"Arbitrary." That’s the word that best describes the current state of young people’s sex education in Finland says Sexpo board chair Tiia Forsström. The head of the sexual wellbeing NGO says the best way to ensure adequate sex education for all would be for schools to hire trained sex educators.
Founded in 1969 to promote sexual well-being in Finland, the Sexpo Foundation offers services ranging from counselling and therapy to training and education on the subject of sexuality and relationships.
"Sex education is all around us. If information doesn’t come from a responsible adult who knows how to speak and answer questions, then young people will get their information from elsewhere,” says Forsström.
Young people learn about sex at school, from their friends and from the media, says Forsström. While sex education is not only the responsibility of schools, they do have a good opportunity to ensure that all young people receive the proper information, she says.
How sexual education is taught varies from school to school and can be dependent on a teacher or nurse’s knowledge and stance on the topic.
Sexpo sex education teacher Patricia Thesleff says insufficient or incorrect information causes problems for many people, young and old.
"At Sexpo we’re often asked 'Am I good the way that I am, or am I normal?' With sexuality, people often try to compartmentalise themselves and others,” says Thesleff.
Trained sex educators for all schools
According to Forsström one solution would be for each school to have a trained sex educator, a goal they would like to see written into the programme of the next government.
”Politicians haven’t understood how important sexuality is for well-being. One central tool for achieving this would be quality sexual education,” says Forsström.
Sex educators could be easily and cost-effectively trained, whether it's a school teacher or nurse, for example, according to Sexpo.
”These are political resource questions. The goal of having a sex educator in each school doesn’t require loads of extra resources,” says Forsström.
It's about more than just talking about sex
Speaking about sexuality is not easy for adults either. That’s why it’s often difficult for educators to tell young people about more than just the basics, such as the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and the importance of birth control.
"Adults may be afraid of the word 'sex.' But sex education doesn’t mean teaching students how to have sex. It means identifying and respecting your own and others’ boundaries and identifying all the different body parts, for example,” says Thesleff.
"Good sex education can also prevent problems from accumulating and developing into larger issues. It's important to identify young people who need support and information,” she says.