A Maze of Questions and AMAZE’s Answers

 

Videos approved for Polish sex-education curricula are done in a style of popular daytime TV soap operas and are equally unconvincing. The acting is amateur and the abstinence-only messages sound stiff. I can only imagine the giggles of pupils who have to watch these materials during class. What a wasted opportunity! After all, video is the go-to online content for adolescents. YouTube celebrities boast millions of views and have authority status among young people. Viral videos circle the world within seconds from upload. It is not just promoters of sexual absti­nence who have struggled to create engaging resources that teenagers would actually want to learn from and share. Organizations advocating for compre­hensive sexuality education have also failed on that front, with the main cul­prit being the lack of funding for inno­vative projects. Only recently have donors discovered the need to invest in the use of modern technology. One of the recent and promising attempts has been the AMAZE online curriculum. The idea is simple—create short, funny, informative cartoons for young adoles­cents. If a child becomes interested in the topic, they can dig deeper on the dedicated website.

As a sexuality educator—but also as a parent—I am always on the lookout for excellent resources to use as lesson or conversation starters. These videos are just it—they are really short (read: brief enough not to get the tweens bored) and provide simple answers to com­plex questions. Try explaining the meaning of “being male, female, transgender or fluid” in two minutes!

If the AMAZE curric­ulum had a tagline, it would be “normal if you do; normal if you don’t.” This sentence is the reassurance young people desperately need as they enter puberty and start having sexual feelings. The videos made by AMAZE give them exactly what they want, taking out the awk­wardness from taboo issues.

One other feature through which the project stands out is its sex positivity. Alongside typical topics covered by comprehensive sex education, such as pregnancy and STI prevention, are short films about masturbation and consent. A welcome addition would be more con­tent devoted to sexual pleasure and unrealistic ideals of sexiness promoted by the media. One strength of the project is its focus on communication skills, through which it teaches young people how to find and talk to trusted adults about sex and relationships.

Still in its early days, the quality of the content on AMAZE varies. All of it is accurate in terms of information pro­vided, but the language of some of the videos is likely still too difficult or formal for children and young teens to appreciate. Improvements do seem reg­ular however; the creators of AMAZE are constantly gathering feedback from users and have made a commitment to keep the videos up-to-date, even if it means replacing the whole video library in a few years when the next generation of tweens goes online.

AMAZE hopes to be a global resource for out-of-school sex education and is planning to provide translations into ten of the world’s most spoken languages as well as prepare culturally appropriate materials for a range of communities. From the faith-based perspective, it would be great to see more content helping adolescents navigate the mes­sages they receive from their religious leaders who often contradict the knowl­edge obtained at school. A secular web­site with sensitivity towards the needs of young people of faith could be an excel­lent resource in many countries, including my home country Poland.

I cannot count the times I have been asked as a sex educator to work not only with young people but also their parents who have no clue how to have “the talk” with their children. AMAZE aims to fill that gap. It has a section for parents with word-for-word scripts and conversation starters on issues ranging from pornog­raphy to bullying. I find this idea bril­liant. Parents of younger children will find the age guide to the video selection useful. Educators will appreciate some of the advanced features, like creating playlists for class and using lesson plans provided by the project’s partners.

Will the AMAZE project succeed? Its top video, “Top Signs Boys are at Puberty,” may soon reach a million views, so we can be reasonably opti­mistic about its future.

 

Anka Grzywacz has been a reproductive health advocate working to liberalize Polish abortion law for more than 10 years. Currently she works for the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning and is on the Catholics for Choice board of directors.

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