Here at RSEI, we strongly encourage sex educators to start every new group or first session of a curriculum by creating group guidelines. Group guidelines are a set or rules or expectations for the group to follow when in session together. Participants are given the opportunity to advocate for their needs by suggesting their own group guidelines. In this article we will break down both the importance of and reasoning for setting group guidelines in every learning space, as well as sharing some of our favorites!

Do I Really Need To Do Group Guidelines?

We really want to emphasize the importance of not only creating group guidelines to help structure the learning environment but also that group guidelines provide a space for participants to feel heard about their unique, or not so unique, needs. Especially in sex education a lot of students are coming to the classroom nervous with varying degrees of knowledge. Some participants have likely heard a lot on the subject, others may have yet to receive “the talk”. Setting group guidelines helps acknowledge that different degrees of knowledge are respected and that we will work to meet everyone’s needs during the session.

Group guidelines are also a tool for the facilitator to use if participants start to become rowdy or disinterested in the lesson. They came up with the guidelines and agreed to their terms. If a facilitator is without guidelines the rules might feel more like a personal attack or might not hold any weight for participants. The buy in comes from the process of allowing the participants to voice their needs and in turn has them both invest in the rules but also know that there are clear boundaries for everyone.

How Do I Know Which Guidelines to Add?

There are a few guidelines that we use every time we teach. These guidelines translate well to different situations and help anticipate and prevent common issues we see from derailing an education session.

“Don’t Yuck My Yum”

This guideline often invokes some giggles because the wording is silly. That’s okay! Most people laugh at what they don’t understand, what makes them nervous, or simply at how things are worded. We believe it is okay to have giggles and reactions during a sex education class. What we want to avoid is people’s feelings being hurt. When we say “Don’t Yuck My Yum” it means that different people like (and dislike!) different things. We are all allowed to hold our own opinions, but in this space we are going to treat each other with respect. That means that we won’t say “ew!” or “gross!” or “I can’t believe you didn’t know that!?” in response to other people’s questions or comments.
A great way to introduce this is by simply stating “I’m going to cover a lot of information today. You might be thinking ‘Ugh I am not excited for this class,’ and that’s okay! There might be other people who are thinking ‘Finally I’m getting to learn about this!’ and that is also okay! In this class, we won’t call names or make judgments about people, because every one of us is different.”

“Confidentiality”

This is maybe the most important guideline, especially if you are a mandated reporter for abuse or neglect. “Confidentiality” is a big word that students may not know, so its very important to explain the meaning. A simple way to break down this statement is by saying “The stories or comments that you or your classmates say in this group will stay here. What you learn during this session can leave with you and be shared.” (For some groups it may be important to note that other people their age may not have had the opportunity to learn the same material as them and that it’s important to allow their families, or communities to make decisions about how and when people learn this new information).
If a person is a mandated reporter they must inform the class that they are required to tell someone else (supervisors, law enforcement, reporting agency) if they are 1. Hurting themselves 2. Hurting someone else 3. Being hurt by another person, or 4. Doing something that is against the law. Depending on the group and the topic(s), it may also be important to explain that illegal sexual relationships fall into this category.

  • This guideline has often been referred to as the Vegas Rule. We urge people to move away from this language both because youth are less and less familiar with the outdated ad campaign it refers to AND because the language surrounding “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is not informed by a culture of consent.

“One Diva One Mic”

“One Diva One Mic” is a fun way of saying listen to the speaker, or one person talking at a time. We like to emphasize that if the presenter is talking people should be listening with their eyes and their ears. This also means if another participant is asking a question, reading aloud, or participating in another way that requires them to talk and others to listen, people should give them the same respect they give the presenter. Other ways to say this could be “Track the speaker”, “One voice at a time”, you could also utilize an actual speaking prop that gets passed around if that feels helpful.

“Take Space Make Space”

You may have heard folks call this “Step Up, Step Back” but, recognizing that not all people can take steps, “Take Space Make Space” is a more inclusive way to describe the concept.
This guideline acknowledges that some people really like to share or come to answers quickly while others either share less or need more time to process before sharing. The guideline suggests that people who share a lot acknowledge this and make extra space for others to chime in. Similarly, for people who share less frequently this agreement challenges them to take opportunities to share or add to discussion. The overall goal is to make it so all voices, questions, or concerns have an opportunity to be expressed in the space.

“No Slang”

We don’t correct slang terms to be uncool, but many slang words can have a wide range of meanings. Just think of the term “hook up”. For one person “hook up” might mean two people are meeting up to hang out as friends, for another person hooking up could mean kissing, and for another person it could mean having some type of sex. We want to make sure that everyone has the same understanding of the language we use which is why we aim to be thoughtful and intentional about it. Participants may still use slang from time to time because often it’s the only way they know how something is referred to. That’s okay, and it doesn’t mean they should get in trouble. When participants use slang we can take the opportunity to either teach or remind them what the medically accurate language is for the term they’re using.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T”

When asking participants for group guidelines this one will often come up first. While it can fit under several of the other guidelines we have already identified, we think it is important to make this it’s own guideline. Respect is broad but it’s a great reference to have on the board if someone starts to make a comment that falls in the grey area of unkind. It becomes easy to break up hurtful conversation or unwanted comments by saying “In this group we treat each other with respect.” Additionally, you can use “RESPECT” as a way to prompt youth to come up with many of the guidelines above. What does respect mean or look like? (listening to the speaker, don’t yuck my yum, confidentiality.)

Although, we have now given you a list of guidelines that doesn’t mean you should go in with your list ready to go. Giving students the opportunity to come up with guidelines as a group can help with buy-in and sets the tone for the rest of your time together.

Okay But, How Long Will This Take?

We recognize that many times we are trying to teach in a very short time frame. Group guidelines can be done really quickly. As we said above, a lot of the time the participants already know these guidelines and are ready to offer them up pretty quickly.

If time is a concern, or experience is proving that the students take too long coming up with their own guidelines you can bring images or drawings with you to help elicit specific guidelines from the group.

For example: The presenter could bring a picture of a microphone, a clock, a classroom, an emoji that looks grossed out and a telephone.

The presenter could show each image and see what participants think they symbolize. Possible answers include:

Microphone: one person speaking at a time, be brave and speak up, talk so others can hear you, “what is said here stays here what is learned here leaves here”, use appropriate language, R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

Clock: Be on time, stay on track

Classroom: Stay seated, “what is said here stays here what is learned here leaves here”, “take space, make space”

Grossed out Emoji: “don’t yuck my yum”, take care of yourself even if that means stepping out for a minute.

Telephone: No phones, confidentiality.

Overall creating group guidelines doesn’t have to take more than 5 minutes. The process can be quick and help get participants in the mindset of engaging in the material. If you are going to be with a group for multiple sessions the group guidelines should be recorded and revisited quickly at the start of each session as a reminder that they are still in place and that the space is still as safe as it can be.