A spiral curriculum for learning about condoms


At the #ASCL2018 conference this week we spoke with delegates a lot about age appropriateness of different concepts like consent (one delegate was surprised when I said 2 year olds can learn about consent) and a conversation with one colleague got me thinking about a spiral curriculum for condoms. A common criticism of sex education is that a young person may do a annual condom demonstration but not be taught about negotiation, communication, relationships skills etc. This is unhelpful.

If you are doing a yearly condom demonstration without adding any value in terms of knowledge and understanding, values, attitudes, skills each year then you are not delivering good relationships and sex education.

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So I thought I would have a bash at setting out what a spiral curriculum for condoms could look like. I am even going to start it from KS1 because I am a bit radical like that but as you will see it doesn’t actually include reference to condoms! It is important to note there is no evidence that RSE hastens the first experience of sex and quality RSE has been found to  delaying the initiation of sex; reduce the number of sexual partners; and increase condom or contraceptive use.

KS1– Learning about hygeine- washing hands with soap and water and using a tissue to prevent germs spreading. Correct basic names for the outer genitals vulva/penis. Some children may also learn that a baby is made by a sperm and egg and grows in a uterus. (This book is my fave).

One of my children when aged about 4 once asked me “Mummy, how do ladies not have a baby if they don’t want one?” and whilst I was wrestling with my options of age appropriate answers around contraception and abortion, she answered her own question: “I KNOW! they stay away from sperm!” Perfect age appropriate (and hilarious) answer and we left it there!

KS2– Building on hygiene knowledge from KS1 children should understand the use of barriers to stop germs spreading eg. latex gloves or face masks. They should also learn more detailed names Vulva/Vagina/Uterus Penis/Testicles/Scrotum. They should also definitely by now understand that sperm plus egg = baby (and for IVF families and same sex parent families the What makes a baby book is excellent for inclusivity).  For Y6 if a question came up from the anonymous question box about condoms I would probably answer it thus. “Condoms are used to help protect people from some infections or pregnancy. They are mostly made from latex (like rubber gloves and balloons) and work as a barrier so sperm or infections can’t pass between people.”. Or I might be tempted to answer it like a child once told Catherine Kirk at the RSE Service  “it’s like the skin on a sausage!” (which is brill!) My rationale is that if they are old enough to ask the question they are old enough to hear an age appropriate answer.

Now in KS3/KS4/KS5 I would break it down by year/age range.

For Y7 (aged 11+) I would definitely mention condoms briefly along lines of the KS2 answer but slightly increasing the complexity. “Condoms are used to help protect people from some infections or pregnancy. They are mostly made from latex and are worn over the penis or inside the vagina to act as a barrier during sex so sperm or infections can’t pass between people”.  When talking about the spread of diseases you can spray some perfume or body spray on the palm of someones hand before the lesson and ask the young people to go round shaking hands. Everyone sniffs their hands at end of activity to see how far a “disease has spread” and talk about protecting yourself from infection (washing hands, wearing gloves, not shaking hands!)

For Y8 (aged 12- 13) I would do the STI practical and I would show them internal/external condoms (male condom and female condoms) as part of object based learning.  I would expect them to be able to describe what a condom is what it is made from and what it is used for.

For end of Y9/early Y10 (~14+ age range) I would do the STI practical (only if they haven’t done it in Y8) and I would do condom olympics if time as well as a standard condom demonstration (ideally with ejaculating function and UV blacklight ) plus an exploding condom demo (blow up two condoms- rub baby oil/vaseline or other oil based lubricant into one and water or silicone based lubricant into another and the oil based one will pop pretty quickly showing which lubricants are safe and unsafe. I would demo dental dams for safe oral sex and internal condoms (Female condom- see pic below). I would signpost the local C-card scheme. I would expect them to be able to explain in detail how and why condoms are used and where they can be accessed as well as describe an overview of STIs and how and where to get tested.

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For Y10 -Y11 (~15plus age range) I would only do a condom demonstration if they hadn’t done it previously or if the group felt they needed a refresher (in which case I would expect them to ‘teach’ each other and collaborate on ‘best demo’ rather than another teacher led demo followed by student practice. I would explore condom negotiation using something like “condom excuses/responses” and explore in much more detail what causes condoms to fail . I would explore the context of condom use (types of relationships etc) and what might the barriers be to using condoms. I would also explore more info about STIs and which STIs are not protected for by condoms.

For Y11- 6th form (+16 year olds age range and over age of consent) I would expect them to be critically exploring gendered attitudes to condom use (how society responds to males carrying condoms compared to females and how internal condom use has positives especially for gender equality! I would be encouraging as many to get signed up for a C-card (local condom distribution schemes) around this age. I would sign them up myself depending on the settings policy. I would talk in much more detail about safer sex and how dental dams and condoms use is vital but also how to overcome some of the barriers to their use particularly in the context of negotiating pleasurable experiences. I would talk much more about lubricant and arousal and be directing them to the awesome info found in scarleteen  and Bish

Obviously what I have written above is a tiny part of what an RSE curriculum should be. I haven’t mentioned the detailed stuff I would cover on relationships, sexuality, pleasure, anatomy, gender, mental health, contraception etc. because this is a blog post on condoms and how to build a spiral curriculum using just that one topic. In DO… our awesome RSE materials for 14-16year olds we manage to cover all of this and more in just 6 lessons! (Our condom lesson is here but you really need to teach it in the context of the 4 lessons before it found here)

What would your spiral curriculum on condoms look like? Have I missed anything off? Please do comment below!

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Exploring the power of Object Based Learning for Relationships and Sex Education


On Friday I had the honour of being invited to speak at University of Exeter about my experiences as a practitioner working on the Sex & History Project. (N.B. I co-wrote the FREE RSE lesson pack here and and lessons exploring gender and sexual diversity here for LGBT history month and beyond!)  Unfortunately due to the snow I had to Skype in and not be there in person to run a workshop, so I also wanted to summarise my thoughts in a blog post.

The topic I chose to talk about was The Power of ‘Object-Based Learning’ for Relationships and Sex Education.  For those of you who don’t know Object Based Learning is using an object (historical object/ 3D printed model or any physical solid 3D thing!) to spark a conversation and learn something new. (Or a more academic description: “Object-Based Learning (OBL) is a student-centred learning approach that uses objects to facilitate deep learning. Objects may take many forms, small or large, but the method typically involves students handling or working at close quarters with and interrogating physical artefacts.”. I first heard of it as a concept in a meeting with Melany Rose Education Manager at the British Museum. Then seeing the Ain Sakhri lovers on display there really bought it home to me the difference in learning between seeing the actual physical object is compared to learning from photo of the object (both have value but for some objects seeing them for yourselves gives a extra layer of understanding)

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3D Printed Uterus model

In Sex & History, we often have to use photographs of the objects rather than actual handling materials because these are rare museum pieces that are valuable and can’t be handled by a class of teenagers in case they are damaged! However, last year I was lucky enough to lead a teacher training workshop at Brighton and Hove Museum where they had a 3D printed Venus of Willendorf to handle alongside looking at actual objects from the museum’s collection. It was fascinating to watch the teachers engage with the piece in new and unexpected ways when physically able to handle the object rather than just look at it behind glass or in a photograph or image on a screen.  At Sex and History we are gathering a small collection of handling objects (such as examples similar to these erotic fruits)  and actively exploring 3D printing of replica objects in order to further utilise the opportunities and benefits of OBL.

For my workshop with practitioners and academics from UK and Germany I had been planning to provide a huge range of objects covered with a sheet and ask individuals to choose an object they were most interested in learning more about asking the questions: “what is it?” “how could it be used for relationships and sex education?” (whilst also making it very clear that any object chosen did not reflect anything personal about the participant choosing it!). Experiencing the value of object based learning for yourself is a powerful lesson in its value for sex education.

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Venus of Willendorf

Although this concept may seem foreign to many teachers of RSE I think that many RSE teachers are doing OBL all the time anyway without realising. Condoms demonstrations and passing around different methods of contraception to have a much closer look at all count as OBL! Being able to see, touch, feel, handle, move and rotate an object relating to relationships and sex education can create discussions and questions that you would never get without the physical object being present.

The benefits of object based learning (as well as possible objects to use) can be set out as follows:

  • Icebreakers– can help defuse tensions and create safer spaces by using certain objects like knitted uteruses/vulvas/penises/or cuddly STI toys.  Crocheted body parts have been used with particular success in Brighton and Hove with an RSE project for young unaccompanied asylum seekers in single sex groups (that I have been supporting in the background), as a way of kick starting safe fun conversations about their bodies.  These young people may come from cultures where such knowledge about their own bodies is sometimes seen as taboo and often not talked about, and cultural understandings of consent can be very different.  The benign fun nature of knitted or crocheted objects provide such a safe space to start having conversations which can then over time lead into trickier conversations such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). 

     

  • Starters- Start the conversation off by passing round an object “what is this” “what might it be used for” “how is it used?” “why does it exist” can create fascinating conversations. You could use things like wedding rings, engagement rings (non-valuable ones!!) to start conversations about marriage and relationships, gender, power and control (who wears the engagement ring- why?) and extend the conversation to explore the use of rings used for chastity (silver ring thing) or fidelity pledges or use of neck rings in marriage or sign of beauty. Something so simple as a small silver or gold band can start a conversation that could go on for a whole lesson if you plan it right and are skilled in your questioning and how you manage discussions.
  • Investigators and Interrogators  Supplying a range of objects can be used to explore and interrogate patterns and assumptions in society. For example , menstrual products, intimate washes, soaps, razors, make up. hair straighteners, Protein shakes, Pilates balls, gendered clothing or shoes. What objects make us feel good about ourselves, what make us feel bad, which are designed for men/women? what are essential? which are cultural? etc.                                                                          Or you could do the fab The Sensual Star activity (from Jo Adams who developed the RU Ready? Program) where you supply a wide range of objects that can be used to stimulate the five senses: touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. eg. perfumes/scented candles/sound bowl/musical instruments for sound; chocolate/fruits/ massagers or objects with rough or smooth textures eg. silk scarves and have a conversation about sensuality and what are our favorite objects against each of the five senses. This can be drawn and decorated on a “Sensual Star” (a 5 pointed star with each sense allocated to a point).
  • Confidence building Adolescence can be a tricky time with lots of new things to master that people often don’t talk in detail to you about. For example you can also use a range of disposable and reusable menstrual products or range of antiperspirants and deodorants to kick start conversations about puberty, hygiene and menstruation. Familiarity with some of the products they may need to use in their lives can build confidence about talking about, purchasing and using them.
  • Reassurance about whats ‘normal’– exploring the range of variation in bodies by passing around objects of different sizes analogous to human bodies (E.g. as well as using knitted objects with some inner labia longer than outer labia etc, I also have a range of different sized condom demonstrators (and TheyFit is a great site to share). It also encourages young people to feel more comfortable talking about their bodies when I get out Lady Penelope it is fascinating (and really sad) to realise how many girls do not have any real understanding of how their own bodies work. 

  • Visualising how things work Until you have seen an actual IUD/IUS in the flesh and seen on a diagram or model of female reproductive tract how it works, then it can be quite hard to conceptualise. Likewise seeing the actual size of an implant (a matchstick can work here or small matchstick sized piece of ultra fine tubing), the contraceptive ring (the inner ring of an internal condom (femidom) works) then it can be hard to understanding or visualise how such methods work.  Also Object based learning is also vital for visually impaired students if you can’t see then being able to handle and be talked through anatomy or using methods of contraception is very important.
  • New directions for discussions Talking about STI testing can be a little dry sometimes but passing round a chlamydia testing kit and allowing a look at a urine testing pot, a swab kit, or passing round a speculum can help make the conversation more interesting. I’m also very interested in exploring how every day objects like a wire coat hanger could open up discussions on abortion, or egg white or flour paste or cottage cheese in petri dishes could open up conversations about normal vaginal discharge! A small Venus of Willendorf (I now have one of my own) could open up conversations about body image, breasts, weight, sexiness, fertility!
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Speculum, swab and urine testing kits.

  • Exploring new frontiers (knowledge, learning and technology!)- the 3D printed clitoris is my FAVE object for getting a conversation going about sexual pleasure and anatomy (and I still think it is outrageous that this wasn’t mapped until 1998). I now have a 3D printed uterus and I am hoping to get a vulva too. 3D printing for sex ed could be incredible!

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    Range of 3D printed clitorises

  • Consolidating learning. In youth group settings we sometimes use a “talking stick” or other object as a tool to signify who can talk and who needs to listen. We also sometimes pass an object round to close a session with each person holding the object says one thing they have learned about the session before passing it on to the next person. While I can see their might be potential for silliness if certain objects were used (!) I can also see there is potential in having a particular object close a session quite powerfully.  I am thinking something like a small squishy heart stress toy to pass round and feedback on notions of romantic love and why the heart is seen as a symbol for love and how that can make people feel. The level of SQUEEZE could indicate how much the session was enjoyed or not!

 

How would you use object based learning in your setting and what do you think are the benefits? Please comment below!

 

This post is bought to you with thanks to Sex & History Project for funding me to do this work. Rhian Drinkwater for her expert knitting skills (the uteri were knitted by a sexual health campaign up north and to my horror I can’t remember who to thank them- if it was you please shout!), Lovehoney for supplying me with loads of kit.  Ben O’Steen for 3D printing  this file designed by Odile Filod for me and putting me in touch with Valeria Vitale from  Institute of Classical Studies, Senate House who has also indulged my 3D printing whims and needs using the Odile Filod file and the Vulvacademy files (with thanks to @Gareth Cheeseman for sharing the link to Vulvacademy files)!