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ETHICAL GUIDELINES FOR SEXUALITY EDUCATORS

 

Background

This paper is written by Susanna Ruuhilahti (Finland) and Suss Åhman (Finland) and has been commented upon by Jack Lukkerz (Sweden), Marie-Anne Ramuz Evensen (Norway) and Sigga Dögg Arnardottir (Iceland). They all have a broad experience in sexuality education with different targetgroups and people of different ages, in various educational settings. In a later stage, the paper has also been commented upon by many other colleagues in the Nordic countries.

The objective of this paper is to emphasize the importance of ethics in sexuality education. The clinical field of sexology already have ethical guidelines, but they differ from the needs of sexuality educators. Therefore, the need for ethical guidelines especially for sexuality educators has been worked out as a Nordic collaboration. Sexology is an interdisciplinary field, which among others include 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 rarely is the core of sexuality education. Sexuality education may be considered as health promotion. But the aim of sexuality education is broader.

This paper uses the Declaration of Sexual Rights (WAS, 2014) as a reference. The educator’s work should be based on a broad scientifically based knowledge. Sexuality Education is about raising awareness of all aspects of sexuality in order to enhance sexual health and wellbeing. It should support personal growth in regard to sexuality. It is also about the individual-s right to freedom and respect for personal choices in life. The respect for oneself and for others is a crucial point.

In the ethical guidelines for sexuality educators a key factor is that the educational sessions usually have a number of participants. They all have the right to experience their sexuality as something positive and valuable. In the educational sessions everyone has the right to receive guidance and support that enhances their own sexual health and wellbeing. The aim of the ethical guidelines for sexuality educators is to guide their work, and to give a coherent set of principles for sexuality educators in order to secure qualitative work in the field of sexuality education.

The point of the ethical guidelines is to give the sexuality educator directions and suggestions as to guidelines how to work and protect the person/s who participate in the sexuality education, to strengthen and to protect the educator’s professional identity, and at supporting the belief in the importance of one’s own work and the possibilities that it gives.

 

The function of the sexuality educator

Sexuality education is professional work that has a clear aim, specified by the educator and conducted in interaction with the participants. Even though the sexuality educator has a clear aim, there are multiple ways to reach it. 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 have the knowledge and skills to reach people of all ages and life situations, and to provide a broad, positive and realistic view of sexuality.

Sexuality education is about sharing knowledge and skills through dialogue, where the participants are actively involved, interacting.

The objective is to enhance sexual health and wellbeing, empowerment, self-confidence and a feeling of coherence among the participants. It should suggest ways to find help and support, and to seek further knowledge. The educator should give the person/s an opportunity to reflect on their own sexuality and gender, and on the norms and values of the community, together with peers. Sexuality education is about sharing knowledge and skills through dialogue, where the participants are actively involved, interacting.

The target groups for sexuality education are individuals of all ages and in different life situations, different kinds of groups and communities.  The aim is also to increase self-understanding and social competence, and to explore the individual´s resources and possibilities. The educator should contribute to develop  and strengthen the ability to make good choices and help the individual to find hir own way (to be) in life and in expressing hirself, and make 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 a fear to be stigmatized or ridiculed.

 Sexuality education should offer empowering support, guidance, and consultation when needed. Sexuality education should be interactive and participatory, and the educator has a responsibility to care for the participants wellbeing during the sessions and afterwards if needed (phone numbers to helplines, addresses and info what to do, where to go to get help etc.) The educator should be open about hir education and background, as well as the theories and values that form the foundation for the educational sessions.

 

About the ethics

Ethics is about what is considered a good life, justice, freedom and equality, and what separates right from wrong in a society. On a professional level ethics in sexuality education means 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 one’s actions. The ethical guidelines point out the responsibility and attitude to sexuality education.

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

Ethics, as elaborated here, in sexuality education is to recognize that everyone has the right to make their own choices and take responsibility for their own lives as well as being respected for it. In sexuality education ethics introduce important questions and reflections to the desire and ability to discuss different perspectives of sexuality, and the ability to let everyone who participates in it bring forward hir views. Ethics is something collective, and therefore these guidelines are made as a Nordic collaboration.

The participants in the sexuality education should experience it as respectful of hir dignity and individuality. This is the ground for an ethically and morally sustainable way of working. The professionalism of the sexuality educator shows by hir ability to be open and honest, and by the courage to acknowledge hir own limits concerning knowledge, skills and the areas where one needs support.

A sexuality educator, who has been authorized, has achieved a high level of education for the task (for example Authorized Sexuality Educator (FIAS) or Authorized Sexuality Educator and Sexual Health Promoter (NACS)). The responsibility of the task is connected to knowledge, craftsmanship, concept of human and values. Professional ethics is an important tool, because it guides the interaction between the educator and the participants.

 

The ethical guidelines

The sexuality educator should recognize and follow the UN human rights charter and WAS:s sexual rights in education, as well as the laws in the country that sexuality education is practiced in. The sexuality educator should also be familiar with the Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe by WHO and BZgA.

Every participant should be treated with respect and dignity. The sexuality educator must be sufficiently educated, knowledgeable and aware of hir personal values, attitudes and beliefs in order avoid holding them as a common truth, and to respect the different values of the participants. Dialogue is important in order to meet the needs of the participants and to find the right level and ways of sharing knowledge and skills. The sexuality educator must have a professional and holistic approach to her work and must be updated.

In the educational sessions everyone has a responsibility towards others in treating them well. The sexuality educator has a responsibility to ensure the safety of the sessions, but also a responsibility to choose the themes and the ways of dealing with issues, so that it empowers the participants and shows respect of them. Part of the safety is confidentiality in the sessions, part of it is the right of the participants as well as the sexuality educator to stay as private as they wish, choosing how much  - if any - personal information to reveal. The sexuality educator has the responsibility not to let the sessions be overly personal, so no-one will feel outed or uncomfortable during the 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.

Confidentiality in sexuality education may only be violated if the laws of the country require that, as for example laws protecting under age children. The participants in the sexuality education should be informed of this.

Sexuality education should encourage participants to live their own life the way one feels is right and good for them, to make choices and decisions and take responsibility over their own life without harming anyone.

 

Ethical principles

Equality and justice

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

Right to participate

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

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

Every session is adjusted to the particular individual or group that is participating, and to the needs of them.

Right to privacy

Everyone has the right to privacy during the sessions - the sexuality educator as well as the participants. The sexuality educator is responsible for keeping the level of privacy at a professional level so that no-one should feel outed or vulnerable due to being too personal in the session, or feel awkward due to too personal information from the sexuality educator.

Stereotypes and myths are to be viewed and reprobated

Sexuality education should lift up stereotypes and myths and get the facts straight to reprobate them.

 

Every person is seen as a unique human being

Everyone has different needs and experiences as well as a different sexuality, and that is to be respected.

The freedom and possibility to be your true self and take pride in it, without fear of violence, getting disgraced, discriminated or abandoned.

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

The sexuality educators relation to hir work: maintaining hir professional skills, well-being at work, safety

The sexuality educator is responsible for keeping the knowledge updated and based on facts, and for following the ethical guidelines.

 

Helsinki, Finland 19.4.2016

Written by Susanna Ruuhilahti and Suss Åhman

susanna.ruuhilahti@gmail.com and suss.ahman@folkhalsan.fi