What to teach
Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) programs have a broad and deep scope and sequence of topics to cover, and all trained CSE educators will be familiar with these. Each of these key topics is broken out into distinct knowledge, skills and abilities that are outlined in specific learning objectives and key messages. Incorporating all of these into a program is what ultimately classifies as comprehensive sexuality education. However, many programs are unable to cover this wide range of content due to time, access and financial resources. This strain is made worse during crisis situations, which diminish all resources, but particularly time, access and financial resources. Crises also increase potential safety-related issues that intersect with CSE related content. Figuring out how to reduce the structure of a full CSE program during a crisis into something that is still meaningful and safe across as many topic areas as possible is a substantial struggle and absolutely necessary.
There are three primary considerations when considering how to shorten a CSE program most effectively during a crisis: participant needs,organizational/staff needs and content needs.
During a crisis, all of the human and non-human elements associated with delivering comprehensive sexuality education programs are reduced dramatically. Accounting for this in crisis response planning – rather than in the middle of the crisis and out of necessity – allows for an intentional use of the limited resources.
Participants will have an increased need for safety considerations as drivers of the CSE they access. Crises increase risk in all kinds of ways in addition to the obvious risk associated with the specific crisis. Marginalized populations, relating to all elements of identity, are targeted at higher levels during crises. Therefore, it is critical to assess your primary participant population and consider what additional risks and subsequent safety measures are necessary.
Participants will have a reduced capacity for learning, and one that CSE programs have no choice but to accommodate or to lose their position of trust and engagement with the participants. Even when participants are available for similar amounts of time as pre-crisis, through either choice or academic requirements, they will not be able to bring their full attention and learning capacity to the moment. They won’t learn if you don’t pair down.
Participant-related considerations that come into play when you are considering what content to prioritize include:
- How old are the participants? (If they are older, they will be able to absorb more content.)
- How much time will participants have available? (As time is reduced, content must be reduced more.)
- How much access to private, digital resources, including Wi-Fi, computers/tablets/smartphones will participants have? (Programs must be reduced as other resources are reduced.)
- What kind of sexuality-related trauma is the current crisis situation manifesting? (Possible examples include reduced access to sexual health care, increased gender-based violence, increased violence against racialized and queer people, etc.)
- Is increasing your highly visible education about the increasing elements of sexual trauma likely to increase or decrease your participants’ safety? (If it will decrease safety, how might you use underground connections to provide education more safely?)
Organizations grappling with a local, regional or global crisis are rarely able to maintain their pre-crisis organizational tempo. Reduced financial resources and human resources, coupled with additional barriers like access to practical goods (like condoms) and services (like public transportation) are huge factors.
The realities of staff and volunteer needs increase the complications of providing CSE during a crisis in the same ways that they do for participants. The very human needs of staff and volunteers attending to their own and their families’ needs cannot be dismissed or ignored. A responsible organization that cares for their staff will need to reduce the amount of working time expected from staff and volunteers during a crisis in order to allow them to account for these needs. While this increases costs and potentially decreases organizational impact, it has the long-term, post-crisis benefit of building commitment and retention of staff and thus the long-term organizational impact.
So how much content needs to be cut based on organizational, and staff needs? There are as many different ways to approach this problem as there are programs. Considerations that will come into account include the following:
- How experienced are the facilitators? (More experienced facilitators will be able to navigate more content more effectively and know when their participants have hit their maximum content absorption.)
- What content are the facilitators trained to provide? (Staff and volunteers are often lost during a crisis. Remaining staff and volunteers should not try to cover content they are not trained to provide.)
- How much time do the facilitators have available? (Facilitators will need at least 1:4 ratio of presentation time to preparation time in order to prepare new, crisis-content approaches to presenting CSE.)
- How much access to private, digital resources, including Wi-Fi, computers/tablets/smart phones will facilitators have? (Programs must be reduced as other resources are reduced.)
- What content can the staff and volunteers teach while maintaining their own safety? (Being a public face of CSE via social media platforms, public campaigns, or even just as a publicly listed facilitator of a workshop, can put staff or volunteers at risk. Consider the intersection of the crisis and the political climate.)
Prioritizing content so that the most important elements from a CSE curriculum are maintained while the other elements are saved for post-crisis learning environments is a stressful process, to be sure.
And what content should be cut first should be based on what the learners are most likely to be grappling with in this time of crisis. Here are a few elements to keep in mind:
- The potential for increased violence as a result of increased stress (both interpersonal and familial)
- Communication complications (access to communication is likely to change, either becoming notably more or less digital)
- Reduced access to sexual health care (including everything from condoms to medical professionals to STI and pregnancy tests to abortions and menstrual care products)
Based on this information:
- Which of these areas (or others) feel the most urgent for your participants? Can you poll them to find out?
- Are these topics that you have previous approaches to education about?
- If you narrow your program to only this content, what would that look like?
- Could you use direct intervention time with participants in person to prioritize this content and use media and other asynchronous, indirect spaces to cover other CSE content?
Many professionals struggle with cutting CSE programs so substantially. Nevertheless, it makes a substantial difference in learners’ ability to retain the information, particularly when done with thoughtfulness and consideration for the elements that are most important to their current situation.