Types of questions and how to answer appropriately
Types of Questions
There are 5 main categories of questions students typically ask in sexual health education. Understanding and learning to recognise the subtle differences between the question types will make it easier to give an appropriate response.
1. Information questions
These are the easiest to answer, as they tend to be straightforward and have a clear factual answer.
Q: What is the best form of birth control?
A: The only 100% effective way to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections is to remain abstinent. Abstinence means different things to different people. In this context it means not engaging in any activity that involves the exchange of sexual fluids or skin-to-skin contact with genitals. However, if a person decides to become sexually active there are several different types of contraceptive methods available. For example, there are hormonal methods such as the pill, and barrier methods such as the condom. Contraception is the responsibility of both partners. It is important to become familiar with the range of methods available and determine with your partner and doctor which ones suit your needs the best as there are a variety of advantages and disadvantages for each.
For more information on contraceptive methods, visit the Get the Facts website.
2. "Am I normal?" questions
Questions of this nature are actually information questions. However, they need to be treated differently in order to alleviate students' fears. Remember to affirm normality and foster positive self-esteem.
Q: One of my breasts is smaller than the other. Is this normal?
A: People are not exactly symmetrical. For example, one arm might be slightly bigger than the other, etc. Usually, if one side grows faster than the other at first the other side will soon catch up. If there is a large difference then talk to your doctor as it can be indicative of a health issue.
3. Permission seeking questions
Sometimes these types of questions overlap values-based questions. When responding to this type of question offer information and validate the person's values.
Q: Is it OK to masturbate?
A: We know that masturbation or self-pleasuring does not have any harmful physical side effects as many past myths have suggested that it can cause blindness or hairy palms. It is a matter of preference if a person chooses to do it or not and is 'normal' either way. However, some religions or cultures frown upon it. It is important to recognise your own values and to decide for yourself.
4. Values-based questions
These questions can sometimes be tricky to answer. The best approach is to respond in an informational manner while acknowledging and validating a variety of values. Respond to value-laden questions by asking the student to reflect on his or her own personal, family and spiritual values. Maintain respect for the diversity of the moral and religious beliefs present in your community. Give factual information, not permission, and support students' personal values.
Q: Is abortion murder?
A: There are several different positions on this issue. Some religious groups, for example, consider abortion wrong under all circumstances. This point of view is considered as 'pro-life'. A 'pro-choice' stance, however, supports the view that each woman is able to decide for herself whether or not an abortion is the right choice for her.
In Australia, the law varies between the States. In Western Australia, an abortion is legal up to 20 weeks if the woman gives informed consent or if she is likely to suffer personal, family or social consequences, or if her health is in danger. After 20 weeks, two medical practitioners from a panel of six must agree that the mother or unborn child has a medical condition severe enough to justify an abortion.
A minor under the age of 16 who is financially dependent on her family needs to inform a parent or legal guardian if she is considering an abortion and they must be given the opportunity to participate in the counselling process. Ultimately it is the pregnant woman's decision. A minor who is not financially dependent also does not need parental permission and her parents do not need to be invited to be involved in the counselling process.
If you are ever faced with this difficult decision, there are several resources in the community that can help you to make the best choice for yourself.
5. Questions intended to shock or requesting personal information
Shock questions are often intended to provoke a response and see how the teacher or the class will react. However, they could in fact just be honest questions but not written appropriately. Personal questions may be asked out of curiosity about the teacher's life or in order to validate the student's own personal views or actions. The best strategy here is to acknowledge the underlying concern but not to answer personal questions you are uncomfortable answering or which are inappropriate.
Q: Have you done oral sex?
A: This is a personal question about private matters, which are not appropriate for me to answer. However, I hear in this question a curiosity about oral sex. Some people enjoy it and others do not. It is important for both partners to communicate their feelings with one another about this issue. No one should ever be forced or pressured by their partner to do anything they don't want to. All sexually transmitted infections can be transmitted during unprotected oral sex.
Above all else, don't worry too much!
'The greatest danger in giving children too much information is that they will be bored'
Pamela Wilson (2001).
- Wilson, P. When Sex Is the Subject: Attitudes and Answers for Young Children. © ETR Associates, 2001.