The Sexual Behavior Continuum Lesson

This tool has been used extensively in sexual violence prevention efforts and can easily be added into existing programming.  It is strengthened by adding awareness and skills related to consent, privilege and boundaries.


Cordelia Anderson conducting a training on the sexual behavior continuum at Sheppard Airforce Base, Nov 2017

  IMAGE: Cordelia Anderson conducting a training on the sexual behavior continuum at Sheppard Air force Base, Nov 2017.

P:HARS: Positive: Healthy/Helpful, Appropriate, Respectful, Safe

(Behaviors that are expected, encouraged and constructive in the given setting)

ASK: What are examples of sexually HARS behaviors in your community/organization?

ASK: How do we promote the HARS behaviors?

NOTE: Consider both person-to-person and technology facilitated examples.


HARS includes understanding what it means to be “sexually healthy” 

Sex (gender) or the act of “sex” is only three letters in a nine letter word- “sexuality.” We’re all sexual human beings from birth to death, whether or not we’re actually having sex.

Brainstorm/ Discuss:   What does it mean to be “sexually healthy?”

Note:  Sexual health involves:  how an individual feels/ the emotional,

an individuals body image/physical sense of self, intellectual/have the facts or know where to get them, spiritual/values and beliefs,

social/cultural – what society and the dominate culture says – social norms and what is and is not helpful about those

to have “sexual esteem” ( a strong sense of who you are, acceptance of your body image, know and act on your personal values and beliefs; expect to be treated with respect and regard to your feelings and needs and to do so to others)

to have healthy  -caring, loving, respectful - relationships

to understand how to touch in caring, respectful ways

to talk and listen to others in a respectful manner

to have  care about how the other person thinks, feels, needs

to understand of the impact of our behavior on others

to be responsible for ones own choices and behaviors

not having sex, or abstaining,  unless it fits within your beliefs; is mutually consensual; protected

Playful: Teasing, Flirting 

Fun, mutual, no harm done, relationship enhancing, problematic only when detracting from tasks at hand.

 NOTE: A person doing this would stop if the behavior made anyone uncomfortable because they have no intention of offending or harming and would immediately desist and apologize if they knew offense was taken.

Mutually Inappropriate 

Consensual intimate sexual behaviors that are not appropriate for the setting (time or place or manner); language and actions okay within one group that is offensive to bystanders or not conducive to a safe or respectful environment


ASK:  What are examples of behaviors that may be okay for the people doing it, but are not okay ways to behave ? 

Or,   What are examples of behaviors that might be okay for the people doing them, but not for others around them who see or hear it?

Harmful: Sexual Bullying

Not fun, or a game, for at least one party, not mutual, harm done, aggressive, intimidation, harmful to relationships; insensitive to the impact of behavior on others

What makes a behavior be bullying instead of playful?

E.g., It’s not fun for at least one person. It’s not a joke for at least one person.


Unwelcome and unwanted sexual words and behaviors/acts based on gender –being identified as  male/female - or sexual orientation;  there is harm done, it’s against school/workplace policy, it is considered discrimination; it is against the law; must be reported; “eye of the beholder” matters - that means impact, not  intent

What are examples of sexual harassment?

E.g, sexual name calling; sexual comments about someone’s body; threats or taunts about  someone’s real or perceived sexual orientation; on-going pressure to date or have sex; unwanted sexual advances;  sexual surveys or virtual/morphed sexual images 

Do you think most students/adults know what sexual harassment is?

Or, what the consequences are? 

Do most understand that it is not about what a person “intended or meant” but the “impact” of their behavior on someone else?

Sexual harassent vs flirting :  flirting is wanted by both people; enjoyable to both people; not hurtful to either person; if the comments or actions crossed a line for one of the people involved the other person would stop immediately because no harm is intended.

Something can be harassment even if it is one time but generally the harassment is persistent – over time and continues even when the person makes it very clear they want it to stop and / or despite adult intervention.

What does – or should – happen at your school/workplace when someone sexually harasses someone else?

Those who come forward and report  are to be protected from retaliation (threats, bullying, harassment, etc.)

The person who does it should admit the behavior they did, take responsibility, recognize impact of behavior on others and make a plan (that fits the needs of those harmed and the organization) so it doesn’t happen again.

Those harmed should be attended to, their needs and concerns addressed and protected from further harm.

Bystanders should know to speak up “Stop it” “Not funny” and speak out 

Adults > take it seriously – don’t minimize, dismiss or excuse away; support the doer but do not support  his or her behavior.

What helps you not to sexually harass others?

What encourages people to sexually harass?


Against the law. Serious threats and/or harm done; lack of consent*, lack of equality and with **coercion; force may be involved; a weapon may be involved, against school/workplace policy,  must be reported; or age of consent is violated (e.g., in MN the age of consent i is 16); ***sexual assault) 

What does consent mean?

*Consent = Permission that is clearly spoken, mutually understood and freely given.  (When someone is drugged, drunk, sleeping – they cannot consent.)

Given the age of consent in the State of Minnesota is 16, that means someone has to be 16 years old to be able to legally consent to having sex.

*** Consent Variations =  the child/youth consents but the person is over the age of consent; the one under may perceive the contact as a relationship or love and may not see any harm or coercion in the  contact. 

Privilege & What it has to do with Consent

It's useful to encourage participants to consider where all they have "unearned privilege." This involves not even needing to think about, or be fully aware of the benefits one has just because of gender, orientation, race, social class, education, abilities, position of authority etc.

Privilege is linked to consent in that the person with privilege may not understand, or choose to consider, how their privilege makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the other person to fully or freely consent. Alternatively, the person with privilege may assume that "of course this person wants to have sex with me" "of course they accept my 'flirtations'" "of course they are not harmed by my jokes" or "it is not a big deal to me, so it should not be a big deal to them." 

What does coercion mean?

**Coercion = Pressuring or tricking someone into doing something sexual (or otherwise) they did not want to do.

What does sexual assault mean?

***Sexual assault = A form of violence where sex is used to harm someone else and/or to gain power or control over another person.  This includes any sexual activity involving someone who does not, or cannot consent.

What does “rape” mean?  Rape is the term often used when the sexual assault/violence involves the act of intercourse (oral, anal, vaginal)

With children:  SA = Tricked, pressured or forced sexual touch or sexual behavior.

GROOMING = The seemingly nice/kind/loving ways a person treats someone else to trick them into sexual behaviors   (e.g. buying things, pretending to be in love, pretending to really care about the person well being more than their own)

Additional Questions:

1)  What does the school/workplace do well / What could the school/workplace do better- To encourage appropriate behaviors and to stop harmful behaviors?

 What can you personally do to make things better?

Contact: Cordelia Anderson
Sensibilities Prevention Services
3118 West Lake Street # 431
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55416

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