search burger
search ×

Is sex and emotional education in schools still postponed?

Sexuality and affectivity education in schools can no longer be a marginal issue


Today, European states and supranational organizations have introduced tools for a radical cultural change. And in Italy? We talked about it with Massimo Farinella, head of the Health area of the Circle of Homosexual Culture Mario Mieli.

Hi Massimo, tell us about the association of which you are part.

The Circle was born in the Eighties, in a very complicated Roman context. The rampant HIV, the attacks on young homosexuals: above all, the murder of Salvo Pappalardo, found dead in the gardens of Monte Caprino, shocked the homosexual community, which decided to make a united front in the fight for the vindication of its rights. In 1983, from the union of the associations Fuori and Collettivo Narciso was born the circle, named after Mario Mieli, who died in the same year.

Who was Mario Mieli?

He was an important personality for the nascent Italian LGBTQ+ community: a Milanese intellectual who anticipated today’s gender fluid and non-binariety theories, but also reflections on patriarchy and capitalism. Rereading today his Elements of homosexual criticism means confronting current issues expressed with different words. A controversial personality, even within the movement itself, that has made the performance and its body an instrument of struggle and manifestation. Today it is even heavier to bear his name: but it is right, because it recalls a certain way of doing politics.

Visualizza questo post su Instagram

Un post condiviso da Retrospection (@retrosspection)

Raising awareness in schools is one of your main activities. What difficulties do you encounter?

Previously the meetings were sporadic and took place during the student assemblies: there was talk of HIV, gender identity and sexual orientation. In the early 2000s, however, we began to collaborate with the city of Rome on the issue of bullying, strongly linked to that of sexuality when you enter a class. It was easier to enter schools, perhaps because there was less visibility and more openness from principals and parents. Today the institutional (very lacking) programs on the subject have increased, but there are more teachers worried about the reactions of the children. When a theme is clearly visible, paradoxically you risk finding more obstacles.

Parents and teachers are involved in your project: tough opponents to face or great allies?

We organize meetings with students, parents and teachers, which take place separately: the common denominator remains the school. Teachers are often allies, involving colleagues; many do not think they are averse to the subject, but crushed by the programs and the school bureaucracy. They can become an obstacle when they are too involved, when they want to attend meetings with students: there is a risk that the children do not feel fully free to speak. Regarding parents: Apart from the rare borderline cases in which they oppose, they often do not hinder the project, but they do not participate.

Visualizza questo post su Instagram

Un post condiviso da Circolo Mario Mieli (@ccomariomieli)

Dante would have accused them of sloth! According to you, what are parents in trouble for?

They do not know how to take the subject; they are afraid to face their children, they do not communicate: emotions and sexuality are still seen as a taboo. An example: the boys hear about feminicide, but no one starts a speech on consensus; they have no one to confront on deeper topics.

Let’s talk about the EduforIST project, of which, as an association, you are an important actor: what is it?

We are part of the CTS Section [Technical Health Committee, n.d.r.] of volunteering for the fight against AIDS. In 2019, we asked the Ministry of Health to launch a major awareness project in schools, with the aim of making sex education a school subject. The project has been going on for four years: after a first phase of analysis of the situation on the territory (consultors, ASL, regional offices...), to understand what was done in the field of sexuality in Italy, we have started a phase of experimentation of comprehensive sexuality education in schools: it is not only about sexuality, but also about emotions and relationships.

How do meetings happen?

The complete project includes five meetings of two hours each class, the last of which is a comparison of the overall experience. They are not lectures but moments of open dialogue, with the help of slides, games and role playing.

Visualizza questo post su Instagram

Un post condiviso da TARSHI (@tarshingo)

How important is the affective education component and how important is the sexual one?

They are well balanced, to change is the approach, also according to the needs of the class: it is no longer enough to talk about sexual relations and the anatomy of the genitals; we must talk about emotions and relationships. In other states, people start talking about extensive sex education in elementary school.

One of the aims of the project is to foster a sense of responsibility for sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies and different forms of abuse in relationships. Is there the same sensitivity from the kids?

Of course, they’re all connected. The topic of pregnancy is the closest perceived one; there is also interest in STIs [sexually transmitted infections, n.d.r.], although there is very little information: there are no spaces to be heard. The most frightening theme is that of abuse: some behaviors are already evident in class, and are then reflected in relationships. They don’t think about it; no one has ever told us how to live relationships beyond sex.

Visualizza questo post su Instagram

Un post condiviso da Circolo Mario Mieli (@ccomariomieli)

One last question: after the violence of these weeks, sex education in schools was invoked loudly as a tool for change, do you really think it is the panacea for this evil?

It is not a panacea but a nice brick for change. If there were a real education, going beyond the fairy tale of the bee on the flower, one could begin to lay the foundations for a real cultural revolution. Children grow up by emulation: if no one around you teaches that abusing a girl is wrong, there is no room for change. You have to listen to the boys, it takes time but you have to start: issuing decrees that exacerbate the penalties does not do much.


Illustration by Gloria Dozio - Acrimònia Studios