Embarrassment as a key emotion in young people talking about sexual health

Edwin Roland Van Teijlingen, J. M. Reid, Janet Susan Shucksmith, Fiona Margaret Harris, Kathleen Lesley Philip, Mari Imamura, Janet Stephen Tucker, Gillian Penney

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29 Citations (Scopus)


This paper highlights embarrassment as one of the often-ignored emotions of young people when it comes to discussing issues around sexual health. There have been many sexual health studies on knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of young people over the past two decades, but emotional aspects have been largely ignored, despite a growing literature in the sociology of emotion.

A qualitative approach was adopted in the form of focus group discussions, which included questions on sex education, sexual health campaigns and formal and informal sources of sexual health information and advice. Focus groups were conducted in secondary schools in and around Edinburgh and Aberdeen as part of a four-year evaluation study of a Scottish Demonstration Project on young people's sexual health: 'Healthy Respect'.

We conclude that is it important for policy makers and sexual health promoters to understand young people's notions of embarrassment. Not only are there elements of sex education that (some) young people perceive as embarrassing, they also sense embarrassment in those people providing them with sex education. Young people reported that both professionals (e.g. teachers and doctors) and their parents could be embarrassed about raising the topic of sexual health. Moreover, as one of the goals of sex education is to ensure an open and non-embarrassing attitude towards sex and sexuality, there is still a major gap between the aspirations of health educators and policy makers and the ways that young people experience such education.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007


  • sexual health services
  • adolescence
  • school
  • Scotland
  • emotion
  • qualitative research
  • sex education
  • parents
  • focus groups
  • relationships


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