Gamification and Skills-Based Sexual Education

Engaging instruction within a classroom that utilizes interactive and experiential methods is a recipe for success and one which places students firmly at the centre of the learning environment. If we want students to practice the skills that they have learned we need to bring our materials to life in ways in which students can work within a social context. In this week’s blog post Singapore based health educator Emily Zien not only shares her thoughts about effective instruction but also shares an awesome trivia game that uses ‘real-life scenarios’ to provide students the opportunity to practice decision-making and communication skills.

When you ask most adults what they learned if they had sex-ed in school, you are likely to hear stories about scary STD photos. This model of Sexual Education fails to teach young people about how to take care of themselves and their partners, not to mention it simply reinforces stigma and shame that are often associated with sexual behaviors.

Here are some things to consider about sex and sexual health:

  • Most commonly people that contract a sexually transmitted infection (or STI) show no symptoms at all.  
  • STI transmission can happen asymptomatically. 
  • Every few years another study is released that suggest a rise in STI cases.  However, an increase in reportable STIs (for example, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis, which are all curable) could simply mean that more people are getting tested and treated.
  • Being ‘scared’ of STIs only reinforces stigma and shame. 
  • If an individual goes to get STI testing, the healthcare provider will help to determine what tests are right for that person based on the type of sexual activity they are having and the type of partner(s) they are having it with.

So what can we do to frame Sexual Education to decrease stigma and empower young people with the tools to take charge of their decision-making?

Skills-based Sexual Education is the opportunity for students to learn and practice skills necessary for navigating and negotiating decisions relating to their own health and well-being.  It is about teaching students to be knowledgeable. This can be done through a skills-based approach, with students accessing information about things like STIs, including how they are transmitted and treated.  It is also about giving students authentic, engaging opportunities to work with and learn from their peers in response to ‘real-life scenarios’ surrounding relationships and sexuality.

So what do we really want students to know about STIs and safer sex practices?

I want my students to understand that safer sex practices mean making the best choices to reduce any unintended outcomes from sexual activity.  Safer sex practices include abstaining or delaying the onset of sexual activity; consent and communication between partners; talking to partners about STIs and STI testing; getting STI tested regularly once sexually active; addressing contraceptive methods (if pregnancy is possible between the partners); avoiding sexual activity if one or both of the partners are intoxicated; and reducing the number of sexual partners. 

In addition, I include advocating for their own sexual health.  This is mainly in regards to talking to their partners or to their healthcare provider.   Unfortunately, there are healthcare providers that allow stigma and bias to inform their patient care and many individuals will at some point have to advocate for their own sexual healthcare.



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Introducing the Safer Sex Practicies Trivia game: a twist on small-group discussion and peer education, using ‘real-life scenarios’ for students to practice decision-making and communication.

The set-up: 

  •  Students work in groups:
    • Depending on class size, I aimed for groups of 4. 
    • Each student picks a role within their team (scorekeeper, recorder, speaker, team manager).  Roles comes with responsibilities to the team, as to encourage engagement from all team members.  
    • Each team actually writes their answer.  It serves as a tiebreaker or proof that teams are fully participating and not just repeating answers from other groups.  I also like the role it plays in keeping teams engaged.

The game:

  • With a similar set-up to Jeopardy, the questions are broken down into categories:
    • Condoms
    • STIs & Testing
    • Safer Sex Practices
    • “What should they do?”
    • “What should they say?”
  • There are three types of questions:
    • Regular questions: Points are scored for all teams that answer the question fully.
    • Bonus questions: 500 points are scored for all teams that answer the question fully or with the most detail.
    • “Death or Glory”: Same as regular questions, however points are subtracted for incomplete or incorrect answers.
  • Bonus points: To further amplify the competition, bonus points are meant to encourage teams to come back with thorough answers that go beyond what the question is prompting.

The scenarios:

  • The current version of the game features an amalgamation of scenarios adopted from various sex-ed resources.  Some are a result of crowdsourcing possible ‘real-life scenarios’ from students. Scenarios just need to be relevant, current, and resonate with students.
  • Scenarios that include people deciding to become sexually active are important place markers.  They are realistic examples for students to practice communication skills relating to being sexually active.  
  • The consistent message is that if a person is not comfortable and ready to have these types of conversations with their partner, then it is likely that they are not ready to become sexually active.  This is intended to encourage students to self-reflection on their personal values and readiness.

The Safer Sex Practices Trivia game slideshow includes suggested answers and additional considerations for specific scenarios.  Many of the scenarios can and should be adapted to specific student populations or developmental stages.

Gamifying decision-making and communication skill practice has allowed me to engage students and encourage them to learn from what their peers have to say.  

Emily referenced the #HealthEd practices from the past and I talked about those during the first part of my recent TEDx talk, that you might like to check out.

If you are looking for more gamification inspiration, read the #slowchathealth blog post  “Digital Breakout” from Pat Coleman.

I can also recommend the book “Explore Like a Pirate: Gamification and Game-Inspired Course Design to Engage, Enrich and Elevate Your Learners” from Michael Matera.


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