Sexual education models in the EU


Sexual education models in the EU

J.V. Lazarus

WHO, Denmark

Employing an ecological approach, two countries in the EU are

reviewed, to illustrate how sexuality education is much more than school-based

education. In Lithuania, a changing economic and social environment coupled with

a strong Catholic Church has resulted in a small but vocal opposition to sex

education in schools. In Denmark, sex education has been a part of the primary

school curriculum for over 30 years, but the quality varies greatly and the

entire structure of sex ed is currently under revision. In both countries, the

broader context of key stakeholders such as parents, religious leaders,

politicians and the mass media has impacted greatly on school-based sex

education be it on teaching materials and curricula, international involvement

or on who provides sex ed.

Ecological models, which attribute a crucial role to the social

and physical environment in determining a population’s level and distribution

of health and the consequent importance of structural interventions that work by

altering the context within which health is produced and reproduced should be

considered when studying sex education and the desired impact on sexual and

reproductive health. However, ecological approaches have been slow to impact

public health practice with regard to risk behaviours and related interventions.

Often, researchers and policy-makers have failed to acknowledge the importance

of the contextual environment in which sex education programmes are implemented.

The dominant model has been to help young people cope with risk environments by

changing their attitudes and behaviours, be it by for example promoting sexual

abstinence or the use of contraception, first and foremost the male condom. This

model fails to adequately address how environmental factors may influence

attitudes and behaviour or how certain behaviours, e.g. alcohol consumption or

the use of other drugs, may in part be responses to environmental conditions.

Looking ahead, addressing professional and ideological

opposition to sex education – even in countries considered to be fully

functioning democracies – will be one important step towards improving sex

education, be this education an integrated part of life-skills education at

schools or part of youth-friendly health services, the health promotion

activities of a family doctor or qualified advice given by a parent.

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