A Reconceptualization of Sex Education: Using Social-Emotional Learning to Teach Romantic Relationship Concepts


In response to the continued physical, psychological, relational, and cultural problems that result from sexual and romantic relationships, adjustments must be made to the ways in which young people are educated about relationships. The current sex education models are ineffective in improving broader relational contexts of sexual relationships and youth as young as twelve and thirteen are experiencing negative effects. Looked at through an ecosystemic lens, research on young adult sexual and relational behaviors, development, and education establish needed areas of improvement for sex education. Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) programs, however, provide a supplemental alternative to sex education, as they educate children and teenagers about themselves as social and emotional people. SEL equips students with the skills and mindsets necessary to create and participate in healthy social and romantic relationships. SEL also provides a more palatable expression of relationships education in religious schools and can be delivered by school counselors to alleviate the pressure on classroom teachers.


It is clear that schools who employ SEL programming not only help improve the broader
relationship skills aimed at by sex education, including empathy, self-regulation skills, and healthy conflict resolution skills. Schools that clearly identify and incorporate cultural
immersion, adolescents’ motivations, and developmental behavioral nuances as much or more than they focus on specific SEL skills, even more effectively lay the groundwork for effective relationship education programming. By starting the discussion of sex education topics like consent, conflict resolution, decision making, and communication in the neutral, platonic relationship terms utilized by SEL curricula, schools can develop the skills and mindsets necessary for effective sex education long before and throughout puberty and in more comprehensive ways. Educating students on the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cultural factors that influence their relational behavior can develop a higher level of critical thinking about romantic relationships and develop more conscientious use of relational and social skill. Despite the constraints of core curriculum planning, time, and financial resources, the raw material for emphasis on relational and SEL education is present in most schools through the use of school counselors and the tailoring of other academic curricula. Should schools begin to practice not
being afraid to lead discussions on these relational topics, skills, and behaviors, abstract higher-level thinking and development can happen with the largest impact on healthy adolescent sexual and relational behavior. The earlier and more thoroughly healthy relational skills can be developed, the more likely future generations are to experience fewer of the mental health, physical health, relational health, and cultural problems we currently face in the realm of sexuality and relationships. The combination of SEL and sex education could be movement in this direction.

Source: https://alfredadler.edu/library/masters/2018/nicolette-williams

Author: Nicolette Williams


I included this masters thesis because Williams does a great job at documenting the history of sex education as well as different psychological principles governing healthy emotional development among youth. She also offers reccommendations for how to move forward based on the different age groups of students. This resource could be used as a starting point for understanding the different problems in current sex eductaion and how social emotional training can be leveraged to enhance development.


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