Curriculum-based sexuality and HIV education is a mainstay of interventions to prevent STIs, HIV and unintended pregnancy among young people. Evidence links traditional gender norms, unequal power in sexual relationships and intimate partner violence with negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes. However, little attention has been paid to analyzing whether addressing gender and power in sexuality education curricula is associated with better outcomes.
To explore whether the inclusion of content on gender and power matters for program efficacy, electronic and hand searches were conducted to identify rigorous sexuality and HIV education evaluations from developed and developing countries published between 1990 and 2012. Intervention and study design characteristics of the included interventions were disaggregated by whether they addressed issues of gender and power.
Of the 22 interventions that met the inclusion criteria, 10 addressed gender or power, and 12 did not. The programs that addressed gender or power were five times as likely to be effective as those that did not; fully 80% of them were associated with a significantly lower rate of STIs or unintended pregnancy. In contrast, among the programs that did not address gender or power, only 17% had such an association.
Addressing gender and power should be considered a key characteristic of effective sexuality and HIV education programs.