Sexuality and Disability

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 105–121 | Cite as

Breaking the Silence Through Delivering Comprehensive Sexuality Education to Learners with Disabilities in South Africa: Educators Experiences

  • Jill Hanass-Hancock
  • Paul Chappell
  • Rebecca Johns
  • Siphumelele Nene
Original Paper


Comprehensive sexuality education is seen as a key intervention to address the high HIV-incidence rate and low knowledge among young people in South Africa, yet this lacks inclusion of learners with disabilities. At the same time, educators of learners with disabilities experience cultural barriers and lack skills and knowledge on how to deliver sexuality education in accessible formats. In response, the Breaking the Silence approach, a curriculum implementation and disability-accommodating approach, was developed and tested. This paper presents findings from a formative evaluation using in-depth interviews with educators from eight “schools for learners with special educational needs”. The paper focuses on their experience with implementing the approach. The analysis used conventional content analysis and NVIVO software. Educators conceptualized sexuality education within a risk-protection discourse. They revealed that the training and tools enabled them to provide sexuality education in accessible formats, tackle difficult topics such as sexual orientation and masturbation, and improved awareness and assertiveness within their learners. Educators identified the need for further development including a whole school approach, adjustments to differentiating developmental stages and addressing gender-specific topics. Through its application within the South African mainstream Life Orientation curriculum, this approach lends itself for further development and testing through implementing the approach within a whole school setting and ongoing support that will not only drive change in educators’ skills and knowledge but also drive the needed shift in cultural norms and values.


Sexuality education Disability HIV Sexual and reproductive health South Africa Young people Adolescents Learners 



We would like to thank WCFID for providing some of the picture material for the manual development. We would also like to thank HEARD for providing the funds for the needs assessment, intervention development and part of the evaluation through its SIDA grant. In addition, we would like to thank all participating educators and KZN representatives of the Department of Basic Education for their participation in this project and courage to try out something new and daring. In addition, thanks go to the developmental team who assisted during the needs assessment namely Leandri Pretorious, Sophie Henken and Liset de Reus, who provided their time to the project on a voluntary basis.

Author's Contribution

JHH conceptualized this project and led the needs assessment, intervention and manual development, pilot of the intervention, the formative evaluation and development of this paper. RJ co-led the manual development, co-facilitated the pilot intervention, and has been part of the writing team. PC co-designed the manual, took part in the data analysis and has been part of the writing team. SN conducted the fieldwork, data analysis and has been part of the writing team.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.South African Medical Research CouncilCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.School of Health ScienceUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalDurbanSouth Africa
  3. 3.WITs UniversityJohannesburgSouth Africa
  4. 4.Cape TownSouth Africa
  5. 5.HEARDUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalDurbanSouth Africa

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