Emotional Literacy:

All too often when we think about sex ed – we focus on the physical or the mechanical; it is all about the body parts – even when it comes to the risks – it’s always, “don’t have sex or you will get pregnant or catch an STIs…”  and when we talk about keeping safe the focus is on contraception and condoms.. but what about our emotional health – what about thinking about the emotional impact of sex…?

Emotional literacy is essential to good sexual health and to a healthy relationship. How you feel is the real guide to what makes sex safe. Condoms are great – but they wont stop you feeling used or rejected. They wont make someone fall in love with you or stay in love with you. They won’t help you set your personal boundaries or tell you if something is right for you… we have to learn how to do that for ourselves.

Delivering a full session about feelings can end up seeming wooly and a bit hippie… so instead it often gets neglected. We seem to find it difficult to talk about this aspect of sexual health – a condom demo is much easier some how…

Instead, the key is to include talk about emotions and feelings as part of any discussion – it doesn’t matter if we are talking about sex risk (although there are far better sex positive ways of discussing sex without always focusing on the risks!); how about talking about pleasure… sex is only pleasurable if we are doing it by choice. Feeling pressured is never pleasurable…

If you are using scenarios always ask the class how the characters might be feeling – how would they behave if they were in that position? How might their partner be feeling…?

Again, when you show a youtube clip – ask the class to think about how each character may be feeling – why do they behave the way they do… what is going on behind the mask they present to the world. A good example of this are the films on the Respect yourself urdecision.info website.

Here you can see the scenario from both character’s perspective and hear what they are thinking, not only what they are saying. You then have the choice of how they might or should behave. It is a great way of practicing…

When we talk about behaviours – there are different levels to a performance. There is the front – the what we say and how we act – but often this masks the real emotion of what is going on below the surface. Does that person feel insecure is that why they are angry? Do they feel a pressure to behave a certain way? Is there an expectation of how they should behave because of their gender… because of their peers of because this is what the media says teens should be like?

For an example of how to do this click here for an explanation of the would you see abuse clip

.would you see abuse

A session that includes emotional literacy as a key element doesn’t have to be fluffy – but there is no excuse not to include a bit in every session. Encourage to talk and think about both how they and the people around them feel. It is a great way of practicing and being mindful of their emotions – it is also a fantastic way to develop empathy – empathy isn’t something we either have or don’t have – like patience it can be developed and refined.

The next step is then exploring different forms of coping strategies – both the positive and the negative. Again, some of the negative ones will help to give insight to people’s behaviours – but learning positive techniques of how to deal with things when things don’t go right or when we aren’t feeling our best is essential. If we are going to help young people to become resilient they need to have ways of dealing with all of the little bumps in the road and to be able to ask for help. Coping Stratergies to try this exercise around coping strategies…

Think of a balloon. Every time you are feeling stressed, upset or something doesn’t go your way you blow into it. Overtime it will get bigger and bigger and bigger… until eventually… it goes pop! This is similar to our emotions health. If we develop strategies to unload our feelings – to let a little air out of our balloon we can keep in in one piece…

Unfortunately, when it comes to emotional literacy there is the assumption that boys lack emotional intelligence. That guys can’t talk bout their feelings. THIS IS NONSENSE! little boys and girls have the same potential emotional range. We simply teach boys that they aren’t allowed to show it. “Stop crying, stop being a girl… man up!”

This is one of the reason, that mental health issues, depression and suicide are much more profound in men. In fact suicide is the number one cause of death for young men.

We need to do better. Don’t fall into the gender stereotype trap of assuming that boys don’t feel… they do and we need to encourage them that there is an alternative to “manning-up”… click here for more about gender

Explore and encourage young people to develop support networks, knowing what services are on offer or when they can find unbiased, and non judgemental advice is key.

Again, when it comes to our sexual health all too often we are reactive – rather than proactive. We wait for something to go wrong before thinking about where we can look for support.

Resilience comes from being prepared. Having tried and tested strategies, and knowing where to go when things go wrong…

There are self reflective activities in the “About you work book” which can be used to explore personal emotional management, also activities around support networks and local services.

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