“What you learn is: Don’t do anything
you’re not ready for or you can’t handle.” – Khana, age 15
In ensuring girls grow up strong, smart, and bold, we must focus on their physical, emotional and cognitive growth, as well as their sexual development. It may be hard for some to accept but development of sexuality does not start at adulthood or even during the teen years with puberty. From the day children are born, they are sexual beings and it is our responsibility as adults to help them understand their sexuality. At Girls Inc., we work to ensure girls have the skills, knowledge, and support to take ownership of their sexual health and make positive decisions that help them lead satisfying, safe, and healthy lives.
Traditionally, sexuality education for children and teens has focused on preventing pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease. For Girls Inc. however, making sure girls are sexually healthy means not just providing them with adequate prevention information. In fact, our comprehensive and positive approach to healthy sexuality has distinguished Girls Inc. in the field for nearly 20 years. We know successful girls have a positive self image and understand and appreciate their bodies. (Learn more about what it takes for girls to thrive in our latest report: Stronger, Smarter, Bolder.)
About the Girls Inc. Healthy Sexuality Program
Girls Inc. Healthy Sexuality assists girls in understanding and embracing sexuality with a positive, empowered approach that is built on a foundation of:
- accurate information
- cultural sensitivity
- values of inclusiveness and respect
Girls acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to take charge of their sexual health. Girls Inc. Healthy Sexuality helps girls learn about and develop an appreciation for the human body and all it can do, be inclusive and supportive of sexual diversity and rights, and explore values. It also allows girls the opportunity to build skills to engage in healthy relationships, and think about their futures and the world around them.
Why is a healthy sexuality program for girls important?
While community leaders and policymakers debate different strategies to address adolescent sexuality issues, most youth and parents say that girls need more comprehensive information relevant to their lives. Not only do girls need this information sooner rather than later—they need appropriate information throughout their development.
Additionally, programs and efforts that deliver information on healthy sexuality must include a focus on gender-specific issues because young women have particular needs in managing sexual relationships and they deal most directly with the impact of teen pregnancy.
Girls deserve education that empowers them to be healthy and reach toward future goals including completion of their education– and encourages thoughtful consideration about the impact of pregnancy on their future aspirations. The U.S. continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates among industrialized countries. While Canada’s rate is less than half of that of the U.S., it’s still higher than many industrialized countries. Further, the rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young women, especially young women of color, warrants additional concern.
What Girls Will Learn
Our Healthy Sexuality program is customized for three different age groups and provides Girls Inc. chapters across the United States and Canada with the flexibility to craft a program series to meet their girls’ needs and priorities, while upholding the unifying principles of Girls Inc.
No matter the age of the girls, our Healthy Sexuality program always begins with a Parent Orientation and focuses around building girls’ developmentally-appropriate knowledge and skills in four content areas:
Healthy Relationships – Assists girls in identifying, establishing, and cultivating skills to support healthy romantic and non-romantic relationships (family, peers, others)
Sexuality Thumbprint – Builds girls’ understanding of themselves as sexual beings and of the diversity of human sexuality, including how to offer respect, equity, and positive support
Sexual Health and Reproduction – Provides girls with critical information and opportunities to understand and communicate about their bodies, their values, and potential impacts related to sexual decision-making
Sex, Media, and Technology – Assists girls in understanding the role that media and technology play in their self-perceptions and healthy development and practicing responsible use of technology in making decisions affecting their sexual health
In the Informed Together part of the program, girls ages 9-11 and their parents/caregivers are given exercises and conversation guides and prompts that allow for essential conversations about sexuality to occur. Modules address development of girls’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes as well as development of parent-child communication.
Individually and in guided group activities, girls explore kindness, understanding, empathy, love, and communication in all aspects of life. Sexuality is introduced as a broad concept and also as a specific part of a person. Girls Inc. staff lead developmentally appropriate discussions around sexual and gender identity at the individual and global levels.
Girls are provided a safe space for learning and voicing concerns about the biology of the body, including anatomy, puberty, menstruation, reproduction, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). There is also a focus on helping girls understand and navigate issues like body image and sexual identity as well as how to be prepared for what they may encounter online.
Informed and In Charge
Girls ages 12-14 participate in Informed and In Charge. Underpinning all sessions is how varied and individual each young person’s experiences are. Facilitators of Informed and In Charge seek to create an open, safe atmosphere where each girl can show up and bring her own unique life experiences. Girls also learn to identify, establish and cultivate healthy relationships through assertiveness and negotiation skills. They have several opportunities to increase their understanding of sexuality, including ways to demonstrate respect, equity, and fairness.
Program staff support girls around expressing sexuality in ways that align with their personal values, and provide opportunities for girls to develop critical thinking skills and practice effective decision making. Girls receive information they need and are given opportunities to communicate about their bodies and their values around sexual behavior and consent in order to be sexually healthy. Lastly, in response to the emergence of social media, the Sex, Media and Technology sessions provide support for exploring the roles media and technology play in girls’ sexual development. Through critical analysis, discussion, and role play, girls identify and address their feelings, values, and safety concerns as they relate to media and technology.
For girls ages 15-18, the Girls Inc. Healthy Sexuality program explores concepts that are developmentally appropriate for youth in middle to late adolescence. The girls focus on personal awareness of identity, boundary setting, communication, exercising personal rights, and navigating interpersonal relationships with a special emphasis on healthy and safe relationship characteristics.
The topic of human sexuality is explored with activities aimed at raising awareness of barriers faced by some girls and women to fully and safely exercise human rights, access community resources and express their identities. These barriers include stigma, discrimination, prejudice and harassment.
In sexual health and reproduction lessons, sexual anatomy and sexual response are discussed, expanding understanding of ways people may be sexually active. Information about factors that contribute to risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy are shared with an emphasis on making informed decisions to reduce their risk.
Sex, Media, and Technology components of the program for this age group focus on analyzing media messages, critical thinking and social media, communicating online, sexually explicit imagery, and safety concerns related to meeting people online and in real life.
Central to this toolkit is the concept of social justice. Session plans are intended to create space for group members to: raise their awareness of sources that can contribute to inequitable access to rights, resources, and authentic identity expression; build empathy for people who are particularly vulnerable or impacted by systems of oppression; and conceptualize actions to advance social justice.
The View from Girls Inc.
When girls have access to the type of programming and guidance that Girls Inc. provides about embracing healthy sexuality and cultivating their personal potential, they are better equipped to lead healthy lives, succeed academically, and advocate for themselves and others. (Discover how girls are thriving in the Girls Inc. latest findings report: Stronger, Smarter, Bolder.)
Click here for a downloadable version of an outline of the Girls Inc. Healthy Sexuality programming.