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  • Sexual diversity is much more complex than just binary categories – such as male/female, straight/gay etc., it is more of a spectrum with various identities, affections, and behaviours.
  • There are three dimensions of sexualitysexual attraction, sexual behaviour, and sexual identity. These three are only partially overlapping.
  • Sexuality is related to but different from gender. Sexual orientation is an important part of our social lives – it is far more than just sex.
  • The ways of how sexuality and relationships are experienced and expressed by people are profoundly influenced by culture and societal norms.
  • Sexuality is often discussed only from a cisheteronormative point of view, which makes all of the people who do not identify as cis and/or heteronormative left out of the conversation.


Sexuality is a term applied to how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. Sexual orientation may be broken down into at least three dimensions, including sexual attraction, sexual behaviour, and sexual identity. Sexuality as a broader term is related also to number of culture-related variables and sexual health is important part of overall health of a person (Pitoňák & Macháčková, 2022).


1.2.1. Sexuality

Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles, and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, and religious and spiritual factors” (WHO, 2006). Therefore, it is good to normalize talking about sexuality openly, because it can make great impact on lives of young people and their overall health and well-being.

Sexuality can be experienced and expressed in many different ways. Here are few points describing important parts of any safe and healthy sexual activities (Women, U. N., & UNICEF, 2018)

  • The people involved in the performed activities are there voluntarily and are informed about what’s going to happen and are consenting to all of the suggested activities.
  • The people involved are conscious and in state of mind in which they are able to give informed consent.
  • Activities that are not considered harmful by either party involved in it (some sexual activities, which are called kink might include bonding, slapping, etc., which has to be always consensual, and wished for by all involved parties).
  • People involved are legally competent to consent to sexual activities

1.2.2. Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to men, women or both sexes (APA, 2008). Sexuality has three main dimensions – sexual attraction, sexual behaviour and sexual identity.

  • Sexual attraction describes interpersonal psychological dimension of sexuality, which refers to the romantic and sexual feelings we have for others. Sexual attraction can be related to the sex or gender of the people we are attracted to. Sexual attraction has been the main construct defining sexual orientation since the end of the 19th century (Sell, 1997).
  • Sexual behaviour is the behaviour of an individual that can, but does not have to, be in line with their sexual orientation and identity. Some sexual behaviour can be described as related to a certain context and/or situation or as experimental and does not strictly express the sexual identity of a person. In a society, where being gay or queer is stigmatized and there is high prevalence of rejection and discrimination, people might have a harder time to accept their identity if it does not fit the norm.
  • Sexual orientation identity is dependent on existence of available discourses within any given culture, language, and social categories (i.e., heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, etc.) that convey meanings to individuals who may assume them (Dillon et al., 2011; Morgan, 2013). Thus, a process or act of acceptance of such sexual orientation identity, or sexual identity label (Savin-Williams, 2011) represents a conscious acknowledgment and/or internalization of one’s sexual orientation (Dillon, Worthington, & Moradi, 2011). Categories, names, and labels for sexual orientation identities can be very helpful for young people while figuring out how they feel, which can ease up the process of coming out. Within any given culture, there may be many sexual orientation identity labels such as gay/lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, demisexual, questioning and many more. Contemporary research shows that it is relatively common for individuals to change them during their life-course.

As you can see the three dimensions above, they are overlapping and interrelated, but they are not the same. Keeping this in mind when working with LGBTQ+ teenagers is beneficial, since they might be exploring different sexual activities (behaviours) and going through the process of forming their sexual orientation identity.

1.2.3. Asexuality

When defining sexuality, we could also split it into two dimensions – sexual attraction meant as physical aspect of attraction and romantic dimension seen as more psychosocial aspect. Therefore, asexuality can be defined as the lack of sexual inclinations directed towards any other person (not lack of sexual desire per se – asexual people might or might not enjoy for example masturbation). This lack of sexual inclinations directed towards any other person is of an enduring nature or implies an enduring disposition or orientation. Important aspect to be considered is the self-identification with asexuality as some people may experience lack of sexual desire towards others but not consider themselves to be asexual.

Asexuality is also not a result of celibacy or fear of intimacy, it is a sexual orientation identity or label. Being asexual does not mean that the person never engages in sexual activities – they can engage in sex if they wish to. However, nobody should ever be forced into having sexual contact and/or activities. Lack of sexual desire towards others also doesn’t imply lack of romantic affection for others (Bogaert, 2015; Guz et al.,2022). Many asexual people want to have romantic relationships with others and can be romantically attracted to various genders, and therefore be considered for example lesbian, gay or bisexual (sometimes the term bi-romantic might be preferred) (Pitoňák & Macháčková, 2022). Then we can use terms romantic asexual and aromantic asexual who those who don’t feel romantic attraction. It is important to keep in mind that there is great diversity in how people experience their asexuality (Antonsen et al., 2020). When talking with teenagers about sexuality, don’t forget to mention asexuality too and to normalize the discourse around it, because in general asexuality is represented in public space much less than other sexual identities which can lead to feelings of inappropriateness/being left out by asexual young people.

1.2.4. Hypersexuality (related to compulsive sexual behaviour and internalizing homonegativity)

Hypersexuality is recurring and intensive sexual fantasies, urges and behaviours which are hard to control, usually present as a response to stressful events. Their character and/or intensity can cause physical and emotional distress to the person. Hypersexuality can be expressed in many different ways, for example by compulsive masturbation, excessive pornography consumption, intensive sexual behaviour with other consenting adults, etc. (Kaplan, 2010). When defining hypersexuality, societal context needs to be considered since norms of various societies are controlling and restricting a person’s sexuality.

A key vulnerability factor for compulsive sexual behaviour among LGBTQ+ people is minority stress and related processes. Distal minority stress processes (prejudice and discrimination from peers and societal structures) confer risk for proximal minority stress (internalized homogenativity) and emotion dysregulation which can lead to compulsive sexual behaviour (Pachankis et al., 2015). Other vulnerability factors for hypersexual behaviour for all youth regardless their sexual orientation and gender identity can be maltreatment, trauma, and depression (Fontanesi, et al, 2021). As hypersexuality can be caused by these factors, putting it into big picture while talking about sexuality might be beneficial for all. Since compulsive hypersexuality is harmful for people, distinction between compulsive hypersexuality and healthy rich sexual life should be made.

1.2.5. Involuntary celibate (Incels)

Incels are young men who lack sexual activity despite their desire to be in sexual relationship. The term originated from online groups on Reddit, where men discuss difficulties in seeking and succeeding in sexual relationships. Multiple core elements of the incel culture are highly misogynistic and favourable toward violence against women. People in these communities adhere to a “red-pill” philosophy (referencing to Matrix movie, symbolizing discovering of how world truly works) which in their view is a realization that we live under a feminist, far-left constructed delusion, and need to take steps to revolt against it (O’Malley, Holt, & Holt, 2020). The rise of incel groups and in general misogynistic ideas among young boys mean you might encounter this topic in your classroom and will have to address it. The best prevention is challenging gender stereotypes and stating clear rules on what happens when hate and violence occurs.

For more information see the topic about gender

1.2.6. Heteronormativity

Heteronormativity is a normative system within which heterosexuality and/or cisgender identity (the situation in which gender determined at birth is in accordance with the person’s gender self-identification; that is why sometimes it is called cisheteronormativity) are considered by society to be the only normal results of adolescence, socialization, and the development of life relationships, and are therefore automatically assumed/expected from everyone (Pitoňák, 2017). As a result, other forms of sexuality and non-conforming forms of gender identities are considered unequally valued. (Cis)Heteronormativity thereby creates base for stigmatization, discrimination, and exclusion of non-heterosexual and transgender or intersex people.

You can read more about heteronormativity on the topic 1.2 and the topic 2.3.

1.2.7. Queer theory

Queer theory is a diverse field of thought that started to be regarded as such in the 1990. An influential and not unified theory it is related to theorizing of gender, sexuality and identities that are outside of cisheteronormative expectations. As an approach it is typically questioning and problematizing binary categorizations related to sex, gender, and sexuality such as man/woman, male/female, straight/gay categories and brings forward questions related to power-relationships that are influenced by them. Queer theory states these binary categories help to reinforce differences and hierarchical structures (for example male being considered as superior and female as inferior) and calls to transgress conventional understanding of these while creating open space for various identities, embodiments, and discourses (Barber & Hidalgo, 2017; Jagose, 1996).


  • Non-consensual surgeries of children born with intersex variations are still happening. Parents of the new-born are often told that the surgery is necessary for healthy development of the child, but the motivation behind is often just to be able to conform to what is deemed to be a “normally” looking boy or girl body.
  • Shaming asexual people, trying to convince them to have sex.
  • Sexual harassment.
  • People not accepting asexuality as a valid sexual identity label.
  • Questioning someone’s sexual identity – “you’re lesbian just because you didn’t experience sex with men”.
  • Perceiving non-heterosexual people as if their sexual identity was the main defining personality trait, (oversexualization) and ignoring they are people with complex personalities and diverse interests.
  • Contextualizing non-heterosexuality only within sexually-transmitted infections and “risk language”.
  • Silencing or tabooing discussions about non-heteronormative or queer relationships and sexual practices.
  • Harmful assumption that assigned sex has to align with gender identity – and misgendering people who are trans/nonbinary. Overall fixation on assigned sex and not willing to accept people’s gender identity.
  • Dating as a queer person specially in smaller towns can feel slightly more difficult, it can encompass experiences of flirting with someone who is cishetero and who gets offended and aggressively reacts.
  • Comments or attacks on the street/ in the classroom towards queer people because of their appearance, which could be seen through a non/heteronormative gender expression (choices of clothes, make-up, accessories, etc.)
  • Not allowing equal marriage for same-sex couples.
  • Cisheteronormative expectations for relationships, appearance (gender expression), gender roles and other (further described in chapter cisheteronormative education).
  • Addressing someone’s same-sex or gender-diverse partner as friend despite previous disclosure of their relationship.
  • Not-respecting private space of children and adolescents, intruding into their personal space therefore violating their boundaries and privacy which can lead to maladaptive behaviours in the future.


Avoid conflating sexuality with mere sex or sexual behaviour, sexuality represents a complex social axis of difference a dimension of each and every human experience. Especially for students aged 12 and below it can be helpful to speak about relationships and dating and their diversity (girl wants to date with another girl, two men start a family…), to put emphasis on the relational aspect of sexuality, which is for many people the key part.

Tips from Barker (2017, p.43-44):

  • Reflexively engage with your own assumptions – and cultural norms – about sex and sexuality (penetrative sex can often be seen as the only “right” version of sex, when there are many more sexual activities which are not any less “sex” than penetrative one – oral sex, hand – genitalia sex, genital rubbing, etc.). Suggested questions:
    • How is perception of what constitutes a “good sex” influenced by popular culture and portrayals of sex in movies and popular culture?
    • How is it influenced by porn? How do sex and couple dynamic look like in porn?
    • What are the expectations for men/women to be like within sex?
    • How is it to see straight couple kissing in public and same sex couple doing the same? Why?
  • Engage in continual educational development around lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, queer, asexual spectrums, and other identities and practices. If you have not done this work, refer on to somebody who has where possible or start researching on your own so you can have discussion around the topics and be well-informed.
  • Do not expect your students to educate you, but do be open to the nuances of their unique lived experiences and meanings of their sexual identities and practices.
  • Aim to demonstrate comfort discussing the variety of GSRD (Gender, Sexual, and Relationship Diversity) practices.
  • Be aware of intersections, acknowledging the difference in how sexuality is experienced across gender, race, class, culture, ability, age, generation, body type, etc. You can think of how it is to be gay in social class where masculinity is viewed very stereotypically, how is to be trans in religious environment where existence of LGBTQ+ people is viewed as sin, how is it to be lesbian in very conservative culture, how is it to be gay and fat it environment where there’s lot of pressure on body look).
  • Normalize sexual diversity, and diversity of options in relation to sexual identities, desires, and practices, including a person being anything from not sexual at all to highly sexual. Do not imply that the lack of sexual attraction, or high sexual desire, is a problem to be treated unless it is accompanied with psychological distress or negative outcomes.
  • Avoid assuming that the sexuality of somebody with a non-normative sexuality will be relevant to their presenting issue. Avoid assuming that the sexuality of somebody with a normative sexuality will not be relevant.
  • Be careful not to assume the sexuality of a student based on heteronormative assumptions, or on their appearance, the gender of a partner mentioned, expectations about normal sexual practices, or anything else. Check out their sense of sexuality and make sure that you respect this. Be open to them choosing any label – or no label – for their experiences or attractions.
  • Recognize the reasons why consent can be challenging in the current cultural context, challenge non-consensual behaviour (sexual harassment, rape, unwanted sexual texts, etc.), and openly engage with students around how they can ensure ethical and consensual practice with themselves and others. Activity that can be performed is to discuss with students how we generally recognize the situations when someone agrees to do things or when they are excited about them – we can brainstorm about this. How does a person look like in such situation (smiling, approaching, nodding, “Let’s do that!”, etc.), and on the other hand how do we recognize when someone doesn’t want (e.g. to do) something (not saying much, avoiding, “no”) or when they’re not sure (silence, “yeah maybe”,…having straight face). We can discuss how everyone might express these a bit differently, how it depends on how well we know the person, etc. We can then brainstorm how we can ask a person if they want to do something or like something – we write it down. Then we can discuss the same situation of agreeing / not being sure / disagreeing in sexual encounter. Signs would be similar – consent should be enthusiastic, they reciprocate touches/kissing etc. and we can accommodate questions we wrote down earlier – how anyone can ask if person wants to do something in a sexual context – to give specific examples how students can check for consent:
  • Would you like…?
  • I would like to do…, how do you feel about that?
  • Do you want to have sex now?
  • Can I touch your…?
  • Do you like when I do this…?

When teaching about sexuality, involve examples of various sexual identities and relationships, not only heterosexual and normative ones. In your classes you can give examples of two women being married to each other; of a trans man dating a man; of a bisexual person who is currently dating someone of the same gender/sex, etc. You can open the topic with activity focused on societal norms and what it means to critically analyse and break them. This can mean discussing expectations and norms revolving around sexual and romantical relationships. Example of such activity can be found in Norm Criticism Toolkit (2016).

You can talk to children about gender identity, sexual orientation and biological sex and reinforce the idea that these are all spectrums or indiscrete phenomena with otherwise complex variability that cannot be easily defined by categories or labels that would make them look like discrete categories. It can be helpful to talk about things we see as binary categories. Explore that further and brainstorm about some examples of things we tend to see as binary complementary categories (0 a 1 in IT, white and black, hot and cold, day and night, etc.). You can demonstrate with these, how often we think in binary categories, but the reality is more complex – there are shades of grey between black and white, there are different grades of temperatures between hot and cold. The same goes with categories as male/female, man/woman and straight/gay. It will help children in the future to understand their own identity and feelings. A practical guide to teaching about sexuality in a complex way can be found in Gender, Sexuality and Sexual Orientation: Training Manual (2019, pages 7-10):

Another activity to discuss sexual diversity can be “The world upside down” described in “Somos Diversidades” (Pichardo et al, 2020, p. 67). In this activity students individually and anonymously fill in so called “Questionnaire about heterosexuality” which includes questions non-heterosexual people often get asked, like “Did it cost you a lot to accept your heterosexuality?”, “Do you plan to tell your family?” and other. After filling it, you could start a discussion by asking both heterosexual and non-heterosexual students how it felt for them to carry out this activity, and what they found interesting or shocking. The activity should be wrapped up with information about sexual diversity.

To address common myths about asexuality, you can get inspired by activity in “Somos Diversidades” (Pichardo et al, 2020, p. 93). Start by dividing the class into groups of 3 or 4 people. Give them a test on asexuality (see below), where they should mark if a statement is TRUE or FALSE, deliberately giving them very short time for answering (3 minutes are suggested, according to your knowledge of the class this time can be shorten) so only quick debates can occur. After that, we can reflect with the groups – how was it to decide that fast? Were the groups clear and coherent on their decisions? After that we go question by question and collect answers of all groups, seeing what’s similar, what’s different and concluding with correct answer. After that is recommended to show some video or other incorporation of lived experience of being asexual. At the end of the class, we can wrap it by asking about what was surprising, what is the main take away, etc.

  1. Asexual people do not have sex.
  2. Asexual people don’t like masturbation.
  3. Asexual people can only have relationships with people who are also asexual.
  4. Asexual people may want to start a family.
  5. Asexuality is strongly linked to religious beliefs

Correct answers:

  1. FALSE: Asexual people are defined as those who do not feel or feel low sexual desire for other people. However, they can have sexual relations with other people, for example, to satisfy themselves when they feel sexual desire, or to satisfy their partners or with purpose of conceiving.
  2. FALSE: Asexual people can enjoy masturbation, they can masturbate as anyone else for various reasons – for arousal, to relax or as part of sexual relations they have with their partners.
  3. FALSE: Asexual people can have romantic relationships with both people within the asexual spectrum a of the allosexual (that is to say “other-sexual”, heterosexuals, gays, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, etc.). Asexual people can name their identity in various ways – some of them using terms like heteroromantic, androromantic (romantic pursuit towards men and masculine people), panromantic, etc.
  4. TRUE: The desire to have children or to start a family is not linked to sexual desire, so asexual people may or may not have the desire to have children or to start a family in the same way as allosexual people.
  5. FALSE: Celibacy and sexual abstinence do not define people asexual, nor vice versa. Asexual people do not stop have sexual relations for beliefs of any kind, they simply do not feel or feel low sexual desire for other people.

When speaking about sexual orientation labels and diversity in this area, to avoid over-sexualizing perspective in form of giving the impression that sexuality of non-heterosexual people is the main defining trait of their psyche, you can include the activity “Star of me” where students have a star and in each 6 points of it to write an attribute or a characteristic. This activity is from Teacher’s Guide to Inclusive Education (IGLYO, 2015, p. 17). It shifts back the perspective to people being complex human beings and it can show common ground. The activity can pose questions of some attributes being more hidden or more displayed, how they show up in different social contexts and the overall feelings of students while doing the activity – how did they feel when shrinking their identity into these 6 points.

Do not forget talking about intersex people when discussing biological attributes of sex, how sex is assigned and defined above binary categories and include this information in sexual education classes. Avoid using possibly conflicting and possibly harmful terms, such as “hermaphrodite” because it has negative connotation as it’s sometimes used as an offence and is more commonly used to refer to animals with both male and female reproductive organs. To give proper information about intersexuality, you could invite an expert on the topic to prepare a program for you/your colleagues and classes).

As for sexual orientation labels or intersex status, never share it with people if the person concerned did not consent to it. If you think someone else needs to know this information, discuss with the person first, ask for their consent and respect their wishes.

Include information about safe relationships and interactions, encourage students to brainstorm what kind of violent situations and gender based violence could occur and how they can address those (Gender, Sexuality and Sexual Orientation: Training Manual (2019, pages 45- 52).

To prevent misogyny and inequality, challenge gender stereotypes (for example with this technique) and when working with children, treat them equally, giving them the same opportunities or offering the same toys/subjects and encourage them to try all kind of activities. Give examples of famous writers, scientists and public figures of all genders. Enhance respect and understanding. When dividing a classroom into groups, try to come up with other ideas than binary division (boys and girls), try for example a division based on who likes cats and who likes dogs, or a random division.

As skills of asking for consent are often missing, and sexual roles of people can be influenced by stereotypes based on gender, it might be useful to discuss sexism, it is forms and create a space where sexism does not have a place.

1.4.1. Addressing sexism

To address sexism, you can get inspired by these tips below and see some case studies of specific schools here. National Education Union and UK Feminista (2017) recommends:

Adopt a ‘whole school approach’ to tackling sexism.

  • A ‘whole school approach’ means action to promote equality between girls and boys is supported by an over-arching framework involving all members of the school community. This enables a consistent approach and long-term change.
  • The three key components of a whole school approach are:
    • An institutional framework: put a strategy in place, support it through school policy, and drive it with leadership.
    • Building staff capacity: equip teachers and all staff with the skills, knowledge, and resources to understand, identify and tackle sexism, including through the provision of training opportunities.
    • Empowering students: enable students to discuss and learn about sexism, to report incidents, and to act for equality.

Take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment.

  • Sexual harassment should be specifically and explicitly addressed through school policy, including clear procedural guidelines which are consistently enforced. If it’s not addressed by the school, try addressing it inside of your classroom and normalize it.
  • All staff should know what the school’s policies and procedures are regarding incidents of sexual harassment.
  • All students should be aware of the school’s zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and be supported to report incidents.

Introductory class on sexual harassment for secondary age group (with simplifying the activity and small variations in it (most likely the quotes), it can be used in primary schools as well. For this you would need at least 60 minutes.

  • Introduce what the class will be about and state the definition of sexual harassment:

Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:

  • Violates a person’s dignity.
  • Intimidates, degrades or humiliates someone; or
  • Creates a hostile or offensive environment.

Sexual harassment can include verbal, non-verbal and physical acts – including sexual comments, taking ‘up-skirt’ photographs, or unwanted sexual touching. Sexual harassment is a form of violence against mostly women and girls, but it can affect people of any gender. When being aimed towards girls and women it is often underpinned by unequal power relations between women and men. It also includes unwanted sexual touching, where the target does not consent to the touching and the perpetrator does not reasonably believe they consent, constitutes sexual assault.

After that, divide the class into small groups and to each give a print of quotes of people who has been subject to sexual harassment. The groups should have 10 minutes to discuss these:

  • “Some of the boys made comments on a lot of the girls in our years’ bodies and the girls just have to ignore it because no one thinks it’s a big deal. The boys also slap the girls’ butts and touch their breasts without any consent.”
  • “The boys began to think it was hilarious to lift the girls’ skirts. Us girls felt we had to laugh along as well, despite feeling humiliated.”
  • “After being together in a swimming pool, people in the class tried to guess the size of penis of some of the boys and making jokes about “small dick” and it was really embarrassing and humiliating.”
  • “I am nonbinary, yet in my expression quite feminine person – I like to wear short skirts, heals and I enjoy putting on make-up and stuff. Some people in the class (mainly boys) began to refer to me as “slut” or “sex worker” and when they’d meet me, they would make some kind of joke like “How is it going with your clients, how many you had today?”, “Would you go with me? For how much? The people witnessing this always just laughed.”

With each quote, ask the students to discuss these three points:

  • What makes this sexual harassment?
  • How do you think the person experiencing this harassment might feel?
  • What action do you think should be taken?

After that, discuss with students:

  • What were their answers to the three points above?
  • If there were some common topics in the quotes?
  • If they would agree on the answers or what were they discussing?
  • Ask them how would they describe sexual harassment based on the quotes?

After that, introduce the new school policy. Inform them where to reach to for help if they are subject of sexual harassment and who are people responsible for this area in the school. Inform about how school will respond to individuals who perpetrate or participate in sexual harassment of another pupil or teacher.

Leave few minutes for questions.


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