“Let’s talk about sex, baby!” 

We might sing it along to Salt-N-Pepe’s 1991 hit song, but we most definitely refrain from doing it. 

In an article about sex education in the Times of Malta, Claire Azzopardi Lane (2021)  looks at the pressure exerted by the Catholic church on the traditional Maltese family and the values it endorses. Potentially, as a result, we do not talk about sex. Instead, it remains a long withstanding taboo topic; an elephant in the room that keeps being ignored. In spite of living in a society growing all the more conscious about the benefits of empowerment, education, and freedom of choice, this rarely if ever applies to our mentality when it comes to local sex education, which is still dominated by a culture of abstinence, shame, and stigma. 

From the get-go, we emphasize that the aim of this policy paper is not to encourage sexual activity or even promiscuity; after all, sex is one of the most (if not the most) intimate activity an individual engages in, and the choice of whether or not to participate in this is solely  at the discretion of the individual. On top of all, we believe in freedom of choice – and for this  reason, we believe that the substantial lacunas in our sex education undermines the right to  choose by depriving past and present generations (and future generations, if not amended) of  tools essential in making informed choices. And this is what our policy paper aims to advocate:  an inclusive, updated, relevant, and comprehensive sex education program, standardized by  professionals and uncensored by cultural or dogmatic barriers. 

So again, in the words of Salt-N-Pepe, let’s talk about sex…

Background Information 

Sexuality is considered to be fundamental to all human relationships and can also prove  to be a method of self-expression. According to Marcia’s (1966) theory, the period of  exploration in the moratorium state is an important part of the formation of a stable identity.  This is why it is essential that adolescents are provided with a platform to discuss this topic  openly, confidently, honestly, and seriously. Most sexual health education is unfortunately left  to parents, who are often not sufficiently equipped to deliver adequate sexual education to their  children or neglect it because it is an awkward topic (Calleja & Farrugia, 1997). When sexual  problems arise, it can be difficult for adolescents to approach their parents about it, which is  why it is important that adolescents are provided with consistent and inclusive sexual health  education.  

The study conducted by Calleja & Farrugia (1997) consisted of 150 male and 150  female adolescent students from 6 different schools. From their study, 97% of students claimed  that sex is an important part of their life: 

When asked when they first heard about sexual matters, students responded with:

56% first heard of sexual issues from friends, and 26% from TV or films. This further  supports the notion that students need reliable and accurate information which the education  system does not currently provide sufficiently. Around half of the respondents claimed that  their parents never initiated a conversation regarding sexual matters. 

This further highlights the role of parents in their children’s sexual health education and shows that parents too need to be provided with tools and information about how to  approach their children with regard to sexual health issues, and to create a safe environment  for their children to speak about such issues at home, with people they are close to. Half of the 4 students from this study would reach out to their friends when they have a sexual issue, instead  of someone who is more knowledgeable and qualified to give the right support.

¾ of students also expressed that they do not get enough information related to sex education from school. It is important to note however, that since this publication was released,  advancements have been made in this regard, which is one of the things our own study aims to explore. 

Despite the current sexual health education leaving a lot to be desired, 88% of students  from this study believe students should learn about sexual matters in school.

From this particular study, what emerged was also the importance of creating a safe  and approachable environment. Over half of the participants would feel safe speaking to their  PSE teacher about sexual matters in front of their peers. 

This study also revealed that even when sexual health education is present, it often does not address all areas of sexual education, leaving out topics such as masturbation, pregnancy, and different sexual orientations. In this study, 57% of respondents believed a woman cannot  get pregnant if the man withdraws his penis before he ejaculates. 36% of respondents believed  it is mainly homosexuals who get AIDS from having sex, and 36% believed women cannot  masturbate.

The above data demonstrates the importance of addressing common misconceptions  about sex and sexuality and including such misconceptions within the school curriculum in  order to clarify the facts for the students and to promote healthy sexual behaviour, as well as  

avoid risky behaviour.  

Twice as many students reported not using contraceptives during their first sexual intercourse. Carabott (2006) has also found a high percentage of non-condom use among the  young sexually active population. At the time of this study, there was clearly not enough  information about the various methods of contraception and their effectiveness.

Another study by Mifsud et al. (2009) found that a greater proportion of Maltese births  occur in teenagers and the Maltese reported a higher mean age at first intercourse, which  demonstrates the importance of sexual health education starting at a young age. Tufigno (2008) also found that the “age of sexual debut for local youths has been registered at around 16 years”  (Tufigno, 2008). 

Additionally, Tufigno (2008) listed different factors contributing to sexual risk taking  among adolescents: 

● Feeling invulnerable 

● Early biological maturation and sexual activity 

● Self-esteem and self-efficacy 

● Internal vs. external control of reinforcement 

● Social aspects including social scripts, double standards, peers, social demographics  and social capital, drugs and alcohol misuse and childhood sexual abuse are also known  to increase risky sexual behaviours. 

Therefore, adolescents evaluate sexual risks based on level of knowledge (education), age,  risk-management skills, and past life experiences (Tufigno, 2008). Perhaps it is therefore  necessary to also include risk-assessment and management classes within the sexual health  curriculum. 

Risky behaviours are often attributed to young people with limited experience, multiple  sexual partners, substance use in association with sex, and unprotected sex with high-risk  partners, and young people’s tendency to anticipate favourable outcomes without considering  future consequences. Tufigno (2008) found that research locally is rather limited and is  constrained by culture as well as religion

Thus, research in this field, although existent, needs to constantly be revised and adapted  to include more recent research, and needs to be inclusive and understanding of different  cultures and backgrounds. It is important to make publicise sexual health in order to promote  further research and to face the taboo surrounding this topic. Tufigno (2008) emphasises that  although there are currently sexual education lessons during PSCD as stipulated by Malta’s  National Minimum Curriculum (NMC), there still is no concrete local sexual health policy. 

The lack of priority for the need of proper sex education in the Maltese islands is evident  in a number of ways. The sex education curriculum currently available for Maltese schools are  guidelines published by (Camilleri, 2013). Having been created almost 10 years ago, our views  on what sex education should entail has changed drastically. Moreover, the need for a fixed  syllabus across all Maltese schools is essential, rather than guidelines that can be open to  interpretation or completely ignored. In an article published by Volt Malta (2021), there is  mention of these outdated guidelines: 

“To this day, it still holds the promotion of Abstinence as a principle, offers very little guidance  on teaching LGBTIQ+ matters, and also encourages the gendered segregation of students in  co-ed schools, and makes no mention of explaining consent.” (Volt Malta, 2021, para. 1). 

A policy paper on sexual health that was being drafted by the government had to be  sent back to be revised due to the information being based on research that was 12 years old. In the public health sector, there is only one person working in the field of sexual health. 

An article by Malta Today (Pace, 2019) exemplifies some of the resistance that the  education system has faced in the past when attempting to provide adequate sexual education.  A mother of a year 6 student, who also happens to be a former PSCD teacher, voiced her  concerns with a video on Facebook describing the lessons as “diabolical” (Pace, 2019, para. 

3), specifically making reference to a workbook (Appendix 1) created by the Ministry of 

Education. The ministry pushed back against the false claims made by this woman, and noted  that before the lessons were given, parents received talks about how they would be delivered,  and the PSCD syllabus had always been available to the public (Appendix 2). The mother had  a particular issue with the presentation of gay characters. When the booklet was reviewed,  nothing problematic was found, in fact, it was recognised that many valid topics were  mentioned such as consent and the right to say no, body image in the media and stereotypes,  acknowledgement of relationships of different sexual orientations, changes during puberty,  love and respect in relationship, clothing and healthy eating, and identifying emotions. It  included activities such as quizzes, reflective questions, and group discussions.  

The current sex education in Malta has a heavy focus on abstinence, influenced by the  cultural and religious climate. The degree at which abstinence is promoted in education has a  significant effect on teen pregnancy and teen birth rates (Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011). In the  U.S, the more abstinence was stressed in state laws and policies, the higher the rates of teenage  pregnancy and births, meaning abstinence-only education does not promote abstinence  behaviours. The most successful states at preventing teenage pregnancy offered comprehensive  sex education. This covers the use of contraception, STIs/HIV education, and abstinence as a  recommended behaviour, rather than it being highly emphasised. 

Students expressed that the idea of abstinence was unrealistic (Astle et al., 2020, Pound  et al., 2016). Christine Schembri Deguara, a medical doctor, recently spoke to Times of Malta  (Carabott, 2021) to raise awareness of fertility and family planning. She gave mention to Malta  having one of the lowest fertility rates in the EU (Carabott, 2021). There is an emphasis for  girls to prevent pregnancy, however, educators should teach that age plays a major role in  getting pregnant and getting fertility health check-ups early on is needed to prevent distress in  the future.

Knowing what students want to be taught and getting direct feedback on the  effectiveness of the sex education they are receiving is of great importance for educators and  policy makers to consider, since it the students who will be using the information. (Astle et al.,  2020). 

A number of studies focusing of students’ perspectives mentioned the timing and  frequency of sex and relationship education (Astle et al., 2020; Hilton, 2007; Pound et al.,  2016). Starting sex education at an earlier age might facilitate the discussion of sex.  Additionally, being taught at a higher frequency in order to cater to the different needs and  questions of various age groups between primary school and post-secondary institutions. 

Characteristics of the teacher delivering sex education talks were also given importance  by students. The educator cannot be embarrassed to answer direct questions (Hilton, 2007) and  must be a trained professional, ideally young, who does not have a teaching relationship with  students to make it easier to voice their concerns (Astle et al., 2020). 

Inclusion in sex education is another aspect that is lacking. Azzopardi-Lane (2021)  researched the issue of intellectually disabled individuals who do not get adequate sex  education because of infantilisation through their parents denying they can have relationships  and a sexuality. 

Plenty of research relating to sexual health and education is being done, however not  enough action is being taken to implement it. The efforts which we do see being done such as  the Education Ministry workbook, get a lot of resistance from the public, this reaction should  be even more of an indication of how much we need a new sexual health and education policy.  Somewhere between the effort and the actual delivery of the topic there is an issue, probably a  social one, which needs to be addressed.


The data was gathered through a google form which included a total of 16 questions  asking the participants about their age, the country within which they received their sex  education, the type of school they attended, and whether it was a private, government or church  school (Please see form in Appendix 3). 

Questions on the different areas of sex education including contraception, STDs, gender  identities and sexual orientations, and consent in relationships were included in order to gather  a holistic picture on what was covered and what was left out throughout their lessons in  secondary school. The form was then shared along with a poster (Appendix 4) on Betapsi’s  Facebook and Instagram pages where people could opt-in and consent to fill in the form.


What is your age? 

Results- Out of 69 participants, 1(1.4%) was 16 years, 2(2.9%) were between 17-18 years,  15(21.7%) were 19 years old, 14(20.3%) were 20 years, 10(14.5%) were 21 years, 8(11.6%)  were 22 years, 4(5.8%) were 23 years, 2(2.9%) were 24 years, 1(1.4% was 25 years, 1(1.4%)  was between 26-27 years, 3(4.3% were 28 years, 1(1.4% was between 29-31 years, 1(1.4%  was 32 years, 3(4.3%) were between 33-39 years, 1(1.4%) and 3(4.3%) were between 40-46  years.  

Where did you attend school? 

Results- All the participants attended school in Malta. 

Did you attend a 

Results- 30.4% attended government school, 56.5% attended church school and 13% attended  private school. 

Were you shown contraceptives (such as condoms) during your sex education  lessons? 

Results- 63.8% responded yes while 36.2% responded no. 

If yes, what was discussed on the topic? 

Results- The most common answer was that contraceptives were shown but very little was  discussed about them. The most common contraceptive shown was the male condom and how  it can help in preventing STIs, teenage pregnancies, and instructions on how to wear them and  use them were also given in most cases. Another contraceptive that was shown was the female  contraceptive pill, while some of the participants reported learning about its effectivity. 

In one particular instance, a participant was shown a used pack of female contraceptive pills to  learn about the dates on the pack and what each pill means via a slide show shown by the  teacher. Other participants reported that they were very briefly shown other methods of female  contraception such as the IUD and the coil. Some were not shown any contraceptive methods  but still discussed them in class through the use of charts illustrating the different methods.  

A small percentage of the participants reported that the main focus of these lessons was on  abstinence. A smaller percentage claimed to have talked about the pregnancy and reproductive  processes. A few participants reported that the main topics were mentioned but not discussed  in detail.  

How knowledgeable do you feel about contraceptives? 

Results- 29(42%) feel very knowledgeable, 26(37.7%) feel pretty knowledgeable, 11(15.9%)  don’t feel quite knowledgeable, 2(2.9%) feel that they don’t quite grasp the concept and  1(1.4%) don’t have any idea about the subject. 

Were you informed about STDs? 

Results- 82.6% answered yes while 17.4% answered no.  

If yes, what was discussed about the topic? 

Results- The most common answer reported was that various types of STDs were shown,  however special emphasis was given to the most common types, such as herpes, chlamydia,  HIV, and aids. Not only were these STDs mentioned, but their effects on the body and how  they can be treated were also discussed. Most of the participants reported being taught how  STDs can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, but very few were taught that they can  also be transmitted through oral sex. Some participants reported being taught how to prevent  contracting STDs through the use of contraceptives and to regularly get tested when sexually  active. Others claimed that abstinence was the recommended and most strongly advised 

preventative method for contracting STDs. Most participants also reported that their teachers  advised them against sexual intercourse before marriage. On the other hand, a small percentage  claimed that very little was discussed with regard to STDs, such that their teachers failed to  mention the different types that exist. One participant in particular reported having to do their  own research to further their knowledge about the subject.  

How knowledgeable do you feel about STDs? 

Results- 10(14.5%) said that they feel moderately knowledgeable, 24(34.8%) said that they  feel pretty knowledgeable, 25(36.2%) said that feel very knowledgeable, 9(13%) said that they  feel poorly knowledgeable and 1(1.4%) feel that they don’t know the subject. 

Did your sex education incorporate different gender identities and sexual  orientations? 

Results- 84.1% answered no while 15.9% answered yes. 

If yes, what was discussed on the topic? 

Results- Most respondents reported that their sexual education mainly centred around  heterosexual sex. A few participants’ sexual education included the mention of different gender  identities, as well as information regarding the universal nature of STDs and use of  contraceptives (i.e., that STDs can be contracted by people of all sexual orientations and gender  identities). One particular participant reported that they were informed about the possibility of  sex between people of the same sex and gender. However, some reported that the subject was  never discussed.  

Were you informed about consent in relationships? 

Results- 44.9% said no, 26.1% said yes while 29% said that they were unsure.

If yes, what was discussed on the topic? 

Results- Many respondents reported that importance was given to consent during their sexual  education and that all persons involved should feel comfortable. The second most common  answer is that they were taught that sex without consent is unacceptable and considered rape. Some said that they were taught the definition of consent, when to consent and when to stop.  Some of the participants could not remember if consent was mentioned. 

Kindly elaborate if there were any other topics mentioned throughout the lessons. Results- Many respondents either do not remember or do not recall mentioning anything else  in school. The most common topics covered were the female and male reproductive organs,  the process of fertilisation, pregnancy, puberty, the menstrual cycle, abortion, and abstinence.  Second common were STDs and contraceptives. Participants who attended a church school  reported that taboo topics such as abortion were avoided or mentioned briefly. Some  participants also reported having only one lesson dedicated to covering every aspect of  sexuality.  

Did you feel that the teacher who taught you the above was willing to engage in  discussions on the topic? 

Results- 46.4% answered yes while 53.6% answered no. 

Kindly elaborate further on the question above. 

Results- Majority of respondents reported that their teachers did not feel comfortable or were  not willing to discuss the topics any further than what was required of them. Some mentioned  that their teachers felt awkward, wary, and vague in their explanations. Participants also made  reference to their teachers’ adherence to school values, such that they were careful to transmit  information that was in accordance with the school’s individual curriculum. Some participants  who attended church schools reported that sex education was taught by nuns or religion 


teachers, which they claim to be the reason for there being a lack of discussion. A participant  in particular claims to have never had the opportunity to ask questions. On the other hand, a  small percentage of participants reported that their teachers were open and willing to delve  deeper in discussion, created a safe and comfortable atmosphere, and answered their questions  adequately.



In this chapter the findings gathered from the survey and their implications in the light  of the local context will be discussed. The experience of the Maltese population with regards  to various aspects of their sex education such as contraceptives and consent will be dealt with.  Finally, any suggestions for improvement will be given with regards to the future of sex  education in Malta. 

Sample Description 

The sample population in this study consisted of 69 individuals, varying in age. This  variety in age increases the reliability and generalisability of results. However, the highest  percentage of participants ranged between the ages of 19 (21.7%) and 21(14.5%). Participants  also stated whether they went to a church school (56.5%), government school (30.4%) or a  private school (13%), as this often affects and dictates the type of sex education one will have.  Moreover, the survey tackled several concepts about sex education within school contexts,  whereby these participants had the opportunity to speak about their experiences and have their  voices heard. These will be dealt with within the subsequent paragraphs.  


From the survey’s question: “Were you shown contraceptives (such as condoms) during  your sex education lessons?” 63.8% participants responded yes while the remaining 36.2%  responded no. The fact that more individuals said yes is considered to be good since most of  the time, visual learning has long lasting effects and students tend to remember more (Urner et  al., 2013). Apart from that, demonstrating actual contraceptives can help students understand  the use of contraceptives more clearly since the more realistic the visual representation of an  object is during teaching, the more students tend to comprehend and form an accurate mental  model of that object (Joo et al., 2021). However, when asked what was said about the 

contraceptives during class, most participants stated that little was discussed and tackled. As a  consequence, this kind of education about the subject can leave students feeling disappointed  in educators’ ability to handle and teach about this sensitive subject matter (Woodcock et al.,  1992). Another issue is the fact that the most common contraceptive shown was the male  condom and students were shown how it can help in preventing STIs and teenage pregnancies.  Thus, this means that while students were shown and explained what a male condom is and  what its purpose is, females were left in the dark about any female-related contraceptives such  as the intrauterine device (IUD). The results indicate that a participant was shown a pack of  female contractive pills. However, any discussions and explanations about it were brief.  Additionally, those who checked not having been shown any contraceptives, engaged in a  discussion in class through the use of charts.  

Furthermore, this survey revealed that 29 (42%) participants ticked “feel very  knowledgeable” about contraceptives while just 1 person (1.4%) ticked “don’t have any idea  about the subject”. Other participants range from feeling pretty knowledgeable to they cannot  quite grasp the concept. Thus, this shows that, although more work needs to be done with  regards to education about contraceptives, the sex education with regards to this topic is already  going in a positive direction. 

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) 

With regards to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), most participants seemed  knowledgeable enough on the topic. In fact, 82.6% participants answered, ‘yes’ while 17.4%  reported ‘no’. It is also worth noting that amongst the various types of STDs, focus was mainly  only on herpes, chlamydia, HIV, and aids. Focus was also placed on discussing how these  conditions impacted one’s body. However, very few participants reported being taught about  how to prevent contracting STDs through the use of contraceptives and about the importance  of regularly getting tested when sexually active. Another issue was the fact that abstinence was 


the recommended and most strongly advised preventative method for contracting STDs. There  were also cases where the concept of abstinence was used to pressure students to remain  sexually inactive until marriage. At the same time, one participant reported having to do their  own research to further their knowledge about the subject.  

Furthermore, this survey revealed that 25 (36.2%) participants ticked “feel very  knowledgeable” about STDs while just 1 person (1.4%) ticked “feel that they don’t know the  subject”. Other participants range from feeling pretty knowledgeable to they cannot quite grasp  the concept. Thus, this once again shows that, despite the need for some improvements, sex  education about STDs is currently going in a positive direction. 

Gender Identities and Sexual Orientations 

Unfortunately, when it comes to the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community within sex  education, most of the participants claimed that the focus was mainly on heterosexual sex,  excluding individuals who identify themselves as being members of the LGBTQ+ community.  A few participants’ sexual education included the mention of different gender identities, as  well as information regarding the universal nature of STDs and use of contraceptives, referring  to the fact that STDs can be contracted by people of all sexual orientations and gender  identities. On the other hand, one particular participant reported that they were informed about  the possibility of sex between people of the same sex and gender. However, the word  ‘possibility’ rather implies that sex amongst homosexuals is still seen as a taboo subject,  showing the need for revision and increase of both school and general social education about  this subject. 


When participants were asked about whether they were informed about consent in  relationships, there were more participants who said no (44.9%) than there were who said yes 


(26.1%). 29% of participants said that they were unsure whether they were educated about  consent at school for some reason, possibly because they could not remember or perhaps  because it was mentioned very briefly and not focused upon as a whole topic in its own right  during school lessons. This shows that there is a drastic need for increase in focus on the topic  of consent in Maltese sex education curricula, especially in light of the research findings  posited by Tufigno (2008) mentioned in the “Background” section of this policy paper. In that  research paper, Tufigno (2008) mentioned how the sexual debut for local youths has been  registered at around 16 years and mentioned how social aspects and pressures, drug or alcohol  use, self-esteem and locus of control are all factors contributing to sexual risk taking among  adolescents. Age and all of these aforementioned factors all have major significance when it  comes to the topic of consent, some examples being the social pressures of sexual coercion (Pugh & Becker, 2018) and the impaired ability to actually give consent when under the  influence of drugs and alcohol (Smith, 2020).  

On a more positive note, the 26.1% of participants who answered yes to the question  of whether they were informed about consent in relationships said that the topic was not just  discussed in passing, but the topic was considered an important part of the participants’  schools’ sex education curricula. Emphasis was given on the importance of both parties within  a sexual relationship being comfortable and on the fact that sex without consent should be  unacceptable and considered rape. Other aspects of the topic like the definition of consent,  when to consent, and when to stop were also mentioned, which all show a comprehensive  understanding of the topic by educators and skill in delivering information about the topic to  students. The data shows that there generally needs to be a further push when it comes to  including the topic of consent in sex education curricula.


Variety of topics covered within school sex education curricula Besides other topics already covered in this discussion, participants remembered that  the most common topics covered were the male and female reproductive organs, the process  of fertilisation, pregnancy, puberty, the menstrual cycle, abortion and abstinence. While this is  quite a comprehensive and extensive variety of topics, the fact that STDs and contraceptives  were covered to a lesser degree (second most common rather than most common topics  covered) shows that locally, the popularity of the abstinence mindset talked about in the  “background” section may still be exerting a significant effect on Maltese sex education and  may, to some extent, be slowing the more inclusive healthy and safe sex mindset from gaining  more popularity and traction more rapidly. As mentioned in the “background” section, various  religious, cultural, and social factors are most probably significantly at play here and need to  be addressed with regards to sex education in Malta. The influence of religion was in fact  definitely observed in the answers by some participants who attended church schools, which  stated that certain taboo topics such as abortion were only slightly touched upon or even  avoided altogether. Considering how vast the topic of human sexuality is, the fact that some  participants reported having only one lesson dedicated to covering every aspect of sexuality is  definitely an issue which requires further investigation and review. 

Experience of teacher delivering sex education to participants When participants were asked whether their teachers were willing to engage in  discussions about the sex education topics covered, 46.4% of participants said yes while 53.6%  of participants said no. These percentages highlight how sex is still a taboo subject in Maltese  schools which further highlights how it is a taboo subject within Maltese society at large. This  sheds further light on the significance of Tufigno’s (2008) remark mentioned in the  “Background” section of this policy paper, stating that cultural and social constraints and the  inherent sensitivity of the topic of sex creates obstacles for investigation about the topic. In 


fact, the social perception which persists of sex education being a taboo subject that should not  be discussed is exemplified further by the PSCD teacher mentioned in the “Background”  section, who referred to perfectly reasonable and informative sex education lessons as “diabolical” (Pace, 2019, para. 3). 

When participants were asked to give more details about their experience of being  taught sex education, most respondents said that teachers felt awkward and were wary and  unwilling to discuss any further than what was minimally required by the school, to make sure  school values and the particular school’s individual curricula were adhered to. This highlights  the difficulty that sex educators themselves may experience when teaching about sexual topics 

in a too conservative environment, feeling they need to walk on eggshells lest they place their  jobs, social position, and reputation on the line (Bialystok et al., 2020). 

Answers also showed how the individual values adhered to by the sex educators  themselves affected the quality and type of sex education received by students. For instance,  some participants who attended church schools attributed the climate of lack of discussion and  opportunity for enquiry they experienced to the fact that sexual topics were being taught by  nuns and religion teachers, who are all individuals who adhere to a Catholic value system which  has a particular view regarding sexuality that tends to lean more towards the conservative and  moralistic (Bugeja, 2010). On the other hand, a smaller number of participants had a much  more fruitful and rich experience when it came to their sex education, all because their teachers  were more open and willing to discuss topics in depth and more willing to answer questions  adequately, encouraging rather than discouraging students to ask questions by creating a safe  and comfortable environment for them to do so. 


Suggestions for improvement of sex education in Malta 

Several suggestions have been considered and discussed by the authors of this policy  paper about what can be done to improve Malta’s sex education further in light of the  background information researched, the findings discovered, and the discussion points brought  up by these findings. 

One of the most prominent and significant issues that kept resurfacing throughout the  research and discussion is the fact that the differences in the quality and type of sex education  delivered by different schools was significantly attributed to the differences in particular values  upheld by these different schools and the educators within them. This may result in some  factual information within sex education curricula being filtered through particular viewpoints  and ideologies. This goes against the aim of sex education as such, which is there to inform  students and the public rather than to promote any particular viewpoint or way of doing things.  

Therefore, a suggestion that may help with this issue is the planning and  implementation of a sex education curriculum that is value free and that is set for and followed  by all schools, regardless of whether they are government, church, or private schools. The  curriculum would cover as extensive and as vast a range of topics about sexuality as possible.  This would ensure that the school or even kind of school one goes to will not dictate the quality  of sex education one gets and that everyone in Malta would more or less get an equal sex  education. The curriculum would neither promote sexual activity, nor promote abstinence, but  would be there purely to inform, so that Maltese young people reaching puberty would be  aware and able to deal with their own sexual development and the biological and social  pressures and challenges that this brings with it as healthily as possible. The vast range of topics  covered would make sure nobody is left out and would allow for everybody, no matter their  gender identity and sexual orientation, to feel seen, heard and accepted and would allow for all  young people to be aware of and able to understand and deal with effectively to different 


situations related to sexuality that they will encounter in the world (for example, being able to  deal with situations related to peer pressure and consent).  

Several suggestions were also discussed with regard to the adults involved in children’s  sex education. After all it is not only the students who must feel comfortable enough asking  questions and discussing sexual topics within the classroom, but educators must feel  comfortable teaching about such topics too and parents must feel comfortable having certain  important talks regarding sexuality with their adolescents. 

If all parties involved are made to feel as comfortable as possible, the quality of the  sex education delivered and received will surely be improved across the board (Wight &  Buston, 2010). One suggestion discussed was the handing out of booklets within the classroom  that cover specific sex education topics such as STDs and contraception. These would ease off  some of the pressure from educators as they would not have to discuss certain topics they may  be uncomfortable with in too much detail, but they would still be giving students detailed  information from reputable sources in a written and visual format in the form of the booklets.  

Additionally, as these booklets are taken home, parents of students may also take a look  at the booklets, equipping them with information and better knowledge and skills when it  comes to helping their adolescents with sexual issues. Another suggestion is for there to be a  list of reputable internet sources on the set sex education curriculum delivered to schools. This  way, educators can direct students to these sources in an attempt to decrease the chances of  students stumbling upon misinformation, or perhaps internet sites that contain harmful content. 

Lastly, a suggestion was discussed about the inclusion of a further emphasis on and  inclusion of emotional education within the sex education curriculum. The more emotional  aspects and effects of sexuality and the management of emotions that may arise due to sexuality  and involvement within a sexual relationship were not mentioned by participants taking part in 


the survey. While knowing about the biological and practical aspects of sexuality is  fundamental, knowing about the emotional aspects is just as crucial. The research paper by  Tufigno (2008), which speaks about sexual risk taking in adolescents, highlights the  importance of emotional education, as factors such as feelings of invulnerability, self-esteem,  internal vs external locus of control and the emotional effects of social and psychological  pressures are all mentioned. More emotional and psychological education when it comes to  sexuality would lead to better self-management, better management of impulses and drives and  an improvement in social awareness and responsible decision making. (Seiler-Ramadas et al.,  2021).



So, where does this leave us? Our key take away is that despite being known as being loud  and talkative in Malta, we are hardly so when it comes to talking about sex. This national  tendency towards reluctance, omission and discomfort perpetuates a cycle of stigma and taboo,  in which educators remain closed and neglect lacunas in the (sexual and emotional) educational  system that are yet to be adequately filled. What this policy paper concludes is that:  

(1) An educational system focused on critical thinking should equip students with facts not  value-laden belief systems against which facts are matched and altered. Sex education,  then, should comprise of a comprehensive assortment of biological, socio-emotional,  medical, and epidemiological truths, which are objective and scientific. It is only after  learning these truths, that students can then build their subjective understanding of what  is right and wrong. This subjectivity should not obstruct the objectivity of facts, leaving  Maltese generations with blind spots in their understanding of “sex” that render them  vulnerable to STI transmissions and unwanted pregnancies, among other issues. 

(2) If there is one factor that characterises the answers collected in this study, then that is  “inconsistency”. Seeing variance both within and across categories, this study does not  postulate that in Malta all students receive inadequate sex education; only that whilst  some do receive adequate sex education, others do not.  

The answer is then the same that this policy paper has propagated from the very beginning:  a nation-wide curriculum that is standardized across all schools, covering the same topics, and  delivered by the same (trained, tested, and accredited) teachers. It is not much about getting  students to be open and talk about sex, as it is about making sure that the agenda is being set  by knowledgeable professionals and is democratically available to everyone, without being censored by dogma such as religion or personal conservation.


Just like how the Bible says God created Man from his form does not exclude teaching students about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, then perhaps neither should this religious overemphasis on abstinence smother comprehensive, inclusive and democratic sex education.



Astle, S., McAllister, P., Emanuels, S., Rogers, J., Toews, M., & Yazedjian, A. (2020). College  students’ suggestions for improving sex education in schools beyond ‘blah blah blah condoms  and STDs.’ Sex Education, 21(1), 91–105. 

Azzopardi-Lane, C. (2021). “It’s not easy to change the mentality”: Challenges to sex education  delivery for persons with intellectual disability. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual  Disabilities,1–8. 

Bialystok, L., & Wright, J., & Berzins T., & Guy C., & Osborne E. (2020). The appropriation  of sex education by conservative populism. Curriculum Enquiry, 50 (4), 330-351. 

MPpbQAAAAA%3Aj40QiEF263pMWpcQ7OGmVL2SXRMzRboYZd7usTiAO9U_9Wnfs xm5gPy52F0kFOwvLGhzvXb5OgQk 

Bugeja, R. (2010). Assessing Young People’s Learning Needs Related to Sexuality and  Relationships on the Maltese Islands [Doctoral thesis, University of Southampton]. University  of Southampton Research Repository ePrints Soton. 

Calleja, S., Farrugia, S. (1997, May). IS THERE A NEED TO INTRODUCE A PROGRAMME  FOR SEX EDUCATION IN MALTESE SECONDARY SCHOOLS? Unpublished thesis,  University of Malta. 

Camilleri, S. (2013, December). Guidelines on Sexuality and Relationships Education in  Maltese Schools. %20on%20Sexuality%20booklet.pdf


Carabott, S. (2021, October 20). ‘Prioritise fertility education as several are leaving family  planning too late.’ Times of Malta. education-as-several-are-leaving-family 

planning.909022?fbclid=IwAR2hx4Dtj9z_dCfpjF6HbxzfQvehakMvjwbICtn0faEzwiBK3ftE fe7qEAw 

Hilton, G. L. S. (2007). Listening to the boys again: an exploration of what boys want to learn  in sex education classes and how they want to be taught. Sex Education, 7(2), 161–174. 

Joo, H., & Park J., Kim, D., (2021). Visual representation fidelity and self-explanation prompts  in multi-representational adaptive learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 37 (4), 1091-1106. AAA%3AjC3HjbDAzIPh5Sq8dewekO-mYQ3u2Oj8p1_rV1vz0zYglK_6ggbDptRX mixcpt8i7q-2qtBoncSmd8 

Marcia, J. E. (1966). Development and Validation of Ego Identity Status. Journal of Personality  and Social Psychology, 3(5), 551-558. 

Mifsud, M., Buttigieg, G. G., Savona-Ventura, C., & Delicata, S. (2009). Reproductive health in Malta. The European Journal of Contraception & Reproductive Health Care, 14(4), 249– 257. 

Pace, Y. (2019, May 11). Education Ministry laments ‘false and irresponsible’ allegations  about sex education in schools. MaltaToday. _irresponsible_allegations_about_sex_education_in_schools#.YYldcr3MLAJ


Pound, P., Langford, R., & Campbell, R. (2016). What do young people think about their  school-based sex and relationship education? A qualitative synthesis of young people’s views  and experiences. BMJ Open, 6(9), e011329. 

Pugh, B., & Becker P. (2018). Exploring Definitions and Prevalence of Verbal Sexual Coercion  and Its Relationship to Consent to Unwanted Sex: Implications for Affirmative Consent  Standards on College Campuses. Behavioural sciences, 8 (8), 69. 

Seiler-Ramadas, R., & Grabovac I., & Winkler R., & Dorner T.E. (2021). Applying Emotional  Literacy in Comprehensive Sex Education for Young People. American Journal of Sexual  Education, 16 (4),480-500. FX0sBIAAAAA%3AGwtxs5AsPAfGcO71Qd23fxDkNu5hZOH8gut96U4EiCiDGyZzY6O mr9eBCGkonthjna7kkQe6kt0O 

Smith L.A., (2020). Making and Communicating Decisions About Sexual Consent During  Drug-Involved Sex: A Thematic Synthesis. The Journal of Sex Research, 58(4), 469-487, oygiUAAAAA%3AX9okl 


Stanger-Hall, K. F., & Hall, D. W. (2011). Abstinence-Only education and teen pregnancy  rates: Why we need comprehensive sex education in the U.S. PLoS ONE, 6(10), e24658. 

Tufigno, P. (2008). Why Risk? A study on sexual risk taking among Maltese heterosexual youth. Unpublished thesis, University of Malta.


Urner, M., & Schwarzkopf D.S., & Friston K., & Rees G. (2013). Early visual learning induces  long-lasting connectivity changes during rest in the human brain. Neuroimage, 77, 148-156, 

Volt. (2021, October 28). A Modern Sexuality & Relationships Education Syllabus for 21st  Century Malta. 

Wight, D., & Buston K., (2010). Meeting Needs but not Changing Goals: evaluation of in service teacher training for sex education. Oxford Review of Education, 29 (4), 521-543. 

Woodcock, A., & Stenner K., & Ingham R. (1992). “All these contraceptives, videos and  that…” young people talking about school sex education. Health Education Research,  7(4),517-531, abstract/7/4/517/663515?redirectedFrom=fulltext