Responding to Questions

One of the challenges facing the teacher discussing human sexuality is dealing effectively with questions from students. Answering questions will be easier, and you will be more effective if you:

  • prepare yourself for teaching human sexuality
  • follow some general tips on answering questions
  • understand the type of question being asked

Prepare Yourself for Teaching Sexuality

There is a lot of background information that can help teachers feel comfortable educating students about sexual health. Take the time to visit parts of this website that will equip you with the tools you need to feel at ease.

General Tips for Answering Questions

1. Reinforce the ground rules.

2. Validate students concerns about asking questions.

3. Give affirmation to the student who asked the question.

  • “Thanks for asking…”
  • “That’s a good question. Tell me more about what you’d like to know.”
  • Normalize the question. “Many students probably wonder about this…”
  • Consider every question to be a valid question.
  • Don’t assume you know what’s being asked. Questions indicate the student’s thoughts, not necessarily actions. To clarify without causing embarrassment, try these cues, “Sounds like you’ve got a real concern – can you tell me more about what’s on your mind?”

4. Answer every question as best you can.

Assess whether the question is related to information, feelings, values, or a combination:

a) Answer the factual information part of the question first. Consider the following:

  • Curriculum relevance
  • Content and knowledge background of students
  • Age appropriateness
  • The most simple and straightforward way to answer the question

b) Address feelings that may arise from a question.

  • “I’m a bit uncomfortable with this”
  • “We all are embarrassed sometimes, but it is important to discuss…”

c) Identify the value component of the question and if necessary refer students to family or clergy for help with decision making.

  • “This question relates to personal decisions and may vary from individual to individual; so I can’t give you a definite answer. It’s best for you to get all the information and discuss this with your _________________.”
  • Be honest about your information or your lack of information. All teachers may have difficulty with a question. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know – I’ll have to check.” Ensure that you follow through. If you say you’ll get information or a booklet, do it.

Other Sources of Information:

Types of Student Questions and Possible Answers

Student questions about sexuality can usually be grouped into four broad overlapping categories:

  • Requests for information
  • “Am I normal?” questions
  • Permission Seeking questions
  • Shock questions

Requests for Information

If you know the answer, provide information within curriculum guidelines.

If you do not know the answer, it is okay to say “I don’t know”. You can either refer the student to an appropriate source or find out the answer through other sources of information. Try these links:

“Am I Normal?” Questions

These questions generally focus on adolescent concerns about their bodies and the emotional and physical changes they are experiencing.

  • Validate their concern, e.g.: “Many young people worry that … ” and provide information about what they can expect to happen during the adolescent years.
  • Refer them to parents, clergy, family physician, nurse, community resources, school resource teacher or counsellor for further discussion, if appropriate.

Permission Seeking Questions

These questions come in two common forms, both seeking permission to participate in a particular behaviour, e.g.,

 “Is it normal to …?”

 “Did you… when you were growing up?”

  • Avoid the use of the word “normal” when answering questions. Normal for some might not be normal for others (think of values and morals). Present the facts such as what is known medically, any legal issues, and risk factors and consequences. Always give positive reinforcement that seeking information and discussing issues is an important way for teens to learn about making healthy decisions.
  • Establish ground rules related to discussion of personal behaviour, such as: “We won’t be discussing personal behaviour during class.” If you get a question about personal behaviour, remind students of this ground rule.
  • Refer students to parents and clergy for further discussion of moral/religious questions.

Shock Questions

These questions may be raised due to embarrassment about the topic, an underlying concern, or simply to divert attention from the topic.

  • Assume positive intent – seemingly “silly” questions are a means by which more sophisticated questions can be formulated.
  • Remind students of the ground rules related to appropriate questions for classroom discussion.
  • Reword the vocabulary or slang to diffuse the question, especially if you have previously established ground rules related to vocabulary. For example, a question such as, “Should your balls hurt for days after being hit?” could be addressed by saying, “First, the correct term for balls is testicles. Testicles are very sensitive, and do hurt when hit. Pain which lasts for more than a day is cause for concern. If your testicles are sore for more than a day, you should see your doctor to rule out any problems.”
  • Try to address the underlying concern or use a segment of the question for discussion. “It sounds like you are asking a question about respect in a relationship.”
  • If you are uncomfortable with the question, defer it until you have time to think about how to address or reword it.