Sexuality education is a controversial and contested issue that has evoked wide debate on the question of its aims, contents, methods, pedagogy and desired outcomes. This editorial aims to provide a brief commentary, positioning the contributions to this Special Issue of Health Education within the research landscape concerning sexuality education in schools internationally.
The idea for this Special Issue was born in Odense, Denmark, in October 2012, during the 4th European Conference of Health Promoting Schools. The Conference Programme and the debates during the sessions demonstrated the need for a wider discussion of sexuality education, particularly within the framework of the health-promoting school. There was recognition of the need to endorse positive and wide socio-ecological views of health, including sexual health and a critical educational approach to sexuality education. The conference delegates and the members of the Schools for Health in Europe Research Network were invited to submit a paper for the Special Issue, and the invitation was also sent through other networks and research communities globally. The invitation resulted in papers being submitted beyond Europe and the Special Issue took an interesting global turn. This networking process also resulted in the identification of a number of key international subject-specific experts who took on the role of independent reviewers.
Following the review and editorial process six papers were accepted for the Special Issue. The papers highlight contrasts, tensions, potentials and barriers embedded in the ways sexuality education is delivered to children and young people internationally. Examples are drawn from Russia, Wales, China and the USA; they identify historical and structural issues related to the implementation of comprehensive progressive approaches. Topics discussed include the importance of appropriate content, theoretical/conceptual frameworks, modes of delivery, timing, attitudes from key stakeholders and the need for comprehensive evaluation of innovative approaches to the delivery of sexual education.
The Special Issue provides a unique blend of evaluations of practical examples of pioneering programmes, research using qualitative, quantitative and mixed method designs, and critical conceptual discussions related to sexuality education and factors that influence it. The Special Issue addresses sexuality education from a life course perspective; some of the individual papers focus on young children and some on lifelong learning. All the papers point to the importance of understanding structural, socio-historical, political and cultural factors influencing sexuality education.
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