The Teach Yourself Sex Ed course continues and this week we are going to think about you and ‘the self.’ That’s right, you. We’re going to be giving ‘you’ a big up and also think critically about ‘the self’. We shall also learn about agency and self-care.
This is the second module of this course. The first one was about the sex education you’ve received so far, so please go and have a look at that one first. The next one is now also up and is about gender, you, and culture.
Before we go on, remember what we talked about last time before we started. Click that last link if you can’t remember.
Parents, if you want to teach this I‘ve made a resource and also check out the rest of the teach section here. Teachers, check out my resources at BishTraining and the free ones at DO….. There’s a lesson plan there that is contains similar activities an ideas here that you can use in a classroom.
This first activity is for you to try to summarise what kind of person you are. Choose at least five of the following words or phrases to describe you. Then think of a reason for each one. For example for me I would say that I am a good listener and I know this because I concentrate really hard on what people are saying rather than trying to interrupt them.
So do this for you. Off you pop. Obviously you can also choose some different words too. This isn’t easy by the way and some of you will find this harder than others. Remember that if it’s getting too tricky, skip it for now. Or just do a little bit and then move on, hashtag consent.
Take as long as you like for this, but I would say try to spend at least ten minutes on it. I would write them down somewhere if you can, on paper or on your phone. If you can keep them safe afterwards that would be a nice thing for you to do for yourself, but if you can’t that’s okay too.
How was that?
Okay so you’ve chosen five words – did you find that quite tricky? You’ll notice that there aren’t any words that you might think of as negative. They’re not all necessarily positive either, just affirmative, which is different. A lot of people find it tricky to speak about themselves in ways that are positive, or at least, not negative. Why do you think that is? Is there a reason why it might feel easier to talk ourselves down rather than to just say who we are?
If you’re finding it really too hard to think of these yourself, imagine that you are a mate of yours. What might they say about you?
Now have a look at the five things you chose and repeat them back to yourself. Can you say them out loud to yourself? Or pretend that someone else is reading them out and describing you. How does that feel? Sad? Happy? Afraid? Angry? Yuck? If you can’t put a name to the feeling, what can you describe? Are your cheeks tingling? Do your ears wiggle? Does your breathing get quicker?
Are you resisting it, or cringing? That’s fine, it’s hard to do this kind of thing. Try to catch that moment of cringe and before you shut it down just try to be curious about it. Do you have a critical sounding voice saying you can’t do this? What does it sound like? The best thing to do with thoughts like this is just to acknowledge it – nod your head and say ‘sup and it will leave eventually.
Back to the five words: is this how you are always? Are there times when you are some of these words and other times when you’re not? What do you notice about that? Would you say that there are times when you are one kind of person and times when you are a different kind of person? Are there different sides to you?
Are there five words that you wish you were like but aren’t yet? Which words might you aspire to be like and why?
2. The self
This next activity is about understanding how you (and how you understand yourself) is linked to the people and world around you. A lot of advice about ‘the self’ suggests that you (hi) can be completely separated from the world around you. So we’re going to think a bit more critically about what ‘the self’ means.
Think about yourself as a circle in the middle of other circles that surround you (concentric circles). You’re in the middle, then the next circle around you are people you know in real life. Around that is the circle for where you live (your area) and where you go (school or work). Then the last biggest circle surrounding everything is society, or (as we talked about last week) culture.
Draw this out on a piece of paper and think about all the things in the circles that can affect how you feel about yourself. It could be things that make you feel good or bad, or somewhere in between. You could also list the things that make you feel joy, excitement, and loved. Also list the things that make you feel sad or angry.
If you can, spend at least 15 minutes on this. Again this sounds easy but it’s not really (though if it’s honestly too tricky for you then you can just skip ahead). I’ve got a few examples in this image below but you can just cross them out and put your own in.
As I say in the image above, a lot of how we feel about ourselves is to do with the circles around us, rather than the circle we are in. Next week we are going to think about how some of these circles affect some people more than others. But for this activity, think about how what goes on for you. To what extent is your mood, or feelings about yourself, to do with you, or what surrounds you? Is it possible for you to take full responsibility for your own feelings?
This is something that comes up a lot in sex and relationships education: how much of our lives is down to us and how much is down to our circumstances?
3. The word ‘agency’
Posh word alert. ‘Agency’ is a word to describe the amount of decision making power you have. Think clout, power, or oomph. Some of us have more agency than others because of society, rights, and inequality (more on this next time) but we all have some.
One way of looking at agency is that you have decision making power to do whatever you want. If you make your life choices effectively (work hard, have good relationships, look after yourself) then you can be a success at life without needing others.
Another way of thinking about this is to think about how you have overlapping agency with other people. How your agency (power, clout, ooomph) are dependent on other people giving you some of theirs. Think of what you’ve been doing today, could you have done any of this without the support or help or care of someone else? During today have you helped or cared or supported someone else?
Others might go even further and say that it’s not possible, or not helpful, to think of individual agency at all. They might say that the only real agency (power, clout, ooomph) that exists is with many other people of the same group. These groupings can be about class politics, or religion, or rights for minorities. Often people say that we have become too obsessed with the idea of us as individuals making choices for ourselves.
Another way of looking at this is that you don’t have agency in this way, but are always in a process of becoming you. You are continually affected by others, the world around you, air, ideas, things, values. The idea is that you are always in process and always changing. Like molecules moving around inside a thing.
What do you think about this? Go back to the circles and have a think about the boundaries there. How important is it to focus on your five words? What is important to you? This is all quite political and deep, but it will keep cropping up in this course, so I just wanted to mention it now.
Whatever your political view about how important ‘the self’ is, ‘you’ are important. You’re important to people around you, to the places you live and go to, and to society generally. So because you are valuable it’s good to learn to take care of yourself, and maybe even try to love yourself.
The reason this is important is not because ‘the self’ is more important than everyone else, but because you are linked to other people. If you are able to care for yourself then others don’t have to work so hard to care for you. It also frees you and others up to be able to care for other people too.
Later in the course we’re going to think some more about boundaries, relationships, and consent. Being able to set boundaries to be able to look after ourselves is really important. If you’re the kind of person who is very political and puts collective agency above personal agency (activists like Greta Thunburg) you still need to take time to look after your own self.
So the five words thing we did at the beginning of today’s module is one example of self-care. Just giving yourself permission to tell yourself some nice, affirmative things about you. I’ve also written a few articles on here to help you with self-care, agency, and self-love.
But there are a couple of important things to take away from this module and things for you to think about
- Self care is vital, but only seeing yourself as ‘one self’ is not
- Your ‘self’ and relationship to yourself changes
- Yourself is strongly linked to the people, places, and world around you
- Your agency (power, clout, ooomph) and the agency of the people around you.
Here’s the next module, which is about gender, you, and culture.
© Justin Hancock, 2022
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If you’re over 18 and really into sex ed I have a podcast you might like called Culture Sex Relationships.
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Find out more about Justin here