Ten tips for talking with youth about healthy sexuality

This post is a dispatch from my real-life experience as an impromtu educator with a group of rising high school seniors on a recent Saturday morning. I'll be the first one to admit that teens can be a tough crowd, especially on Saturday mornings! That said, working with these teens was an incredible opportunity for me to learn and grow as a prevention educator while exercising my skills as a healthy sexuality ally. These tips are good to keep in mind whenever youth are your audience. If you've got a tip or question to share, let us know in the comments! 

1. Be accurate. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and chances are that some of it has reached the youth you are speaking with. It’s important to provide youth with medically-accurate information in an accessible voice and to empower them to make their own decisions. As an individual, it’s expected that you have some personal values around sex and sexuality; it’s a time for you to leave these at the door. It’s ok to share an opinion, but be sure to label it as your own perspective and allow room for others to disagree. 

2. Do your homework. Most adults haven’t had the best access to sexuality education, and it’s OK that you don’t know everything. Youth won’t expect you to have all the answers, and they will respect the fact that you are honest about what you don’t know. Doing research ahead of time is likely to help you feel prepared, and this can also help you uncover tools to share with your audience for when they have questions. 
3. Be open. Youth don’t often access a lot of spaces where they are being empowered to discuss sexuality, so it’s important to create an open-minded space where questions are welcome and concerns can be shared. If you set the tone that no question is off limits, don’t be surprised if youth take advantage of this space by asking direct questions or sharing something unexpected.
4. Ask away. Instead of assuming what information youth have had access to or what messages they have received, start a dialogue by asking youth to share what they know. You may find that some youth have received solid information from family and friends, and it’s important to validate this information and experience. Youth also really like to share their opinions and asking them to share their reactions and opinions will teach you about your audience and get a dialogue started.
5. Be real. If you are nervous, unsure or just don’t know – don’t pretend. Be honest about your own limitations but confident in the information that you are able to share. That’s right, if you are going to share a clip that’s corny or a tool that’s out of date, just be upfront about it. Young people can easily sniff out when adult is being inauthentic, and you‘ll feel better as a presenter by putting realistic expectations on yourself too.
6. Be relevant. Young people are like any other audience, to be effective, you need to know who you are talking to and what matters to them. This will be different based on age, gender, race, community and setting, and if you want to share a relevant message it’s worthwhile to learn about who you’ll be talking to. Will this audience connect with or crack up at the music video you reference? Is it really relevant to these youth?
7. Be cool. Not to worry, I’m not asking you to be hip or check your fanny pack for the day – we’re being real, remember! But it’s important that when taboo topics come up that you keep your cool. If you can’t say vagina in a way that respects the fact this is a medically-appropriate term or start to blush at the mention of sex, well it’s not doing anything to challenge the cultural norm of how we talk about sex. Instead, take a deep breath and say dental dam without cracking a smile, or if you do, try and honor why a subject or word may feel silly or uncomfortable. 
8. Take it slow. Since it’s important to be medically-accurate and to use appropriate terminology in discussing healthy sexuality, there’s a chance that some of this information may be new for your audience. Offer up simple definitions as you go and feel free to take your time with the difficult concepts. There’s likely to be a spectrum of knowledge in the group you are sharing with and for some youth a lot of this information may be very new. 
9. Be interactive. Youth don’t have short attention spans because they are young people, it’s because they are people. We all do best when information is presented to us in an interactive format, and youth often respond very well to multimedia tools. If you are developing a presentation, consider adding pictures, art, music and video clips to the content you share. Is there a hands-on activity that you can involve the youth in to reinforce your message? Have you added time and space in your material for dialogue, sharing, reflection? 
10. Be a resource. Share tools with youth that can be resources for accurate information later on or when other questions come up. There are some really great websites that have information geared toward youth. Also help youth to identify other sources or information or resources in their lives and community. Youth may express that healthy sexuality is something that they want to discuss with their parents and peers, and as an ally, you can discuss different ways of starting these conversations and potential outcomes. 
Healthy Sexuality Resources for Youth


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Submitted by dmercado on

Thanks for coming and sharing your expertise! From the students' responses afterwards, it was one of the most interesting workshops they attended!

Submitted by lpalumbo on

So glad to hear it! What an inspiring, challenging and rewarding group to work with!