This text is about how children are encouraged to explore their sexuality already in preschool and in the early years of primary school. We describe the international driving forces and what we parents, educators and concerned citizens can do to prevent the sexualization and confusion of children.
“Children are not equipped to bear the weight of adult sexuality.”
There are too many stories of people forced to bear the weight of adult sexuality in childhood. Early and inappropriate sexualization affects thoughts, feelings, actions and have led to sexual and other abuse and to broken relationships.
Although we know better, children are increasingly exposed to adult sexuality, not only by perpetrators, via pornography and social media, but now also in classrooms.
Since the autumn term 2022, Skolverket (The Swedish national agency for education) introduced, a new curriculum for the compulsory school in Sweden. Sex education, which has been renamed Sexuality, consent and relationships, is now taking a greater place in teaching. It is no longer a few lessons in 8-grade, as we over thirty remember it, but is now integrated and taught across most subjects starting in preschool . The change is happening in the same way as in other European countries when the European Union (EU) introduces the World Health Organization (WHO) standard for sexuality education [2, 3, 4].
The WHO intends to change sex education for children. It is no longer enough to talk about biology and contraception. They want educators to encourage toddlers to enjoy their bodies and convey a positive view of sex.
In 2010, together with Swedish expertise, WHO developed a new standard for sexuality education . It describes how 0–4-year-old children should be encouraged to explore gender identities and learn how to withhold or consent to sexual activity.
In justifying the new standard of sexuality education, the WHO and its advocates often use misleading language, and falsely claim that the education is age-appropriate, medically correct, culturally appropriate and has a proven positive impact on children.
In 2019, the Government commissioned the Public Health Agency of Sweden (FHM) to develop a national strategy for introducing WHO’s sexuality education in Sweden . Here’s how FHM describes it:
“Within the school sphere, many and important initiatives and changes have been implemented, such as a more subject-integrated sex education. The work is supported by a national quality review from the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, with development efforts from, among others, Skolverket, other authorities, regions and several non-governmental organizations, as well as international guidelines on sex education from UNESCO and WHO Europe .”
In Sweden, which the WHO sees as a pioneering country, the tax funded RFSU (The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, IPPF member association) takes a major role in shaping the content of compulsory school sex education [7 p. 154].
“The ability to have an erection, to lubricate and to have an orgasm is something that every human is born with [8 p. 4].”
In Children’s sexuality—a guide, RFSU has produced a text that focuses on children from infancy until the beginning of puberty. The text follows the WHO standard and is intended to provide support to parents, preschool staff and teachers [8 p. 1].
Resistance when the standard is introduced in Europe
There is strong opposition to this type of sexuality education and in some countries, resistance is growing stronger (Romania, Poland and Hungary) [4 p. 68].
To respond to the criticism, the WHO has produced answers to frequently asked questions .
Question: ” What does it mean when you say that sexuality education should be started from birth?”
Answer: The WHO has decided this because sexuality involves more than just the sexual act .
Question: ” According to some critics, the Standards promote masturbation and playing doctors in children from age 1 to 4 and encourage 6-year-old children to explore same-sex relationships. Is this true?”
Answer: That’s right. Otherwise, educators may behave inappropriately and harm the children .
Question: “Does WHO’s sexuality education deprave or morally corrupt children and young people?”
Answer: No, on the contrary… 
According to the EU, opposition to their sex education is often based on two objections: Sexualisation attacks children’s innocence and can lead them to commit sexual acts that they later regret. Sex education (suitable for young children), if necessary, is the responsibility of the parents, not the school [4 p. 47].
In Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Estonia, the resistance of the population is estimated to be low [7 p. 155]. The risk of resistance growing large here too is surely the reason for the curriculum’s unclear and misleading language.
However, Swedish teachers’ limited interest in sexualization is seen as a problem [7 p. 155]. The Ministry of Education therefore ensured in 2021 that sexuality education became mandatory in all teacher education programs including that of preschool teachers .
How we prevent children from being sexualised
Many teachers and school administrators are amazing; they love their subjects and the children and want nothing more than to help them learn and develop. Many of them are parents themselves and aware that sexualization harms children.
Unfortunately, there are school staff who have a radical sexual and social agenda. They may not understand that they are hurting and confusing children with the new sex education. We fail the children if we leave it unopposed.
As an educator, you and your colleagues can inform yourself about the agendas of the EU, WHO and the Skolverket. Organise yourselves and discuss the problematic aspects of the curriculum (as well as the in-service training courses for teachers and the resource material provided for the educators) with the Staff and the Principal, who has overall responsibility for teaching.
Think about how you can inform parents. Well-informed teachers and parents together become a counterforce that effectively prevents this from continuing.
Parents and others concerned with citizens who work to protect children will need to act judiciously and wisely. Most of us absolutely do not want this. Seek allies among school staff, the media, and authorities.
You’re not alone. If you are worried, other parents at your children’s school are too. Connect with parents and build networks. Vi tillsammans (Us together) will help you build such networks . Get to know your child’s teachers, school administrators and other parents. Presumably they also feel anxious and with your support they can more easily act.
You can give your children a healthy foundation on relationships and sexuality. Let them know that they can always come to you with any questions or concerns. Allow your children to have and to keep boundaries. Teach them to trust their instinct and to stand up for themselves.
- Sexualitet, samtycke och relationer, Skolverket, https://www.skolverket.se/skolutveckling/inspiration-och-stod-i-arbetet/stod-i-arbetet/sexualitet-samtycke-och-relationer
- WHO Collaboration Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health, WHO & BZgA, https://www.bzga-whocc.de/en/publications/
- Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe, WHO & BZgA, 2010, https://www.bzga-whocc.de/fileadmin/user_upload/BZgA_Standards_English.pdf
- Comprehensive sexuality education: why is it important? EU, 2022, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2022/719998/IPOL_STU(2022)719998_EN.pdf
- Uppdrag att utarbeta en nationell strategi för sexuell och reproduktiv hälsa och rättigheter, Regeringen, S2019/03298/FS, 2019, https://www.regeringen.se/regeringsuppdrag/2019/08/uppdrag-att-utarbeta-en-nationell-strategi-for-sexuell-och/
- Sexuell och reproduktiv hälsa och rättigheter (SRHR) i Sverige 2017 – Resultat från befolkningsundersökningen SRHR2017, FHM, 2019, https://www.folkhalsomyndigheten.se/publikationer-och-material/publikationsarkiv/s/sexuell-och-reproduktiv-halsa-och-rattigheter-i-sverige-2017/?pub=60999
- Sexuality education in Europe and Central Asia: state of the art and recent developments; an overview of 25 countries. Assessment report, BZgA & IPPF, 2018, https://www.bzga-whocc.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Dokumente/BZgA_ComprehensiveCountryReport_EN.pdf
- Barns sexualitet – en vägledning, RFSU, 2015, https://www.rfsu.se/globalassets/pdf/barnssexualitet_web.pdf
- Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe: Frequently asked questions, BZgA, 2016, https://www.bzga-whocc.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Dokumente/BZgA_Standards_FAQ_EN.pdf
- Ökad kompetens om neuropsykiatriska svårigheter och sex och samlevnad i lärarutbildningarna, U2020/00176/UH, Utbildningsdepartementet, 2020, https://www.regeringen.se/rattsliga-documents/departmental series-and-memoranda/2020/01/uncading-competence-on-neuropsychiatric-responsibilities-and-sex-and-coexistence-in-the-larar training/
- Parent Group, Vi tillsammans, https://vi-tillsammans.nu/engagemang/rorelse/foraldragrupp/