Sex Education in Primary School: Teachers’ Conceptions, Obstacles and Argumentation for its (non) Implementation

University of Minho, Portugal

Supervisors: Graça Carvalho & Pierre Clement

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Sex education in Portuguese schools has been a non achievable process though the legal and school guidelines for promoting its implementation. The aim of the present work is to identify primary school teachers’ conceptions, obstacles and argumentation in this domain. The research was developed in three different steps:

  • STEP I: construction, validation and application of a questionnaire to 486 primary school teachers. Statistical analysis of the data was carried out.
  • STEP II: a debate about sex education in infancy was carried out with 4 primary school teachers that had opposite opinions. The pivot-term method was used to organize the categories of conceptions and to typify arguments.
  • STEP III: realisation of 5 focus groups including a total of 19 primary school teachers. The same method of analysis of the debate was used.

Questionnaire data suggest that primary school teachers:

  1. are more favourable to sex education in secondary school and third cycle of the Basic School;
  2. perceive that the frequency of children’ questions increase along the four primary school years (asking essentially about conception, birth and baby development in mothers’ belly);
  3. perceive that the frequency of children’ sexuality related behaviours also increase along the four primary school years (occurring more frequently children talking about boy/girlfriends, touching colleagues and drawing genital organs);
  4. agree that sex education for children will essentially contribute to facilitate the communication with their parents, to self-knowledge, and to increase their scientific knowledge about sexuality;
  5. prefer parents in first, followed by health professionals and psychologists as participants in this educative process;
  6. feel more difficulties to approach the area of the expressions of the sexuality and the topics concerned with sexual pleasure (eroticism, pornography and sexual intercourse) and feel less difficulties to teach the area of interpersonal relationships and the topics related to body differences, affection and gender roles;
  7. are essentially afraid of the mentalities and reactions of parents and pupils and of the conservative milieu;
  8. consider to be supported essentially by colleagues and school director but not by the priest;
  9. agree with training to provide them scientific knowledge, to prepare them to respond to children unpredictable questions and to prepare them to help children to develop values awareness.

The more influent factors in teachers’ perceptions were gender, training course, academic qualification, time of career, age and area of work. Concerning conceptions about reproductive apparatus, teachers represent more frequently the categories of female internal organs and male external organs.

The debate analysis showed that female teachers who have already done sex education presented more favourable arguments and were more positive to the receptivity of the educative community, namely pupils and parents. These arguments were opposite to the ones presented by teachers who never taught sex education. Authority and legal arguments were presented in two ways: against sex education defending family convictions; and in favour to sex education defending teachers’ practices. Argumentation based on the example was also presented by all, but in negative ways by the male teacher against sex education and in positive ways by the female teachers who had done sex education.

The teachers that participated in the five focus groups, generally, revealed to be in favour to sex education at school, although their little confidence, and indicated reasons to explain the non implementation by emphasising the following obstacles:

  1. the fear of the non-acceptance by pupils’ parents and colleagues;
  2. the lack of teachers’ and parents’ training;
  3. the non explicit sex education contents in the primary school programme;
  4. the lack of didactic resources;
  5. the fact of not knowing how to implement sex education nor what approach to use adequately to the specific age of primary school children.

These teachers’ argumentations were also based on positive examples of well succeeded sex education and on negative examples of children problematic socio-sexual behaviour.

Since the interaction between the several factors points out the independency of the training courses, and that it is associated to less difficulties and fears, more confidence, more agreement and more credibility on sex education for health promotion, we suggest a strong reinforcement on the initial training, continuous training and postgraduate training to change conceptions and to overcome the obstacles to sex education implementation.

Full reference for the thesis

Anastácio, Z. (2007) Sex education in primary school: teachers’ conceptions, obstacles and argumentation for its (non) implementation. PhD Thesis. University of Minho, Portugal. Available online: 


Zélia Anastácio
Institute of Child Studies
University of Minho
Campus de Gualtar
4710-057 Braga
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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