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ETHICAL GUIDELINES FOR SEXUALITY EDUCATORS

 

Background

This paper has been prepared by Susanna Ruuhilahti and Suss Åhman (both of Finland) and been commented upon by Jack Lukkerz (Sweden), Marie‑Anne Ramuz Evensen (Norway) and Sigga Dögg Arnardottir (Iceland). They all have extensive experience in sexuality education, with diverse target groups and people of many ages, in various education settings. In a later stage, the paper was commented on also by many other colleagues in the Nordic region.

One core aim for the paper has been to emphasise the importance of ethics in sexuality education. While the clinical field of sexology already has ethical guidelines, these do not fully address the needs of sexuality educators. Therefore, the requirement of ethics guidelines specifically for sexuality educators has been addressed in pan-Nordic collaboration. Sexology is an interdisciplinary field that encompasses elements such as sexological counselling and sexuality education. The aim of counselling may be understood as helping clients to heal or cope with their problems, whereas the problems and clinical issues of the participants are rarely at the heart of sexuality education. Sexuality education may be considered to be health promotion, but its aim is broader than that.

This paper takes the Declaration of Sexual Rights (WAS, 2014) as a reference. The educator’s work should be based on a broad base of scientifically grounded knowledge. Sexuality education is about raising awareness of all aspects of sexuality in order to enhance sexual health and well-being. It should support personal growth with regard to sexuality. In addition, it involves the individual’s right to freedom and respect for personal choices in life. Respect for oneself and from others is a crucial element.

One key factor to be addressed in ethical guidelines for sexuality educators is that the education sessions usually have several participants, all of whom have a right to experience their sexuality as something positive and valuable. In these sessions, everyone has the right to receive guidance and support that enhances hir own sexual health and well-being. The objective for the ethical guidelines offered here for sexuality educators is to guide their work and to serve as a coherent set of principles for sexuality educators’ use, with the ultimate aim of bringing about secure, high-quality work in the field of sexuality education.

The ethical guidelines presented here are to give the sexuality educator directions and suggestions on how to work and protect the people who participate in sexuality education, to strengthen and protect the educator’s professional identity, and to support belief in the importance of the work and the possibilities that it creates.

 

The function of the sexuality educator

Sexuality education is professional work that has a clear aim, specified by the educator, and is conducted in interaction with the participants. Even though the sexuality educator has a clear aim, it can be reached in any of several ways. Hence, the education has to be very sensitive to the needs, wishes, and dynamics of the participants and be age-appropriate and comprehensible. The interaction forms the content of the session. The sexuality educator needs to possess the knowledge and skills to reach people of all ages, in all life situations, and to provide a broad, positive, and realistic view of sexuality.

The objective is to enhance sexual health and well-being, empowerment, self‑confidence, and the feeling of coherence among the participants. The edu­cation should point to ways to find help and support and to seek further knowl­edge. The educator should give all participants an opportunity to reflect on their own sexuality and gender, and on the norms and values of the community, alongside peers. Sexuality education is about sharing knowledge and skills through dialogue wherein the participants are actively involved and interacting.

The target groups for sexuality education encompass individuals of all ages, in many life situations, who are part of various kinds of groups and communities. One aim is to increase self-understanding and social competence while exploring the individual’s resources and opportunities. The educator should contribute to developing and strengthening the ability to make good choices and help the individual find hir own way of being in life and of expressing hirself, while also making it possible to reflect on what sexuality is and what it means to oneself and others. The educator should create an environment where it is possible to share knowledge, skills, and experience without fear of being stigmatised or ridiculed.

Sexuality education should offer empowering support, guidance, and consulta­tion when needed. This education should be interactive and participatory, and the educator has a responsibility to nurture the participants’ well-being during the sessions and, if necessary, afterwards (via phone numbers for help lines, addresses, information on what one can do / where one can get help, etc.). The educator should be open about hir education and background, as well as the theories and values that form the foundation of the educational sessions.

 

The nature of ethics

The field of ethics addresses what is considered a good life, justice, freedom, and equality, along with what separates right from wrong in a society. On a professional level, ethics in sexuality education entails the ability to discuss and question one’s own attitudes, professional work, and decisions; the fairness of one’s actions; and the foundation of what influences those actions. The ethical guidelines presented below point to the responsibilities and appropriate attitudes involved in sexuality education.

The core of sexuality education is the educator’s relationship with the individual/s taking part in that sexuality education.

As elaborated upon here, ethical sexuality education involves recognising that all people have a right to make their own choices and take responsibility for their own lives while being respected for doing so. Ethical sexuality educa­tion includes introducing important questions and reflection on the desire and ability to discuss different perspectives on sexuality, and everyone who takes part is allowed to present hir views. Since ethics is something collective, these guidelines have been prepared through open Nordic collaboration.

A participant in sexuality education should experience it as respectful of hir dignity and individuality. This lays the foundation for an ethically and morally sustainable way of working. The professionalism of the sexuality educator is shown by hir ability to be open and honest and by showing the courage to acknowledge both the limits of hir knowledge and skills and the areas in which support is needed.

A sexuality educator who is qualified as authorised has achieved a high level of education for the task at hand – for example, attaining the status of Authorized Sexuality Educator (FIAS) or Authorized Sexuality Educator and Sexual Health Promoter (NACS). The responsibilities in the work are connected to knowledge, craftsmanship, concepts of humanity, and values. Professional ethics form an important tool because they guide the interaction between the educator and the other participants.

 

Ethical guidelines

The sexuality educator should recognise and follow the UN human-rights charter and the WAS declaration of sexual rights in education, as well as the laws in the country in which the sexuality education is practised. In addition, the sexuality educator should be familiar with the WHO and BZgA’s Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe.

Every participant should be treated with respect and dignity. The sexuality educator must be sufficiently educated; knowledgeable; and aware enough of hir personal values, attitudes, and beliefs to avoid holding them up as universal truth, and should respect the different values held by the participants. Dialogue is important for meeting the participants’ needs and finding the right level and ways of sharing knowledge and skills. The sexuality educator must have a professional and holistic approach to hir work, and it must be updated.

In the education sessions, everyone has a responsibility to treat the others well. The sexuality educator is responsible for ensuring the safety of the sessions but also for choosing the themes and the ways of dealing with issues such that the education empowers the participants and shows respect for them. One element of safety is confidentiality of the sessions, and another is honouring the right of both the participants and the sexuality educator to stay as private as they wish, choosing how much personal information, if any, is to be revealed. The sexuality educator has the responsibility not to let the sessions get overly personal, so that no-one feels outed or uncomfortable during a session or afterwards. Everyone has the right to be an active participant in the sexuality education but also not to participate in the interaction at the sessions.

The confidentiality obligation in sexuality education may be violated only if the laws of the country require this, as, for example, with laws protecting people who are below the age of majority. The participants in the sexuality education should be informed of this.

Sexuality education should encourage its participants to live their own life in the way they feel is right and good for them, make choices and decisions with confidence, and take responsibility for their own life without harming anyone.

 

Principles of good ethics

Equality and justice

All human beings are equal and have the right to be who they are, and they are to be treated with equality and justice in sexuality education.

The right to participate

Everyone has the right to be an active participant in the sexuality education but also not to participate in the interaction during the sessions.

Sexuality education that holistically considers the participant's individuality and life situation

Every session is adjusted to the specific individuals or group participating and to their needs.

The right to privacy

Everyone has the right to privacy during the sessions – the sexuality educator and the participants alike. The sexuality educator is responsible for keeping the level of privacy at a professional level such that no-one feels outed or vulnerable because elements of the session are personal or feels awkward on account of overly personal information being presented by the sexuality educator.

Examination and repudiation of myths and stereotypes

Sexuality education should draw attention to stereotypes and myths about sexuality and gender and should know the facts needed for repudiating them.

Seeing each person as a unique human being

Everyone has individual-specific needs and experiences, along with a unique sexuality, and that is to be respected.

The freedom and opportunity to be one’s true self and take pride in this, without fear of violence, being disgraced, discrimination, or abandonment

The sexuality educator is responsible for being respectful to the participants but also for creating sessions in which everyone treats others with respect.

The sexuality educator’s relationship to the work: professional skills, well‑being at work, and safety

The sexuality educator is responsible for maintaining up-to-date, fact-based knowledge of the field and for following the profession’s ethics guidelines.

 

In Helsinki, Finland, on 19.4.2016

Written by Susanna Ruuhilahti (susanna.ruuhilahti@gmail.com) and Suss Åhman (suss.ahman@folkhalsan.fi)