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How Emotional Intelligence Sex Ed Could Be a Game Changer

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Comprehensive sex education that occurs through a graduated curriculum beginning as early as kindergarten and into college is considered to be one of the most fundamental preventative factors in mitigating sexual violence, child sexual abuse, and gender/sexual orientation based violence.

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Currently, 39 states and the District of Colombia require some form of sex education, however, the consistency and medical accuracy of these programs varies drastically state by state. Some sobering statistics about the current state of sex education according to Planned Parenthood include:

– Only 18 states are required to teach birth control in addition to abstinence only

– Only 18 states require the information taught to be medically accurate

– 26 states and the District of Colombia require the information be age appropriate

– Only 10 states require affirming education regarding LGBTQIA+ identities and relationships

– Six states ban any discussion regarding LGBTQIA+ identities and relationships

But ultimately what or if sex education is taught is left up to individual districts, and schools and parents have the option to exempt their children from attending.

To say that the state of sex education in this country is abysmal would be an understatement. Why then am I even bringing up the topic of emotional intelligence sex education? Because reframing sex education as something more than just a discussion about anatomy, preventing pregnancy/STD’s and consent could be a game changer. Expanding the curriculum to cover key aspects of social-emotional health would be instrumental in providing the foundation for healthy communication, interpersonal relationships, and ultimately the betterment of mental health.

What would this kind of emotional intelligence sex education look like?

At its core it would be trauma-informed. Recognizing that students come from various cultural, historical, and familial backgrounds that will ultimately inform their behaviors, particularly where sex is concerned, is crucial. To ignore this fact is to fail to provide children the information they need to not just keep themselves safe, but to advocate for themselves in all of their interpersonal relationships. Particularly where consent is concerned, boundaries need to be a central focus within the curriculum. Empowering youth with the ability to set, maintain, and recognize healthy boundaries provides them with the self-esteem and autonomy necessary to navigate all relationships into their adulthood, and I cannot over emphasize how grossly lacking this skill is.

The second tenet of this type of emotional intelligence sex education would be learning to identify feelings and being able to label them. If there’s one thing I know to be certain it’s that the vast majority of us seem to have lacked the kind of upbringing where feelings were openly discussed, normalized and not stigmatized. Many of us grew up with associations like “good” and “bad” feelings and were encouraged to stifle some while only focusing on others. Throw in a dose of trauma and we end up with a society that doesn’t have the emotional awareness to communicate on a meaningful level. Incorporating feelings wheels and feelings journals, doing daily emotional check ins and otherwise normalizing feelings would not only create more emotionally aware adults, but would perhaps stem the tide of interpersonal violence. In addition, teaching concepts like co-dependency, gaslighting, covert abuse, stonewalling and other basic relational dynamics that can help an individual determine the health and safety of an intimate partnership would be beneficial in establishing a template of red flags to look out for.

The third tenet of emotional intelligence sex education would be focusing on the mind/body connection. Intimacy isn’t just about sex and pleasure can be obtained in many different forms. First and foremost, removing shame from the idea of pleasure is a start. We seem to have some kind of puritanical aversion to pleasure, which stunts our innate ability to be playful and creative, a complete buzz kill for any kind of intimacy, sexual or otherwise. But this extends further into the discovery of the myriad ways human beings can connect intimately, which involves recognizing how that intimacy often begins in the mind. Offering children and teens the opportunity to consciously discover how they experience pleasure and intimacy throughout their minds and bodies can look like focusing awareness away from genitals to other parts of the body to see where things tingle or feel good. It can involve exploring mental activities like deep emotional conversations, listening to music together, or watching a movie together and then discussing it. Too often we conflate intimacy with sex. Sex is one aspect of intimacy, but it’s by no means the only form of intimacy that can promote healthy and meaningful human connection. Refocusing on these other forms of intimacy might just encourage a more diverse, nuanced exploration by hormone-fueled teens, which is a win all around.

Implementing this kind of emotional intelligence sex education curriculum would require not only resources but a dramatic shift in the culture in terms of situating this subject as equally fundamental, if not more so, than math, science, history, or literature. While not every human will eventually utilize core academic skills in their daily lives as adults, all humans rely upon and thrive with basic emotional intelligence sex education skills. To not implement this kind of education is a failure to equip our youth with the skills that will most impact them in adulthood. It is, in my opinion, the key to solving many of the societal problems we face today.

Getty image by FG Trade

Originally published: July 3, 2022
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