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 maybe have never had “the talk”. Setting group guidelines helps acknowledge that different degrees of knowledge are understood 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 what there is a clear boundary for everyone not just one individual.

How Do I Know Which Guidelines to Add?

There are a few guidelines we suggest always having and discussing with every group. The guidelines translate well to different situations and help anticipate and prevent common issues we see from derailing a classroom.

“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” 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. Some of these things will be new to you all and you might think ‘thats not for me’, but there might be other people in the class who are thinking ‘finally someone is talking about this’. Everyone’s experience is valid.”

“Confidentiality”

This is maybe the most important guideline, especially if you are a mandated reporter for abuse. The term 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 said here today 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 – though not necessary to announce these “someone’s”) if they are 1. Hurting themselves 2. Hurting someone else 3. Being hurt by another person. (For some groups it may also be necessary 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”

Going ahead and acknowledging not everyone feels they are a diva, so you can make this one your own. “One Diva One Mic” is a fun way of saying listen to the speaker. We like to emphasize that if the presenter is talking people should be listening with their eyes and their ears. This also means if a 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 if this feels necessary or useful.

“Take Space Make Space”

Sometimes this has been referred to as “Step Up, Step Back” but we want to be very conscious of ableist language. Not all people can step and so we have adjusted this language to be more inclusive. This guideline acknowledges that some people really like to share or come to answers quickly while others either share less or need more time. The guideline suggests that people who share a lot acknowledge this and give others a chance to chime in. Similarly for people who share less frequently we ask that they take opportunities given to them and bravely share or add to discussions. 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 platonically hang out (though this is becoming less frequent with youth’s understanding of the term), 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 all our participants have the same understanding of the language we use which is why we are so specific and about the terms we use and defining them when we use them. Students 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. This just becomes a reminder that as the presenter we need to define those slang terms or adjust them to fit into medically accurate language.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T”

When asking participants for group guidelines this one will often come up first. While it encompasses many of the other guidelines just named 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 classroom we treat each other with respect”. Additionally this is a great guideline to ask for more specifics on which can lead to some of the other guidelines above. What does respect mean or look like? (listening to the speaker, don’t yuck my yum, confidentiality).

While we have now given you a list of guidelines that doesn’t mean you should go in with your list pre-made. Giving students the opportunity to come up with them on their own helps them buy into the guidelines. If they created them they are more likely to follow them. You may also be surprised how many of these topics they already know, or are hoping will come up.

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 said above a lot of the time the participants already know these guidelines and often are ready to offer them up quite quickly.

If time is of a concern, or experience is proving that the students take too long coming up with their own guidelines you can use visuals to invoke specific guidelines.

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.

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 shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. The process can be quick and engaging and help get participants in the mindset of participating. 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.