Journal Article

Sexuality and relationships education: Toward a social studies approach

Globally, gender norms and power differentials profoundly affect both girls’ and boys’ sexual attitudes, practices and health. One avenue for enabling young people to reflect on traditional gender arrangements that endanger their health - and to lay the groundwork for satisfying sexual lives - is sexuality and relationships education (SRE). Unfortunately, many SRE programmes address gender norms and critical thinking skills either superficially or not at all. Moreover, in some developing countries, SRE programmes do not reach the majority of girls aged 15-19, a high proportion of whom are simply not in school. This paper argues for grounding SRE within a social studies framework, emphasizing gender and social context. Such an approach can foster critical thinking skills, can provide a foundation for subsequent lessons on explicitly sexual topics, can illuminate the links between gender inequality and other social issues, can allow for a human-rights emphasis that may prove politically less controversial than technical sexuality topics, and may ultimately prove vital to achieving better sexual health outcomes. The experience of community-based programmes provides lessons for designing and evaluating such approaches in schools.