New research investigates barriers to sexuality education


The evidence that comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is a critical building block for the health and well-being of adolescents is clear. However, in many countries, this has not been translated into practice. The findings were outlined in a policy paper by UNESCO, in partnership with the Guttmacher Institute, From ideas to action: Addressing barriers to comprehensive sexuality education in the classroom.

The paper was released at the 24th congress of the World Association for Sexual Health, in Mexico last October,  where representatives from more than 100 organizations working in the field of sexual health and rights, came together to promote sexual health throughout the life span, through a focus on education and health promotion. 

Research for the paper was carried out in Ghana, Kenya, Guatemala  and Peru, where progress in CSE has been made, but programmes fall short of conforming to evidence-based, international guidance. UNESCO senior programme specialist, Joanna Herat, said the barriers to implementing high-quality CSE were similar in all four low to middle-income countries, revealing lessons that could be applied to other settings.

“A lack of teaching materials, a lack of time in the timetable, and insufficient monitoring are just some of the issues we see in countries, which prevent the rollout of comprehensive sexuality education. We also see that more training and support is needed, with one in five teachers telling us they feel embarrassed to teach the subject,” Ms Herat said.

“Thanks to these findings, we’re able to expand the toolbox of strategies for effective implementation of comprehensive sexuality education, so all learners have the opportunity to reap the education and health benefits, and to fully realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights,” she added.

How to overcome bottlenecks

The paper comes up with seven recommendations to overcome the bottlenecks, including:

  • Apply participatory, learner-centred approaches in CSE delivery;
  • Ensure access to, and use of, curricula and teaching materials
  • Adequately prepare teachers through in-service and pre-service training;
  • Involve a range of stakeholders in the planning and implementation of CSE;
  • Enhance the status of CSE in line with other subjects, including some level of assessment;
  • Find a dedicated ‘home’ for CSE within ministries of education; and
  • Strengthen monitoring and evaluation of CSE and both system and classroom levels.

Further to the release of the paper at the 24th congress of the World Association for Sexual Health, UNESCO presented at a session alongside the World Health Organization and UNFPA. UNESCO also presented new research from Chile which looks in depth at the challenges and opportunities for teachers to develop effective sexuality education classes.