Human Development and Sexual Health

Teaching about human development and sexual health helps students better understanding themselves as they mature and are faced with many important personal decisions. Good sexual health education requires more than simply teaching young people about the anatomy and physiology of reproductioni. Sexual health includes a wide range of topics and concepts, from sexual development, reproductive health, choice and sexual readiness, personal safety, consent, abstinence, and protection to interpersonal relationships, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, affection and pleasure, body image, and gender roles and expectations. Developing attitudes, beliefs, and values related to sexuality is a lifelong process.

Theory into Practice – Ask students to consider how making plans about healthy eating, fitness and sexual health are connected.

While many of the topics included in this content area need to be approached with sensitivity because of their personal nature, it is important for educators to be prepared to offer support and understanding while speaking openly with students. As they physically mature, students also experience emotional, psychological, cognitive, and behavioural changes. It is important to facilitate dialogue with students in an age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate manner, positioning learning about human development and sexual health as a normal and natural part of learning about themselves and their bodies.

When approaching topics that deal with human development and sexual health, educators should be aware that students’ emotional well-being, identity development, sexual orientation, and gender identity as well as their personal and family values will influence how receptive they are to new information. There may be a range of comfort levels among students when discussing topics such as safe sexual practices, pleasure, sexual identity, sexual orientation, and the role of intimacy in forming relationships. Students’ experiences within their families significantly influence their feelings about topics within the content area of human development and sexual health. Some students may express embarrassment, avoidance, confusion, or shyness. Some families may not support addressing these topics at school. Some people may view content related to sexuality as private and inappropriate for public discussion.

In addition, some of the topics that may come up as a part of the learning (e.g., sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS, sexual pleasure) may generate strong opinions from students that may be shaped by their experiences and beliefs. In dealing with potentially discriminatory responses, no matter what their origin or motivation, it is important for educators to address and challenge students’ biases in a constructive manner. A safe, inclusive, and accepting class and school environment can be a protective factor that may reduce the risk of negative health and social outcomes.

Understanding that some of these topics may elicit strong reactions makes it important for educators to provide students with opportunities to explore human development and sexual health topics using factual, trusted sources of information. It is important for students to be aware of the sources of information and consider what perspectives or biases might be present.

Another important consideration is that some students may turn to their teacher for support in times of crisis (e.g., unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, sexual violence) or to support them while learning about components of sexual health that they may find confusing or difficult to understand (e.g., puberty, questions about sexual orientation or gender identity, sexual exploration, relationship issues). Educators may seek additional support as needed from their school administration or public health professionals.

i T. Temertzoglou. (2007). Healthy active living: Keep fit, stay healthy, have fun (p. 6). Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.