Why We Call It “Relational Education”

Image of many strings of lights connected to the same pole

When I founded The Butterfly Academy in 2019, I aimed to take a holistic approach to sex ed. Not just focusing on the reproductive mechanics and risks of sexuality, but looking at a myriad of interconnected factors — social, emotional, civil — that impact young people’s sense of their bodies, their concerns about intimacy, and their various relationships. And not just potential, hypothetical sexual relationships, but all types of relationships: with future romantic partners, crushes, friends, family, community, nature, and, perhaps most importantly, one’s own mind and body.

The term “sex ed” didn’t capture or convey all of that for me. And let’s face it: many people get tripped up on the S.E.X. part (the Puritanical roots of this country run deep). Parents understandably worry that their kids aren’t ready to learn about such complex issues, that such information will encourage certain unsafe behavior too soon. But it’s an irrational fear: study after study proves comprehensive sex education delays first sexual experience, delays first sexual intercourse, and reduces rates of unintended pregnancy and STI transmission. Give young people good information now, so they can make better decisions later.

I wanted a term that didn’t elicit that automatic physiological fight-or-flight response, some kind of umbrella term for the pursuit of relationship health and wellbeing. “Relational” is defined as “concerning the way in which two or more people or things are connected” OR “of or relating to relations” wherein “relations” is defined as “the various connections between people and things.” The key here is CONNECTIONS — I’m interested in how we make them in a positive, respectful, responsible, and joyful way.

So I Googled the term “relational education” and didn’t see it being used anywhere like that. So I adopted it for The Butterfly Academy and what we do here!

I explain to parents and caregivers and administrators that our focus goes beyond sexuality to include our interconnectedness as human beings, and how we can relate to one another with kindness, respect and empathy; that we cover all kinds of healthy relationships — romantic and sexual, yes, but also relationships with friends, with one’s community, with yourself, with your own body; that Butterfly Academy workshops encompass social and emotional learning in order to develop positive identities, foster empathy, maintain good relationships, set boundaries, and make responsible and caring decisions. 

I hope you’ll join me in making relational education a priority for kids as they navigate the rough waters of growing up!