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Gender and power

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Gender, power and sexual activity

While it is difficult to generalise about gender, sexuality and the implications for safe

behaviours, successful school programs do need to acknowledge and take account of this area. For example, in understanding particular gender expectations on relationships, sexuality and safe sex, there is a clear need to challenge beliefs that males cannot control their sexual urges and consequently cannot be expected to take responsibility for contraception. This also includes addressing the very strong but inequitable attitude that females should take primary responsibility in suggesting the use of condoms.


Research shows that there are many gender issues for young men that need to be considered. Often a reluctance to communicate about personal feelings and to take responsibility for contraception and other safe sex practices limits their possibilities of developing equal, respectful and supportive relationships. They may also expose themselves to high risks of infection from a range of STIs and BBVs. Challenging young men’s perceptions of masculinity and of traditional femininity is a critical stage in their general education, but especially so in relationship and sexual health education.

Relationships- Cultural and social beliefs

A critical understanding of gender and power in relationships, and of how cultural and social beliefs about gender are established and communicated, is important. Differing positions of power typical of gender relations are central to adolescent sexual behaviour and to the understanding of the inconsistent and variable use of condoms. Learning needs to examine issues of power in relation to inequality, rather then relying solely on advocating condoms to prevent STIs and BBVs in sexual encounters.


It is also necessary to deal with attitudes that may discriminate against young women who make their own choices, such as the choice to be sexually active, as well as providing the knowledge and skills for young men to become full and equal partners in their relationships. Thus, it should not be assumed that assertiveness, for example, is purely a skill to assist young women to say no to unwanted sexual advances. It might mean that, but it may also mean that a young woman can say “yes, I want, I feel, I know this about myself”.

Condom use

For some adolescents there are gender, as well as peer group, motivations for sexual intercourse which affect their use of condoms. While young men are more likely to see intercourse as a way of establishing their maturity and achieving social status, most young women see intercourse as a way of expressing their love or of achieving greater intimacy. As a consequence, young men are more likely to have sex with someone who is a relative stranger, to have a number of sexual partners, and to separate sex from love. Cultural norms of romantic love are important determinants of how women (and men) communicate and behave in intimate relationships. Related to this is the greater level of trust that young women place in relationships. Because young women take the view that sex is about romance and love, they may operate through rose coloured glasses and on notions of trust. Given young men’s attitudes to sexual relationships described above, relying on trust is considered an unsafe strategy.

Relevant GDHR learning activities

Middle Childhood (years 4-7)

Early Adolescence (years 8-10)

Other relevant lesson plans

           Secondary schools (years 8-12)

Unit 3: Addressing diversity - gender, power, sexuality and risk

  • Activity 1: The power of expectations p.104
  • Activity 2:  What is power? p.109
  • Activity 3: Defining Power p.112
  • Activity 4: The power of assumptions about sexuality p.122
  • Activity 5: Power, violence and risk p.129
  • Activity 10: Power, relationships and drugs p.162
1 - Essential Background
2 - Relationship Things
3 - Respect
4 - Communicate
5 - Choose Relationship
6 - Understanding Violence & Sexual Assault
7 - Looking After Yourself & others