Culture is composed of all the social norms, history, religion, roles and expectations, which contribute to the way we perceive, and interact with, the world. As an integral part of our being in the world, how and what we learn about sexuality and relationships is also highly influenced by culture.

There are many factors that can influence the messages we get about sexuality. Adherence to moral codes (often closely tied with religious beliefs) can shape what if and what we are taught about sex, the light in which sex is portrayed in, which expressions of sexuality and forms of relationships are considered acceptable, and many more. 

Social norms, especially around gender, can strongly influence the messages children and youth receive about sexuality. Based on their gender people are usually taught -in more or less direct ways- how they should approach sex, what kind of expressions they are allowed to have, etc. For example, men may be taught that they should be the ones to “pursue” sex, and women’s experiences of sexuality might receive less attention.

Popular culture can also have a strong impact and shape our attitudes towards sex and sexuality, by either reinforcing or challenging social norms and common beliefs, for example through the way sex and relationships are portrayed in TV shows, movies, and magazines. The bodies, relationships and forms of sexuality that are presented in mainstream media can influence what is considered acceptable, attractive and desirable in different cultures.

We dedicated this chapter to exploring the interconnection between culture, ideas and information about sexuality and relationships.


Sexual education curricula should take into account the existing cultural influences in order to effectively challenge misconceptions and provide the materials and space for people to more authentically connect with and express their sexuality .
Through the activities in this chapter we focus on:

  • exploring the cultural norms and social attitudes around sexuality, and their impact on our perceptions of sex
  • reflecting on the messages we receive about sex, bodies and relationships from the media
  • challenging the existing norms and aiming to expand our understanding and view of the wide spectrum of expressions of sexuality and relationships