Talking About Gender and Power Makes Sex Education More Effective

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Two young people at a chalkboard.

The Case for Addressing Gender and Power in Sexuality and HIV Education: A Comprehensive Review of Evaluation Studies” (abstract). Nicole A. Haberland. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Vol. 41, No. 1 (March 2015).

What it’s about: Researcher Nicole A. Haberland reviewed 300 journal articles of evaluations of sexuality and HIV education programs. She wanted to see if curricula that included content on gender roles and power relations were more effective than those that did not. Twenty-two of the evaluation studies met Haberland's criteria: having evaluated group- and curriculum-based programs, having a rigorous study design, having been published between 1990 and 2012, focusing on youth aged 19 and younger, and using a minimum sample size of 100 youth.

Of the 22 evaluation studies,10 touched upon gender and power relations and 12 did not.

Why read it: Research shows an association between negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes, like unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and such factors as stereotypes about gender roles and unequal power dynamics between men and women in relationships. This literature review makes a strong case for addressing gender roles and power dynamics in sex ed curricula, Haberland says.

Biggest takeaways from the research: Eight of the 10 programs that included gender and power content were effective (meaning that they significantly reduced rates of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections). Only 2 of the 12 programs without the content were effective.

Haberland writes that the following made programs with a gender and power component effective at improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes:

  • Having a youth-centered, interactive, and skills-based teaching approach.
  • Clearly using a gender and power framework and giving teachers tools to facilitate discussions and activities about gender norms and power dynamics in romantic relationships.
  • Including activities and discussions that get youth to think critically about gender stereotypes, power dynamics, sexism and such issues as the objectification of women’s bodies in media and the ways gender norms shape men's and women's sexual expression.
  • Regularly inviting youth to contribute written or oral personal reflections about how power inequality, gender stereotypes, and intimate partner violence relate to their own lives, relationships, and health.
  • Fostering youths’ sense of power and self-worth.

Haberland says the evidence from this review supports an “empowerment” approach to educating youth about sexual health and reducing sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.

Additional references: Visit our library to learn more about sexual education program evaluations.

Read about choosing evaluation tools to measure the effectiveness of your youth program.

Read about a study that explored lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youths’ suggestions for making sex education programs more inclusive.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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