Copyright 2005
Girl's Best Friend Foundation

Girl's Best Friend Foundation (GBF) closed November 2007. 
GBF’s records are archived with Special Collections of the University
of Illinois, Chicago.  In fall 2008, they will be made public:

Sexuality Education in Girls’ Programs
Girl’s Best Friend Foundation
Sarah Cohodes
Summer 2003

What would an anti-sexist and anti-heterosexist sex education program look like?  It would validate the full range of human sexual preferences and practices….  The curriculum would take into account the social context in which males as a group have power and privilege, and females do not; therefore it would be woman-centered, rather than gender-neutral.  It would recognize that girls and women are affected in distinct and significant ways by such issues as contraception, pregnancy, abortion, homophobia, and…sexual violence in all its forms.  For the same reason, a feminist model of sex education would include courses organized by and for women, in addition to coeducational programming.  Finally, it would attempt to develop women-positive images of sexuality—a celebration of our bodies and our selves.[1]

Girl’s Best Friend Foundation (GBF) strongly encourages its grantees and other girl-centered programs to provide of sex education in some form to the girls that they work with.  Exploring and trying to understand human sexuality is a normal part of human development.  However, many educators and parents fail to communicate at all or effectively to all youth about sex.  Girls’ programs can combat the ignorance, misinformation, sexism, racism, heterosexism and ablelism with thoughtful sexuality education that affirms natural development.  In a way, just doing girls programming is part of quality sexuality education—girls’ programs foster self-empowerment and confidence, important skills for a young woman who is faced with outside pressures about her own sex life.  But GBF also wants to provide resources and connections so that GBF’s grantees can go beyond self-esteem to building girls’ much needed knowledge and critical thinking skills.

Although almost all adults want this country’s teenagers to be free of STI’s,[2] HIV/AIDS, and pregnancy, not many parents or schools are stepping up to the task.   Even though most parents want schools to teach more sex education topics than they currently are,[3] young people are still not being taught or are being taught ineffectively basic information on sex and sexuality.  A recent study found a shocking lack of information or misinformation:  only 25% of the youth surveyed knew that urination and menstruation occurred through different openings in the vulva,  33% knew that withdrawal was an ineffective birth control method, and 37% knew that teens could satisfy their sexual needs in activities other than intercourse.  The average score on the survey was 44% correct.[4]

Standard sex ed programs and research have barely started covering some important topics.  Many ignore behaviors outside of heterosexual intercourse except to briefly mention risk for STI’s.  They don’t talk about female orgasm, pleasure, and arousal.  And they sometimes do not consider the natural aspect of sexual development and spend most of the time on prevention and scare tactics.  If they do talk about homosexuality, many make clear-cut distinctions between straight and gay and leave no room for experimentation, questioning, change, and fluid identity development.  Our current sexuality education methods are failing to impart knowledge, let alone affect behavior.  Eighty-eight percent of youth want more information on sexual health topics,[5] and since they are not getting the information they want from schools and parents, youth programs can fill in the gaps. 

The trend toward abstinence-only sex education can contribute to misinformation and lack of information and does not change adolescent behavior.[6]  Our current federal administration is putting millions of dollars toward a refuted agenda and away from successful programs.  Even abstinence-plus or comprehensive programs are problematic.  Many are heterosexist, pleasure-negating, culturally-incompatible, sex-negative, and sexist.  Given that schools often have short units on sex ed tacked on to physical education programs, youth programming has a unique opportunity to provide better and more comprehensive sexuality education as part of a focus on youth well-being.  By contributing to the “opportunities and supports youth have,” youth in programming are “less likely…to engage in risk-taking behaviors” including sexually risky activities.[7]  Youth programs are usually a more comfortable and open space than schools, and program personnel often have a closer connection to participants than teachers. 

GBF doesn’t recommend that a program just pop in a condom lesson into its standard curriculum.  First of all, a lesson that just tells you the proper steps for putting on a condom can’t stand alone; it needs to be supported by lessons that have youth practicing with condoms, learning how to talk to their partners about condoms, learning how condoms protect from pregnancy, STI’s, and HIV, and learning enough about their own bodies to be comfortable in the whole process.  This happens with just about any topic in sexuality education. A single lesson “could be ineffective because [it] might appear to be little more than instructions from distant adults.”[8]   Having just one lesson is only a beginning. 

Programs need a comprehensive holistic approach.  They need to go beyond just providing information and talk about why they want to provide sexuality education.  Girls need to hear that programs want girls to understand their bodies, respect themselves, make their own decisions, resist stereotypes, and be in control of their bodies because societal messages so often contradict these values.  Programs need to make sex ed fun, so that it doesn’t seem like school.  They need to be friendly to LGBTQI youth.  They need to offer instruction in a culturally sensitive way and pay attention to how racism and stereotypes affect girls’ behavior.  And programs must affirm girls’ and women’s pleasure and active role in sex.

That’s a lot to ask for.  So to help grantees add or revamp a sexuality education curriculum, GBF offers these resources.  The first is a list of facilitator tips, then lesson plans and games available on the internet that can be used, adapted, or as discussion-fodder.  There is also a list of teen websites that have a lot of sex ed information.  These can be resources to point teens to or information reservoirs for program personnel.  Included next is list of recommended books to have on-site for girls to browse and reference, and then there is a list of area clinics should you ever need to refer or accompany a girl there.  Health centers are also great education resources, and one in your neighborhood might have an education program.  With that in mind, GBF has compiled a list of organizations and health centers devoted to education that can help you develop programs, offer trainings, and are great resources.  Many offer education components free or on a sliding scale basis.  If you are attending a training in how to educate and support girls, please apply to the GBF Professional Development Fund as a possible source of funding for such learning.

All these lists are stepping off points.  They’re there to foment discussion and start thinking about fun ways to get girls the information they need to ensure girls’ self-determination, power, and well-being.  Girls’ programs have a responsibility to the youth they serve to combat scare tactics, misinformation, and silence and provide accurate, comprehensive, girl-centered sexuality education. 

[1] Lensky, Helen.  “Beyond Plumbing and Prevention: Feminist Approaches to Sex Education.”  Gender and Education 2.2 (1990).

[2] STI’s are Sexually Transmitted Infections.  STI is used instead of STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) because the term STD has become stigmatized and is not a medically accurate description of most STI’s.

[3] Kaiser Family Foundation.  Sex Education in America.  The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; 2000.  10.

[4] Carrera, Michael, Jacqueline Williams Kaye, and Susan Philiber.  “Knowledge About Reproduction, Contraception, and Sexually Transmitted Infections Among Young Adolescents in American Cities.” Social Policy 30.3 (Spring 2000): 41-50.

[5] Kaiser Family Foundation.  National Survey of Adolescents and Young Adults: Sexual Health Knowledge, Attitudes, and Experience.  The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation. 2003.  40.

[6] Program Approaches in Teen Pregnancy Prevention: Best Practices and Effective and Promising Programs.  Houston, TX: The Cornerstone Consulting Group; 2001.  7.

[7] Ibid. 16.

[8] Lerner, Sharon.  “Convincing Youths They’re Not Invulnerable to HIV.”  The New York Times.  5 Aug 2003.

Exclusive resources for GBF grantees

If you are interested in being invited to any of the following, tell us.

Youth Worker Exchanges
GBF hosts periodic discussions on topics that cut across many girls programs.

Learning Circles
Small, focused, professionally facilitated peer groups that meet regularly over seven months, to solve work-related organizational, management, and conceptual issues.

Training & Consultation on Evaluation and Research
Girls programs find the training we offer a great way to learn and carry out girl-friendly investigation and evaluation. GBF offers one or two groups trainings a year, and also underwrites training and consultation.
Read more about our research and evaluation

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