“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…
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.
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.
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