Original Research

An alternative term to make comprehensive sexuality education more acceptable in childhood

Raisa Cacciatore, Susanne Ingman-Friberg, Dan Apter, Nina Sajaniemi, Riittakerttu Kaltiala
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 10, No 1 | a857 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v10i1.857 | © 2020 Raisa Cacciatore, Susanne Ingman-Friberg, Dan Apter, Nina Sajaniemi, Riittakerttu Kaltiala | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 March 2020 | Published: 09 September 2020

About the author(s)

Raisa Cacciatore, Family Federation of Finland, Väestöliitto, Helsinki, Finland
Susanne Ingman-Friberg, Family Federation of Finland, Väestöliitto, Helsinki, Finland
Dan Apter, VL-Medi Clinical Research Centre, Helsinki, Finland
Nina Sajaniemi, Philosophical Faculty, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
Riittakerttu Kaltiala, Department of Adolescent Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine and Health Technologies, Tampere University and Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, Finland


Background: Ignorance, misconceptions and fear hinder the implementation of young children’s age-appropriate sexuality education (SE) globally. Methods to promote the SE of young children are needed.

Aim: We aimed to evaluate why parents and professionals resist the concept of childhood SE and to test whether a child-centred term could reduce this resistance.

Setting: We conducted nationwide studies in Finland plus focused studies in three groups.

Methods: In open online situation analysis and needs assessment studies among early childhood education professionals (n = 507) and parents (n = 614) of 1–6-year-olds, negative, adulthood-associated connotations for the term ‘sexuality education’ were detected. We then evaluated whether a less sex-connected term than SE would be feasible to promote SE of young children. We combined ‘body’ and ‘emotion’, after our earlier study on children’s most common sexuality-related expressions, to form the new Finnish term Kehotunnekasvatus [body–emotion education] and tested it among professionals of sexual health (n = 17) and early education (n = 63) and primary health nurses (n = 29).

Results: Acceptance of the new term was excellent in all three groups; the new term was reported as more positive, more neutral, downplaying thoughts of sex’. Most respondents deemed it appropriate, necessary and usable in their work. Furthermore, the majority of those working daily with the parents of young children preferred the new term to ‘sexuality education’.

Conclusion: After testing the functionality of a new Finnish term among Finnish professionals, the authors suggest considering replacing the term ‘sexuality education’ with a more child-centred and less sex-connected synonym when referring to SE for young children.


childhood sexuality education; adultism; child sexuality; heath promotion; early childhood education and care


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Crossref Citations

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