Sexuality education and information

Sexuality education provides age-appropriate information about sexuality, guidance for young people on self-esteem and physical and emotional wellbeing as they grow up and start to form healthy, happy and fulfilling relationships.

Next theme Sexual health and rights of young people

Supporting young people’s development

Sexuality education and information empowers children and young people to form positive attitudes about identity, relationships and intimacy. CSE equips them with skills to communicate and make their own decisions on sexuality and their health. It helps them understand and enjoy their sexuality, take responsibility and respect their own sexual and reproductive health and rights and those of others.

Children and young people are supported and protected in their development, helping them to be critical towards misleading information – much of it online – and contradicting messages on sexuality and relationships.

Differences in sexuality education

Sexuality education differs across countries and contexts. While it is generally well-supported globally, delivery can be poor and patchy. In most countries, sexuality education is delivered at school as part of broader subjects. It can be viewed narrowly or strongly focussed on sexual health, biology, anatomy, reproduction, birth control and disease prevention. Gender norms, sexual diversity, sexual coercion and sexual pleasure are covered much less.

In more restrictive environments, some delicate topics are excluded, ignored or underemphasised. In some countries, national policies on sexuality education have become more conservative in recent years with strong opposition from religious groups, political parties and parent groups.

Sexuality education and information stimulates the communications skills young people need to talk about personal choices, needs and boundaries within relationships. Also, it enables them to make healthy, well-informed personal choices in a challenging real and virtual world with many varying norms, values and ideas about sexuality and relationships

When to start sexuality education

Ideas on the age at which sexuality education should start also vary. Most countries start between 12 or 14 years old or older. But in some Western European countries, including the Netherlands, age-appropriate sexuality education starts at ages 4 to 5. Children and adolescents have the right to be educated about themselves and the world around them in an age- and developmentally appropriate manner – and they need this learning for their health and well-being. Intended to support school-based curricula, the UN’s global guidance indicates starting sexuality education and information at the age of 5 when formal education typically begins. However, sexuality education is a lifelong process, sometimes beginning earlier, at home, with trusted caregivers. Learning is incremental; what is taught at the earliest ages is very different from what is taught during puberty and adolescence.

With younger learners, teaching about sexuality does not mean teaching about sex. For instance, for younger age groups, it may help children learn about their bodies and to recognise their feelings and emotions, while discussing family life and different types of relationships, decision-making, the basic principles of consent and what to do if violence, bullying or abuse occur. This type of learning establishes the foundation for healthy relationships throughout life.

What we do on sexuality education

Rutgers sees sexuality education as a lifelong learning process. We believe young people need it to inform choices in relationships and their sexual lives which are free from stigma, discrimination and violence. There is extensive scientific evidence that shows that sexuality education and information has positive effects on the healthy and safe development of children and young people.

Sexuality education and information should be for all young people. Our work is based on evidence from (scientific) research and tailored to the needs and contexts of young people. Rutgers works with experts, our partners in more than 29 countries and young people to establish and strengthen sexuality education and information. We advocate for laws, policies and regulations that guarantee access for all.

We develop tools and materials to make it easier to contextualise and deliver high quality sexuality education in different settings also in countries where sexuality is a taboo.

These tools cater for the needs of young people of different ages and abilities and from different backgrounds. They are used at home, school, in youth groups and young offenders’ institutions.

What does our work achieve?

Thanks to our work with partners, for example, 144 million young people have received information on topics such as: physical changes during adolescence, consent, pregnancy and its prevention. In the countries where we work, partners ensure that sexuality education is embedded in a country’s existing systems and structures and increase outreach among young people. In Indonesia, for example, sexuality education and information is now taught in schools nationwide. Through our programmes more than 300 sustainable changes in laws and policies have been achieved.

We provide age and culturally-appropriate, accurate sexuality education and information from a young age and through life. This enables people to build relationships, enjoy sexuality and make well-informed safe choices on sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing.

Stories on sexuality education and information

Read the stories from young people around the world on the importance of sexuality education and information.

Our work in schools

Rutgers embeds sexuality education principles in curricula, programmes outside of school and online tools for young people. We give special attention to groups like out of school children, children with disabilities, refugees and migrants.

In the Netherlands, where sexuality education is part of the compulsory curriculum, our resources are used in primary and secondary schools. We address the needs of the pupils of special schools or in vocational education and also provide teacher training on sexuality education.

How our whole school approach to sexuality education changed lives

The whole school approach involves the whole school staff, teachers, parents, health workers and community leaders. As a result of the whole school approach young people in schools in Kenya and Uganda that adopted the approach feel safer at school, girls are not being mocked by boys anymore for being in their periods. Students have gained the confidence to approach teachers to share their personal problems. Now schools have reached out to the health providers for cooperation, it has become easier for both young people and health providers to find each other for consultation and advice.

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