Sexual education models in the EU
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.