Scarleteen's Online Peer Sex Educator Training Program

Peer-based sex education and support is important to Scarleteen. While adult-to-teen education is also very much needed and of value, we know that peers are where teens and young adults have always gotten and likely will always get the bulk of their sex information. The problem is that so often that information isn't accurate. It's often hearsay, based only on a given person's own ideas or experiences or the experiences of one peer group; or it's sourced from places that might look accurate, like mainstream magazines, but which often really are not or come with a lot of hidden bias in tow. As well, many young people don't know how to talk about sex together in a way that is compassionate, non-judgmental and which is conducive to productive, emotionally safe conversation about sex and sexuality.

But there's an extra power and a special kind of support with peer-to-peer education and interaction that we feel is exceptionally valuable. Having sound support from peers during a time which can be so socially precarious and around a subject that is so socially loaded is a real boon to young people, and having any information shared be accurate and thoughtful is better still. We consider that part of what we do as an organization with any education we provide young people about sexuality is not only helping them to have accurate information for themselves, but helping them to pass that accuracy on to their friends and partners with care and sensitivity. Young people also don't have to bridge generational gaps with each other the away that adults and young people do.

So, last summer we rolled out a pilot program for training peer sex educators online, starting with one small group of 17 trainees under the age of 24. Most were in the United States, but a few were international and the program was open to trainees from any location. The training was designed in alignment with the core values and mission of Scarleteen. The approach and information is as inclusive as possible (in terms of age, gender, orientation, race, class, sexual choices, the works), fact-based, sex-positive and feminist, and furthered an educational model of opt-in, learner-directed structure and interaction.

The program was free for the trainees, ran for eight weeks and included:

  • Weekly reading assignments on sexuality, relationships, health and related issues, as well as reading around compassionate listening and other theory/models for education, presentation and interacting with people about sexuality. Trainees were also provided with a copy of S.E.X. and a few other print resources and references.
  • Student research on one's own community and peer groups to best determine their unique needs well and serve them best; research on local laws and policies in your area which may or do impact teens or young adults when it comes to sexuality or sexual health.
  • In-community visits to sexuality and sexual health resources like STI testing sites, clinics for contraception and other reproductive/sexual health services, GLBT youth centers and youth support organizations.
  • Compiling a big, bodacious binder you'll be able to use as a reference when planning or doing peer-to-peer education.
  • Many moderated group discussions and brainstorming sessions via our message board format Trainees also used our general message boards to get some practice with educating other young people.
  • The opportunity to talk with other working sex educators and activists via the message boards.

The program was a pass-fail course based on full participation and quality of that participation, including completion of in-community visits and all assignments. Throughout the course, trainees created binders for use in doing their own peer sex education which included all of their assignments, whatever reading they felt they would like to have printed for reference, notes on their community visits, the demographics of their group(s)and a compilation of local resources for the peers they will serve as well as one lesson plan they designed and completed and a final essay laying out their own personal sex education philosophies and core values. Of the 17 trainees, six fully completed and passed the course. Two have since become Scarleteen volunteers.

At the end of the course, we collected assessments from the trainees to determine the value of the program to them and to seek out what improvements we might make for future training sessions.

Here's some of what they had to say:

I have a better idea of how my own life experiences and the lessons from them can be appropriately used and applied in educational contexts. It was an overall positive experience. I have a big sex education binder and enjoyed the discussions.

It was an absolutely brilliant setup. I gained confidence in speaking with family and friends about sex, gender, orientation, and sexual morality. I feel a lot more comfortable talking to my peers about things. I'm confident, as I have more information on hand than I did previously. Doing readings was really easy, and actually pretty fun because I could do it on my own time and a lot of the reading (especially on Scarleteen) was really thought-provoking.

I had a very good experience participating in the training this summer. I appreciated the resources that were made available to me, both in print and online. I also benefited from the community of other trainees. Getting a chance to swap ideas with like-minded individuals was invaluable. Now that I have completed the training, I feel more confident about my own abilities to talk about sexuality. [The training] helped me solidify my own philosophy towards sexual education. I also feel like I have access to a community of educators and amazing individuals that I can contact and work with. Even though we all live in different places, I still feel empowered knowing that the other trainees and the volunteers of Scarleteen are living and working in the world, because it makes me feel less isolated. Writing our individual activity plans was challenging, because I had to bring something original to the table. As a trainee, I felt very supported, and the information from the S.E.X. book and online readings were supported in the forum discussions and the community visits.

My overall experience was very good. I feel a lot more aware in general. I feel like I was fortunate enough to be provided with great access to sex ed from my school, but that doing this training helped to really deepen my understanding of sexuality. I also felt like I learned how to be a bit more neutral, which is something that as an incredibly opinionated woman I “battle” with daily!

In 2010, we plan to offer two more of these training sessions to two groups of 30 participants, with a goal of passing a minimum of 20 trainees for each session. We currently have a waiting list of 40 trainees for the future sessions.

If you're interested in doing the training yourself, or are a sexuality or sexual health professional who'd like to help us with one of the next upcoming sessions, please email us here and let us know!

If you'd like to help support the costs of the program, you can do so by making a donation to Scarleteen. If you'd like your donation to go expressly to the PSE program, you can note that on your donation and we'd be glad to honor that request.