Sexual education: the key issue of reproductive health
The Sexual Health Clinic, Family Federation of Finland
Since mid ‘70s, when Finnish youth started to receive
sexuality education in school, and sexual health services developed, the
national teen pregnancy, abortion and STI rates dropped dramatically, and
steadily declined thereafter. This success was a direct result of strong
commitment to comprehensive sexuality education and the availability of free,
confidential health services for teens. Adolescent abortion and SDI rates rose
again in the late ‘90s, when a fiscal crisis in Finland resulted in major
funding cuts in health services. At the same time, sexuality education was no
longer mandatory. Fortunately, the disturbing trends of the late ‘90s sparked
a renewed commitment to the needs of young people. In 2002, Finland made
emergency contraception available over the counter and most schools resumed
health education, including sexual health. Starting in 2006, comprehensive
sexuality education once again will be required in all schools. Already, Finland’s
national teen pregnancy and abortion rates have begun to decline.
To public health experts the evidence is clear: When government,
churches, social institutions and families fully support comprehensive sexuality
education and services, our young people benefit; when that support is removed
— whether for fiscal, political or ideological reasons — the next cohort of
young people suffers the consequences of our neglect.
Parents, teachers and counsellors need good models to support
and to protect the sexual development of a child. Sexuality is one of the most
intimate areas of one’s personality, yet education is needed, and children
have thirst after information and understanding. It is important to know how
sexuality matures, and which are the possibilities to support and strengthen
self-esteem and socio-emotional skills of children.
The in Finland widely used sexuality education model “Nine
Steps of Sexuality” has been created towards strengthening children’s and
adolescents’ self-esteem. Children are taught about the stages of sexual
development through the elements of biology, emotion and reason. This helps them
to understand the slow process and strong feelings they are going through, and
gives them strategies to resist outer pressure and to estimate own maturity and
risks. It helps them not to hurry, and to handle the developmental turbulence,
as well as the confusing information of the media.
“The Nine Steps of Sexuality” describes the sexual
maturation through the great power of love. In the beginning, by loving, the
child forms an image of own individuality and competence and then, step-by-step
by loving, finds the way out from the parental home. First the youngster is
curiously dreaming, then becoming aware of the real possibility and finally
acting to seek own partnership and happiness in an equal human relation. During
this process a person can reach ability to love – not only to have intercourse:
the possibility to combine physical and emotional joy, respecting oneself and
the partner and taking all responsibility of all acts one does.
“The Nine Steps of Sexuality” has been written by Erja
Korteniemi-Poikela and Raisa Cacciatore and it has been published by the
National Board of Education in Finland.