How Professionals Can Foster Healthy Sexualities to Prevent Sexual Assault

Aug 21st, 1970

By Amanda Cardone-Luyben, MCASA Program Supervisor Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is a great time for professionals who are engaged in the movement against sexual violence to focus the public’s attention on this pervasive crime which faces all of our communities. SAAM is also an excellent time to highlight and promote effective prevention efforts. Health sexuality education and dialogue, while often not done under the auspices of “sexual assault prevention,” can be an effective tool for doing just that, as it will improve individuals’ sense of respect, responsibility, and boundaries, their understandings of consent, and reduce shame. For human service, mental health, and education professionals who focus their work on young children or adolescents, it’s important to remember that there is no age too young to have conversations about healthy, age-appropriate sexual development and safety. This resource from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) provides an informative overview of ways to encourage healthy sexual development in children. Additionally, has compiled a comprehensive resource collection for those who work with children younger than the age of 13. (Working with Children Towards a Healthy & Non-Violent Future). Healthy sexuality conversations, however, are not just for youth. The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance recently reviewed six curricula targeting varied ages and recommended four, one of which, titled “Our Whole Lives” spans the lifespan from age 5 to adults in later life, and lists its values as “Self Worth,” “Sexual Health,” “Responsibility,” “Justice and Inclusivity.” These values are key concepts for sexually healthy individuals and a sexually healthy society. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States identifies the following characteristics for a “sexually healthy adult.” Take a moment and consider whether you can further foster development of these behaviors in the clients or students with whom you work, or within yourself.
  • Appreciate one’s own body.
  • Seek further information about reproduction as needed.
  • Affirm that human development includes sexual development, which may or may not include reproduction or sexual experience.
  • Interact with all genders in respectful and appropriate ways.
  • Affirm one’s own sexual orientation and respect the sexual orientations of others.
  • Affirm one’s own gender identities and respect the gender identities of others.
  • Express love and intimacy in appropriate ways.
  • Develop and maintain meaningful relationships.
  • Avoid exploitative or manipulative relationships.
  • Make informed choices about family options and relationships.
  • Exhibit skills that enhance personal relationships.
  • Identify and live according to one’s own values.
  • Take responsibility for one’s own behavior.
  • Practice effective decision-making.
  • Develop critical-thinking skills.
  • Communicate effectively with family, peers, and romantic partners.
  • Enjoy and express one’s sexuality throughout life.
  • Express one’s sexuality in ways that are congruent with one’s values.
  • Enjoy sexual feelings without necessarily acting on them.
  • Discriminate between life-enhancing sexual behaviors and those that are harmful to self and/or others.
  • Express one’s sexuality while respecting the rights of others.
  • Seek new information to enhance one’s sexuality.
  • Engage in sexual relationships that are consensual, non-exploitative, honest, pleasurable, and protected.
  • Practice health-promoting behaviors, such as regular check-ups, breast and testicular self-exam, and early identification of potential problems.
  • Use contraception effectively to avoid unintended pregnancy.
  • Avoid contracting or transmitting a sexually transmitted disease, including HIV.
  • Act consistently with one’s own values when dealing with an unintended pregnancy.
  • Seek early prenatal care.
  • Help prevent sexual abuse.
  • Demonstrate respect for people with different sexual values.
  • Exercise democratic responsibility to influence legislation dealing with sexual issues.
  • Assess the impact of family, cultural, media, and societal messages on one’s thoughts, feelings, values, and behaviors related to sexuality.
  • Critically examine the world around them for biases based on gender, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, and race.
  • Promote the rights of all people to accurate sexuality information.
  • Avoid behaviors that exhibit prejudice and bigotry.
  • Reject stereotypes about the sexuality of different populations.
  • Educate others about sexuality.
For more information, check out NSVRC’s Guide on healthy sexuality for advocates, counselors, and prevention educators, or contact MCASA.   This article is a part of the Spring 2013 issue of Frontline.

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