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Gender and Sexuality

Discussing Sexuality in the Health Classroom

By Patrick Healey

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Human sexuality is a nuanced topic and students may be presented with conflicting information. Tackling the topic in the classroom can be a complex task for anyone. Ignoring the topic is no solution. Teens today want to talk about this subject and the role of the teacher is to facilitate the discussion in an educational and progressive manner.

Defining terminology is the first logical step. Class runs smoothly and safely when students know how to verbalize their thoughts in an appropriate way. When trying to define the different sexuality terms, some words may seem ambiguous. It’s important for students not to focus on specific definitions of every sexuality or gender identity. In fact, many terms are vague in nature to avoid specific labels. It’s important that students understand that people don’t always fit squarely into one identity–identities are varied and multifaceted.


A partial list of sexuality terms to understand:

SexClassification assigned to infants at birth based on external anatomy, either male or female; often called sex assigned at birth, rather than just sex
Cis-genderSomeone’s gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth
Sexuality A person's sexual orientation
Heterosexual A sexual orientation that describes those who feel attracted to a sex different from theirs
GayA sexual orientation that describes those who are emotionally and sexually attracted to people of their own gender (more commonly used to describe men)
LesbianA sexual orientation that describes female-identified persons who are sexually and emotionally attracted to other female-identified persons
BisexualA sexual orientation that describes a person who is emotionally and sexually attracted to people of their own gender and other genders
Pansexual A sexual orientation that describes a person who is emotionally and sexually attracted to people of all gender identities
AsexualA term sometimes used to describe someone having no to very low sexual and/or emotional attraction to others
Queer An umbrella term used to describe people who think of their sexual orientation or gender identity as outside of societal norms.
Some people do not use this term because of its use as hate speech, but others have reclaimed the meaning.
Nonbinary or Gender Non-conformingDescribes someone whose gender identity falls outside of the traditional gender binary of male and female. Sometimes people may describe themselves with no gender or more than one gender.
IntersexA term for a combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and genitals that differs from the two expected patterns of male or female
-FluidGenerally with another term attached, like gender-fluid or fluid-sexuality, fluid(ity) describes an identity that may change or shift over time between or within the mix of the options available
TransgenderDescribes a person whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth do not correspond; also used as an umbrella term to include gender identities outside of male and female
PolygenderA term referring to individuals who identify as more than one gender at either different times or at the same time
Gender QuestioningSomeone is processing, exploring, or questioning how they express their gender identity
TransitioningThis term is primarily used to refer to the process a trans person undergoes when changing their bodily appearance either to be more congruent with the gender/sex they feel themselves to be and/or to be in harmony with their gender expression
Transsexual A term sometimes used in medical research and by transgender people referring to individuals who have transitioned from one gender to another
SkoliosexualA term that refers to those who are primarily sexually, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to some genderqueer, transgender, transsexual, and/or non-binary people
LGBTQ Acronym referring to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and questioning community
Ally Someone who respects and supports members of the LGBTQ community
Advocate Someone who fights against oppression of the LGBTQ community


The feeling of belonging to something is a powerful thing, and thus some people in the LGBTQ community prefer labels that correspond to their identities. Relief is usually followed when someone finds their identity. On the other hand, others are happy with who they are and don’t feel the need to use labels or to identify themselves with larger groups with similar identities. Not everyone fits into two or three categories. Are labels necessary? No, but they are important.

Creating storyboards to help teach definitions is a powerful visual tool, until it comes to defining people’s identity. It can be offensive to stereotype what a person looks like for different genders. Storyboard That has a solution to this dilemma: stickies. These stickies can be gender neutral at times and also clearly masculine/feminine. This will help to eliminate offensive visuals and push discussion into a positive light. It may not be a wise idea to ask students to create storyboard visuals to match terminology. Students may accidentally make offensive material. Storyboard That can be used to depict examples. Here are some examples of educational tools for classroom discussion.





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When discussing new terminology, especially for this topic, it is important to be as clear as possible and not to confuse terms. These visuals in the storyboard allow for clearer understanding and reinforcement of terminology. This topic can be intimidating to talk about for teachers and students, but the simplicity of the characters make the terms less scary.


Effects of Gender Roles

Expectations of a childhood could be drastically different based on the sex assigned at birth. Assuming gender based on sex assigned at birth can begin prior to birth when a future parent receives gifts specified to a gender norm. Toys given to children help sculpt gender roles. Males may be given trucks and plastic tools, building blocks, or army men. Females may be given princess dresses, plastic kitchen sets, and dolls. All these objects represent societal gender norms. It is not a negative thing to give a doll to a child to help reinforce the importance of care-giving. If, for example, a doll is given to a male child, it may be “frowned upon” as boys playing with dolls is outside of gender norms. As a society, we are doing an injustice by defining and limiting gender roles. These conclusions may not seem like a huge problem at the time, but can really confuse individuals when they start to develop their identity.

Looking outside of what is given to children, there is a big impact on the way we treat them. When a boy falls and gets a scrape, how is this child usually treated? When a girl falls down and gets a scrape, are they treated any differently? Children internalize messages when they are told to "suck it up" or "rub dirt in it". They either ignore the pain or their pain is not a big deal and should move on. This is not a healthy coping mechanism for children and can lead to poor coping skills. Have students think about the long-term impacts of gender roles in society through a storyboard. Visuals may help lead to discussions and thought-provoking answers. Below is an example storyboard that students can fill in directly, either on their own or as a class discussion.

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This activity is going to ask students to think critically about what the long term outcomes in each situation. By modifying this activity to asking the students to create their own examples of gender norms, students will be able to visualize their own similar experiences, creating a reflection assessment.


Advocate, Ally, Accept

The internal conflict experienced by students who are questioning or are LGBT-identified might be boundless and overwhelming. Students who do not identify themselves as a part of the LGBTQ community may feel a bit lost or outsiders in this topic. At times they may feel like they do not know what to say. Understandably, they may not want to offend anyone or they do not know how to help. After this discussion they can find themselves fulfilling a few different roles. When discussing, it’s a good idea to give those students options. Introducing the three A’s are a good starting point. Students who are not a part of the LGBTQ community can be an ally, an advocate, and someone who accepts differences.

Being an ally for the LGBTQ community is an important role. An ally is supportive to members of the community by being open to conversing in an honest way. It involves listening in a judgement-free manner while maintaining respect for the person and entrusted information. It takes a certain amount of courage to be an ally. Today there still exist prejudices against the LGBTQ community and being an ally for the minority is a step in the right direction. Below is a storyboard that shows students ways to be an ally.

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Being an advocate is no easy task. This is someone who stands up to oppression of the LGBTQ community, is a role model for their peers, and changes the environment to a more accepting one by joining or starting organizations while reporting harassment of LGBTQ individuals. Below is a storyboard that shows students ways to be an advocate.

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It is also important for students to learn acceptance of individual differences, but this is the least they can do. Someone who accepts people for who they are and understands that gender identity is not tied directly to sex assigned at birth is a learning objective for this discussion. Below is a storyboard that shows an example of how easy it can be to be accepting of differences.

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It is easier said than done to be an ally, advocate, or accepting of differences; just defining what they are isn’t enough. Turning information into action takes practice and confidence. Showing different ways to be one of the three A’s makes it seem easier. Asking students to make their own storyboards with themselves performing some of the three A’s builds the confidence to act in reality.

Students are a product of their environment. Intolerance of differences is a learned behavior. Creating an accepting classroom setting for all students will help push out harassment. If someone can learn to discriminate, they can learn to be more accepting. Teaching ways to be more accepting is the teacher's role to help facilitate a safe classroom setting. Being an ally, advocate, or accepting others are just a few ways to support the LGBTQ students and community. Understanding the community, how to support them, and what supporting their peers looks like are just a few ways to teach this topic in your classroom. Other than the ways listed above, another method could be through scenarios.


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•   (English) Gender and Sexuality   •   (Español) Género y Sexualidad   •   (Français) Genre et Sexualité   •   (Deutsch) Geschlecht und Sexualität   •   (Italiana) Genere e Sessualità   •   (Nederlands) Geslacht en Seksualiteit   •   (Português) Género e Sexualidade   •   (עברית) מין ומיניות   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الجنس والجنس   •   (हिन्दी) लिंग और कामुकता   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Пол и Сексуальность   •   (Dansk) Køn og Seksualitet   •   (Svenska) Kön och Sexualitet   •   (Suomi) Sukupuoli ja Seksuaalisuus   •   (Norsk) Kjønn og Seksualitet   •   (Türkçe) Cinsiyet ve Cinsellik   •   (Polski) Płeć i Seksualność   •   (Româna) Sexul și Sexualitatea   •   (Ceština) Pohlaví a Sexuální Orientace   •   (Slovenský) Pohlavie a Sexualita   •   (Magyar) Nemek és Szexualitás   •   (Hrvatski) Spol i Seksualnost   •   (български) Пол и Сексуалност   •   (Lietuvos) Lytis ir Seksualumas   •   (Slovenščina) Spol in Spolnost   •   (Latvijas) Dzimums un Seksualitāte   •   (eesti) Sugu ja Seksuaalsus