Healthy Sexuality Programming: A Cornerstone of the Girls Inc. Experience
“Girls Inc. has helped me learn to respect myself.
I’m so glad I have Girls Inc. on my side!” – Kimora, age 12
At Girls Inc., we work to ensure girls have the skills, knowledge, and support to take ownership of their sexual health and make positive decisions that help them lead satisfying, safe, and healthy lives.
Our comprehensive and positive approach to healthy sexuality has distinguished Girls Inc. in the field for nearly 20 years and our research has shown that when girls have access to the type of programming and guidance that Girls Inc. provides that embraces healthy sexuality and cultivates their personal potential, they are better equipped to lead healthy lives, succeed academically, and advocate for themselves and others. (Discover how girls are thriving in the Girls Inc. latest findings report: Stronger, Smarter, Bolder.)
About the Girls Inc. Healthy Sexuality Program
Girls Inc. Healthy Sexuality assists girls in understanding and embracing sexuality with a positive approach that is built on a foundation of:
- accurate information
- cultural sensitivity
- values of inclusiveness and respect
Girls acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to take charge of their sexual health. Girls Inc. Healthy Sexuality helps girls learn about and develop an appreciation for the human body and all it can do, be inclusive and supportive of sexual diversity and rights, and explore values. It also allows girls the opportunity to build skills to engage in healthy relationships, and think about their futures and the world around them.
Why is a healthy sexuality program for girls important?
We know that giving young people access to information helps them feel comfortable in their bodies, engage in healthy relationships and make decisions about their health. Research conducted in both the United States and Canada shows that most youth and parents say that girls need more comprehensive information relevant to their lives. Not only do girls need this information sooner rather than later—they need appropriate information throughout their development.
Additionally, programs and efforts that deliver information on healthy sexuality must include a focus on gender-specific issues because young women deal most directly with the impact of teen pregnancy.
Girls deserve education that empowers them to stay healthy and reach their goals by encouraging thoughtful consideration about the impact of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) on their future aspirations and economic security. The U.S. continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates among industrialized countries. While Canada’s rate is less than half of that of the U.S., it’s still higher than many industrialized countries. Further, the rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young women, especially young women of color, warrants additional concern.
What Girls Will Learn
Our Healthy Sexuality program is customized for four different age groups and provides Girls Inc. affiliates across the United States and Canada with the flexibility to craft a program series to meet their girls’ needs and priorities, while upholding the unifying principles of Girls Inc.
No matter the age of the girls, our Healthy Sexuality program begins with a Parent Orientation and focuses around building girls’ developmentally-appropriate knowledge and skills in key content areas.
In the Becoming Informed program, girls ages 6-8 experience foundational learning about healthy relationships and anatomy. Each session includes resources for the parent to support them in their role as primary educator of their child.
Individually and in group activities, girls learn about healthy relationships of all kinds. They explore characteristics such as honesty, communication, respect, and safety and practice communicating feelings and personal boundaries. Girls identify how we are all a part of different communities and how all people and communities deserve respect.
The activities in Becoming Informed help girls learn about how bodies are the same and different and that all bodies are amazing! Girls learn accurate names for body parts and their functions and about taking care of one’s body. Research shows that programming implemented in earlier grade levels can help prevent child sexual abuse while and increasing awareness of appropriate and inappropriate touching, increasing parent-child communication and increasing lead the likelihood of disclosing abuse.
In the Informed Together program, girls ages 9-11 and their parents/caregivers are given exercises, conversation guides, and prompts that allow for essential conversations about sexuality to occur. Modules address development of girls’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes as well as development of parent-child communication.
Individually and in guided group activities, girls explore kindness, understanding, empathy, love, and communication in all aspects of life. Sexuality is introduced as a broad concept and also as a specific part of a person. Girls Inc. staff lead developmentally appropriate discussions around sexual and gender identity at the individual and global levels.
Girls are provided a safe space for learning and voicing concerns about the biology of the body, including anatomy, puberty, menstruation, reproduction, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). There is also a focus on helping girls understand and navigate issues like body image and sexual identity as well as how to be prepared for what they may encounter online.
Informed and In Charge
Girls ages 12-14 participate in Informed and In Charge. Underpinning all sessions is how varied and individual each young person’s experiences are. Facilitators of Informed and In Charge seek to create an open, safe atmosphere where each girl can show up and bring her own unique life experiences. Girls also learn to identify, establish and cultivate healthy relationships through assertiveness and negotiation skills. They have several opportunities to increase their understanding of sexuality, including ways to demonstrate respect, equity, and fairness.
Program staff provide opportunities for girls to develop critical thinking skills and practice effective decision making to prepare them to make choices that align with their personal values. Girls receive information they need and are given opportunities to communicate about their bodies and their values around sexual behavior and consent in order to be sexually healthy. Lastly, in response to the emergence of social media, Informed and In Charge provides support for exploring the roles media and technology play in girls’ sexual development. Through critical analysis, discussion, and role play, girls identify and address their feelings, values, and safety concerns as they relate to media and technology.
For girls ages 15-18, the Taking Charge program explores concepts that are developmentally appropriate for youth in middle to late adolescence. The girls focus on personal awareness of identity, boundary setting, communication, exercising personal rights, and navigating interpersonal relationships with a special emphasis on healthy and safe relationship characteristics.
The topic of human sexuality is explored with activities aimed at raising awareness of barriers faced by some girls and women to fully and safely exercise human rights, access community resources and express their identities. These barriers include stigma, discrimination, prejudice and harassment.
In this program sexual anatomy and sexual response are discussed, expanding understanding of ways people may be sexually active. Information about factors that contribute to risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy are shared with an emphasis on making informed decisions to reduce their risk.
Girls develop skills to analyze media messages, think critically about social media, communicating online, the impact of sexually explicit imagery, and safety concerns related to meeting people online and in real life.
Central to this toolkit is the concept of social justice. Session plans are intended to create space for group members to: raise their awareness of sources that can contribute to inequitable access to rights, resources, and authentic identity expression; build empathy for people who are particularly vulnerable or impacted by systems of oppression; and conceptualize actions to advance social justice.
To learn more about Girls Inc. Healthy Sexuality, click here.