Human Sexuality in a Diverse WorldSexuality Education in Other Cultures

n a study done by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the United States led nearly all developed coun­tries in the world in the rates of teenage pregnancy, abortion, and teenage childbearing (see Figures 8.3 through 8.6). Overall, countries that have liberal attitudes toward sex­uality, easily accessible birth control services for teenagers, and formal and informal sexuality education programs have the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy, abortion, and child­bearing. Following, we review sexuality education in a variety of places.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands has the world’s lowest rates of teenage pregnancy, abortion, and childbearing. This may be due to the liberal attitudes toward sexuality education, high quality of information in sexuality classes, and widely available and confidential contraceptive services. It is estimated that 80% of Dutch secondary schools offer at least 4 to 5 hours of AIDS education (Drenth & Slob, 2004). The Dutch government also supports a variety of sexuality organizations and finances mass-media campaigns aimed at educating the public about sexuality. A Dutch broadcasting company runs a weekly sex­uality talk radio show, and it is estimated that there are over

250,0 listeners (Drenth & Slob, 2004).


Over the years, Sweden has become known as the world leader in sexuality education. In 1897, the first sex education courses were organized by a female physician (Trost, 2004), and in 1956 sex education became mandatory in all schools. There are national requirements for all sexuality education courses, a national curriculum, and a national handbook to guide teachers’ training for these courses. Starting at age 7, students learn about menstruation, intercourse, masturba­tion, contraception, pregnancy, and childbirth. From ages 10 to 13 they are taught about puberty, sexually transmitted in­fections, homosexuality, and pedophilia. At the next level of learning, students are taught about sex roles, premarital sex, abortion, pornography, HIV/AIDS, and prostitution. Finally, at the college level, students are taught about sexual desire, sexual orientation, and sexual dysfunction. Sweden also has approximately 150 youth clinics, offering information, edu­cation, and contraceptive services (Trost, 2004). These clinics began forming in an attempt to reduce the teenage abor­tions rates (a law passed in 1975 allows for free abortions).


Sex education in England is a compulsory part of the National Curriculum—Science, and throughout England students partic­ipate in a comprehensive sex education program (Hilton, 2003). Studies have found that the programs have effectively prepared students and increased their skills (Douglas et al., 2001).


Brazil’s annual Carnival is a time of liberation from the sexu­ally repressive ways of Brazilian society. During Carnival, tele­vision stations become much less conservative and air naked men and women, many engaging in public sexual activities. Yet, even with the open attitudes about sexuality during Carnival, it has been difficult to establish sexuality education in Brazilian schools. The culture is highly patriarchal and has rigid gender roles. There are few sexuality education pro­grams in public schools today, but they first appeared in some of the private schools in the late 1980s (Freitas, 2004).


In 1974, the Japanese Association for Sexuality Education (JASE) was founded to help establish comprehensive sexual­ity education in the schools, although abstinence education was very popular in Japan. As in the United States, popular sources of sex information in Japan include friends and older same-sex peers, magazines, and television.

In 1986, a new sexuality education curriculum was dis­tributed to all middle and high schools in Japan (Kitazawa, 1994). In 1992, the Japanese Ministry of Education revised the sexuality curriculum and approved the discussion of sec­ondary sex characteristics in coeducational fifth-grade classes. In fact, 1992 was called the "First Year of Sexuality Education," and sexuality education was required in schools. Prior to this time, there was no discussion of sexuality in ele­mentary schools at all (Hatano & Shimazaki, 2004).

Many teachers in the elementary schools felt very un­comfortable with these changes. Talking about sexuality is very anxiety producing, both for teachers and many Japanese citizens. In addition, there is no formal sexuality training for these teachers.

Today, however, the number of educators interested in teaching sexuality education is increasing. Teacher work­shops and educational programs add to the increasing com­fort levels with sexuality. Overall, however, these open atti­tudes toward sexuality education have not been met without opposition. In fact, sexuality education has been blamed for the changing norms in sexuality that resulted in an increase in divorce and a destruction of the family.


Although the majority of Russian teenagers and their parents and teachers favor sex education in the schools, Russia has no formal sexuality education program (Kon, 2004). Conservative forces, along with various churches, are adamantly opposed to sex education and have instituted an aggressive campaign against the implementation of sex edu­cation programs in the schools. A national opinion poll in 1990 found that only 13% of parents in Russia have ever talked to their children about sexuality (Kon, 2004).

education courses same-sex behavior is often discussed during only one or two class pe­riods. The rest of the semester is spent exploring various aspects of heterosexuality (such as premarital, marital, and extramarital sex, contraception, and abortion). Textbooks on human sexuality typically offer one chapter on sexual orientation, discussing primarily what causes it. Conversely, very little, if any, attention is paid to what causes heterosex­uality. Heterosexism is a problem in almost all topics in academia today, but it creates particular problems in the field of sexuality education.