Health Promotion and Policy Researchers Develop Sex-Positive Sexuality Education Curriculum

Health Promotion and Policy graduate student Mira Weil

Mira Weil

June 25, 2021

In an article appearing in the American Journal of Sexuality Education, doctoral student Mira Weil, senior author and faculty advisor Aline Gubrium, and alumna Aneliese Apala Flaherty ‘18MPH describe how they developed a new body-positive, queer and trans inclusive sexuality education curriculum for elementary school students called Liberatory Education Tools Teach, Affirm, Learn, Know (LETS! T.A.L.K.).

In the publication, the Health Promotion and Policy researchers discuss how they developed the program from the “bottom up” through a town-gown collaboration between the university and its local public school district, as well as the approval process they navigated in order to pilot the program successfully in a Massachusetts public elementary school in spring 2019. The school had previously identified a need for a sex-positive, gender diversity inclusive program to address communication, sexuality, gender and consent.

The researchers note that the majority of sex education in the U.S. discusses STI prevention and birth control, often with a focus on encouraging abstinence and rooted in the country’s dominant, heteronormative sexual culture. However, there is clear evidence that shows that young people who receive a holistic, sex and body-positive approach to sexual health education are more likely to use birth control and have lower rates of STIs and unintended pregnancy.

The program development team – comprised of three public health graduate students, two university faculty members, and two independent professional sexuality educators – took the latter approach in its development of LETS! T.A.L.K., working in close collaboration with key stakeholders at the local elementary public school.

The group began by conducting formative research to determine the school’s need and scope of the sexuality education program. The program developers took part in full days of intensive curriculum development, reviewing the International Sexuality Education Standards, Future of Sex Education (FoSE) National Sexuality Education Standards, and National Health Education Standards; as well as online articles and websites, journal articles, books, forums, and the two published U.S.-based sexuality curricula.

Based on this review, the researchers developed a list of themes condensed into five core sessions. Each lesson had one to three activities that met that lesson’s objective and were designed to be taught at the kindergarten, first, or second grade levels, or all three levels.

The team took a community-based approach toward refining and receiving approval for their curriculum. This process – which included a pair of sometimes contentious public information sessions – provided the researchers with several key findings. The most consistent finding and biggest takeaway, they write, was “the importance of a community-based process in developing and seeking approval to implement a positive and inclusive sexuality education curriculum in a public elementary school setting. This requires time—a community-based process is built on forging relationships, engaging in discussion, giving and receiving productive feedback, and moving forward accordingly. Community-based work, if done right, is almost always slower than other approaches because community member input is paramount. In this method, the process is as important as the outcome.”

The new K-2 curriculum was formally adopted by the Town School Committee in February 2019, and successfully piloted and evaluated in Spring 2019. Their initial findings showed successful implementation and strong support for the continuation of the program. Findings also showed that each lesson contained too much information for the time allotted, which led to the expansion of the curriculum from five to ten lessons.

The team has since developed and received approval for the grades 3 and 4 curriculum, and is hard at work on developing the grades 5 and 6 curriculum. Their hope is that by the summer 2022, a complete K-6 curriculum will have been implemented, evaluated and ready for revision and district-wide and beyond distribution.

Links:

American Journal of Sexuality Education

LETS! T.A.L.K.