about sexuality in that they address the outside factors facing a person and their influence on their decision to engage in sex rather than the traditional disease model.  The thought is that if youth develop a better sense of character in themselves, develop a greater appreciation for and connectedness with their school and community, and set life goals for themselves that either they may be too busy to have sex and/or they stop to take the time to think how getting pregnant, or getting someone pregnant, can help or hinder them in their life and with their life plans.  Granted this approach is not a fully comprehensive approach to sex and sexuality but I feel it is effective because it is a message that the youth are not expecting and it gives them the empowerment to make a decision to engage in sex as opposed to obeying a mandate that says to always use a condom if you are going to have sex.  Also, this program is intended to develop other skills within themselves so that making decisions in relation to sexuality are more thought-provoking such as thinking of the implications of using a condom or not rather than just choosing to use a condom because you told to do so.  I can see how a program like this can add value to the work we are trying to do with youth in educating them about their sexuality outside of a reproductive standpoint.  Getting them to see the impact their decisions have not only on themselves but also on others, especially in their community, can give them the perspective that has been missing in some of the traditional sex ed programs.  I would hope if given the opportunity to teach sex ed one day I can blend the best components of both the traditional and newer approaches into one to create a sexual PYD program.


  1. Sarah,

    I got really excited while reading this post. I have not heard about Positive Youth Development, but I am just exploring the idea of working with more young people professionally. I am very moved by creating more ways that education can focus on the positives of the people that we are working with and building from there. I can see how this model may not open up to comprehensive sex education in terms of prevention and some specific behaviors, but it also sounds like it opens a lot up in terms of talking about the different circles of sexuality. It sounds like it could also do a lot for LGBTQ youth in terms of supporting identity as well as navigating decision making and community roles.

    Thanks so much for sharing, now I am going to google PYD!


  2. Positive Youth Development sounds like a great approach to creating happier, healthier teens. I think that programs like these are a great and necessary idea, but should be used in conjunction with formal sexuality education, as you mentioned. So often, we see students with low-self worth going through sex ed only to not use condoms anyway. A lot of the time, it is simply because they do not feel that they are "worthy" of protection. We are doing a great disservice to these students if we teach them the skills but not the affect to go behind it. Likewise, if we just teach them to feel good about themselves, then they may "not have time for sex" but they might still engage in sexual behavior without the knowledge about contraception that we want them to have. I think that using both methods together can be a really great strategy, and something I'd be interested in doing some research about.

    Great topic!

  3. Sarah, thank you for introducing positive youth development as an addition to traditional and comprehensive sex education. In my work teaching middle schoolers I find that this approach is both benefitial and at times over kids' heads. I think one of the greatest challenges in working with adolescent populations is getting them to think about the implications of their behavior. If we think back to theories of human development the phase of adolescence is one where the brain is still developing. Youth at this age are in a grey area where they are taking on more autonomous behaviors and responsibility, yet they have still to develop fully functioning reasoning ability.

    While I agree that positive youth development is a great way to build youth's self-esteem and help them think about what they want to contribut to the world beyond being in middle school or high school, I also think that we need to be very specific in how we use positive youth development in terms of asking young people to think about implications of their behavior. Educators may need to tightly guide the process of helping youth think about implications of their behavior to ensure that the activity stays on track with where you want it to go. Otherwise youth may think they can have their cake and eat it too, which may not be the objective of the activity.

  4. Sarah,

    When I initially read your comment I first say PID rather than PID. I too have never heard of it as an educational intervention but I think you are onto something in your post. Sex education in school is so often about telling children what not to do. It sounds that positive youth development wants to engage children from another route and instead of just telling them what not to do, also giving them the tools they need be able to make decisions for themselves. I believe that you can teach about prevention and other sex ed topics until you are blue in the face, but if certain other character development traits are not present, results will not be the best. I am definitely interested to learn more about PYD. Thanks for opening our eyes to this!

  5. *PID rather than PYD