An evaluation of Youth Sexualities in South African schools

Rhodes>Critical Studies>Latest News


In South African schools there is a vast misconception on what youth sexualities are. Socialization plays an enormous role in how one represents their sexuality. In schools, the youth are sexualized by their educators. Youth and youth sexuality are sexual constructs. Therefore, they are hegemonic and become rife, enduring and are expressed universally (Frizelle, Jwili & Nene, 2013). Youth sexuality is constructed as dangerous, deviant and taboo in African societies. In South Africa, programs such as LoveLife and Tsha Tsha have shifted from sentimental constructs on the youth to positioning them as social agents and engaged citizens (Frizelle, Jwili & Nene, 2013).

The education system encourages and promotes heterosexuality. Those who fall outside binary gender spectrums are excluded, ignored and sidelined in both schooling and societal environment. School pupils in schools are positioned as asexual, childlike, innocent and dependent on adults for guidance and protection (Frizelle, Jwili & Nene, 2013). Schools are not just spaces of learning academic subjects but places where young people and their teachers do a lot of construction of their identities in different ways around sexuality which are closely connected with struggles around sexuality (Francis, 2017). According to Francis (2017) schools remain largely unexplored spaces, yet no studies in South Africa have utilized research and literature on how LGBTIQ youth experience schooling.


In schools, teachers teaching about gender and sexuality diversity are ignored or avoided by teachers and when such topics are introduced in classroom spaces, it is structured in terms of compulsory heterosexuality (Francis, 2017). When teachers teach about sexuality and relationship education, nonheterosexuality is excluded and is followed by oppressive stereotypes and misinformation (Francis, 2017). Township schools in South Africa, are generally unsafe spaces for all learners, queer learners are more vulnerable to violence (i.e. which is directly or indirectly perpetuated against them) (Francis, 2017). Additionally, South African schools are not just dangerous for sexual minorities but are also spaces that are disrespectful, intimidating and intolerant of those who don't classify themselves as heterosexual (Francis, 2017).


According to Francis (2017) school teachers spread the idea that homosexuality is contagious. Thus, heterosexual learners are perceived as being in danger of being infected by LGBTIQ learners.  Denying the existence of sexual diversity in schools has a negative experience ranging from punitive actions expressed through derogatory language to vicious reactionary hate which is usually expressed through violence and is perpetrated by teachers. In South Africa, there have been attempts to criminalize consensual sexual acts between individuals who are under the age of 16 years old (Frizelle, Jwili & Nene, 2013).  


LGBTIQ individuals are positioned as invisible or super visible which both spur on the dominance of heterosexuality and simultaneously downplay the need for educational reformation (Francis, 2017). South African Schools are heterosexist environments and through privileging homosexuality, they play a role in contributing to the vulnerability of the LGBTIQ youth. It is evident that most heterosexual prejudice and discrimination stems from attitudes and behaviours by peers, teachers and school managers (Francis, 2017).


The overarching question is what can be done to ensure that South African schools are inclusive of all sexualities. There is a need for research on gender, sexuality diversity and schooling in South Africa. There’s also a need for the evaluation of how youth experience their sexuality in schools. Additionally, literature needs to shift from focusing on just speaking about youth sexuality to capturing the true experiences of youth sexualities. This shift will allow us to measure the gap between schools accept democratic ideals provided by the South African constitutions, LGBTIQ youth and how schools respond to gender and sexuality diversity have the potential to show us where the levers of change lie, particularly on whether a change is needed (Francis, 2017).



Francis, D.A. (2017).  Homophobia and sexuality diversity in South African schools: A review, Journal of LGBT Youth, VOL.0 (0).


Frizelle, K., Jwili, O. & Nene, K. (2013).  Vulnerable sexualities: Constructions of youth sexuality in South African newspaper articles aimed at an adult readership. Agenda, Vol. 27(3), pp. 94-106, DOI: 10.1080/10130950.2013.839133