Margherita Verde, Maura Perrone, Adriano De Blasi, Giovanna Maciariello, Paola Maciariello, Laura Caccavale

Youth Worker Arcipelago APS, Caserta,

Psychologist psychotherapist, Studio di Psicoterapia Benessere Napoli, Napoli,

Sociologist, Cadiai, Bologna,

Sociologist, former lecturer at the University of Chieti-Pescara, and president of Arcipelago APS,

Youth Worker Arcipelago APS, Caserta,

Sociologist, S.C.S. Solidarci, Caserta,

  1. Sexuality and affectivity education for adolescents: theoretical and methodological premises.

In 2017, National Geographic dedicated a documentary and a special issue of its magazine to the topic of the gender revolution, with the aim of exploring and better understanding not only the broad spectrum of sexual identity, but also the way in which this dimension is influenced by socio-cultural changes and discoveries in the medical field. Just one year later, in 2018, an article in The Atlantic speaks of a sexual recession among young people, a phenomenon that is being exacerbated by the advent of the pandemic: despite the fact that peer communication continues in virtual environments, there are fewer opportunities to meet and form new relationships, and with social isolation, autoerotic practices and the consumption of pornographic content are on the rise.  

These are indications, signs of a new generation that is taking shape, also in the sexual sphere, and that needs not only educational tools but also reference figures at a fundamental stage in the development of personal identity. 

In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines sexuality as “a central aspect of being human, encompassing gender, gender and role identity, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction (…)”. Growing up through affectivity and experiencing sexuality is a complex path of subjectivation; bodies are both intimate and public: they are a space in which we relate to ourselves and to others; intimacy, desire and care for oneself are constructed in a continuous interaction between collective representations and elaborations of one’s own experiences. 

It is no coincidence that the WHO defines sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being (…) that requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relations, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free from coercion, discrimination and violence”. These definitions recognise sexuality as part of each person’s journey of identity recognition and highlight the sensitivity of this issue in the experiences of pre-adolescents and adolescents as they experience the dimension of physical intimacy, desire and relationship with another partner. Several studies indicate that younger and younger people are increasingly using the digital world as a source of authoritative information on the sexual sphere. The possible consequence is that the responses and stimuli received by the young and very young, if not processed, are misleading and a source of distorted representations. 

There is a clear need to develop educational pathways for adolescents and young people that can guide them in the construction of authentic representations of the body, where sexuality is not perceived as a performance, but as a relationship and intimacy with the other person. The competence of an adult figure to maintain an open dialogue on these issues could allow a more complex and articulated elaboration of the imaginary and symbolic representations of adolescents and young people, favoring a reduction of the influence of stereotypes transmitted through social networks and/or pornographic material. 

The pedagogical objective for adult educators is to help adolescents/young people enrich their perception of themselves through the integration of desires, the affective sphere and sexual activity. The construction of an adult subjectivity, considered as a historically and culturally determined product that has an impact on the subject itself, is therefore part of a dimension of collective responsibility, in relation to which the adult world should guarantee the possibility for a young person to speak openly about it and to receive appropriate responses to his or her own developmental path.

1.1 Adolescence and gender identities: recent studies

Adolescence is often a time of significant exploration of gender identity. Some adolescents may feel uncomfortable or confused about their gender role and sexual orientation. Many adolescents also face social pressures and cultural norms about physical appearance, romantic relationships and sexual behavior. These influences can have a significant impact on their self-esteem and emotional well-being. 

Research such as that by Hill and Willoughby (2020) explores the fluidity of gender identity among adolescents and highlights the importance of considering the diversity of experiences within this population; it suggests that gender identity may evolve over time and that young people may experience changes in their perceptions and identifications.

Other recent studies focus on the use of digital technologies in adolescents’ sexual and gender identity formation. The pervasive presence of the internet and social media has opened up new spaces of expression and support for LGBTQ+ young people and those exploring their identity, but at the same time it profoundly influences the affective and sexual dynamics of adolescents and young people. Expectations and perceptions of one’s own body are often shaped by the forms and rules created and widely disseminated in digital media.

These media can also expose young people to risks such as cyberbullying or exposure to harmful content. The studies by Mustanski et al. (2014) explore how online platforms can positively or negatively impact the sexual and mental health of LGBTQ+ adolescents. Understanding the impact of digital technologies on identity formation is essential for developing targeted interventions and appropriate educational policies.

1.2 Sexuality and affectivity education for young people: studies and research

In recent years, studies on affective education for adolescents have become increasingly relevant as awareness of the importance of promoting emotional relationships and emotional awareness has grown.

The ’emotional well-being’ of adolescents has become a key goal of education, and scientific research has sought to explore new approaches and deepen understanding of this issue. 

Open and healthy communication about sexuality can be difficult for some young people. Family dynamics and cultural beliefs can create barriers to discussing these issues. Some young people may have gaps in the sexuality education they have received. This can lead to misconceptions, fears or risky behaviour.

The scientific literature confirms that adequate affective education during adolescence can have positive effects on mental health, relationship quality and emotion management. Adolescents and young people who receive affective education are more likely to develop emotional awareness, build healthier relationships and manage stress more effectively (Diamond & Huebner, 2012). 

For example, empathy-based approaches in affective education projects for adolescents and young people aim to develop the ability to understand and respect the emotions of others, to understand the specificity of different gender identities and sexual orientations, and ultimately to promote the formation of more empathetic and aware relationships.

Programmes that teach empathy can therefore contribute to a more inclusive and respectful social environment (Jolliffe & Farrington, 2006). 

Research by Fisher et al (2021) examines the effectiveness of inclusive sex education projects in addressing barriers and prejudices related to gender identities and sexual orientations. With the proliferation of digital technologies, researchers are exploring how digital tools can be integrated into the affective education of adolescents. Online applications and resources can provide ongoing support and allow young people to explore their emotions in an interactive and safe way. However, it is important to ensure that these tools respect privacy and are based on sound pedagogical principles (Bauermeister et al., 2012).

  1. Combating educational poverty and education for sexuality and affectivity: what are the possible links in Italy? 

In 2017, ISTAT published an analysis of reproductive behaviour in Italy, which revealed not only the delay in access to contraception in Italy, but also a worrying fact: the majority of the population aged between 18 and 54 cited coitus interruptus as the most common method of avoiding pregnancy (20%), just after the condom and the pill. 

In 2019, the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), through the “National Fertility Study”, shows that it is not easy for adolescents to find information on contraceptive methods: 68% of boys and 76% of girls have never been to a health centre, and if they have to go it alone, the Internet – for 89% of boys and 84% of girls – is the main source of information on sexual and reproductive health. 

According to the Institute of Clinical Physiology of the National Research Council, in 2022 more than 2.5 million women reported that they had suffered or were still suffering some form of psychological violence, and about 80,000 were victims of physical violence. In the majority of cases, the perpetrators are cohabiting family members and ex-partners. Furthermore, among the female population aged 18 to 84, more than 12 million have experienced violence, but only 5 per cent have chosen to report it.

Taken as a whole, these data underline the importance of establishing new forms of justice, such as sexual and reproductive justice, to which must be added an educational need that focuses on the needs of young and very young people to develop knowledge of their sexual and reproductive rights and to be adequately protected against all forms of violence: education in affectivity and sexuality is configured as another strategy to confront the various forms of educational and cultural poverty that undermine the opportunities for harmonious growth of adolescents and young people. In this sense, affectivity and sexuality education can become a tool at the service of families, schools, educational agencies and institutions.

However, unlike in other European countries, sexuality and affectivity education for adolescents and teenagers is not part of the Italian school curriculum. Knowledge on these topics is often delegated to peer communication and information found through social networks and the Internet.

Adolescents and young people who are informed about issues such as sexuality and affectivity develop more protective factors and are better able to make use of local resources (ISS, 2020).

In 2018, UNESCO published the Guidelines (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO (2018), International technical guidance on sexuality education: an evidence-informed approach, UNESCO Digital Library) which identify the school environment as the place where health promotion should be prioritised, starting from the early years of schooling and including the intervention of experts in order to provide a complete picture of these issues from both a physiological and an emotional and relational point of view. An in-depth study (Lo Moro, Bert et al. 2023) examined the initiatives developed in the various Italian regions between 2006 and 2021 on the specific topic in question: the data obtained from this study showed that twelve out of twenty regions have at least one programme relating to sex education, but the topics identified by UNESCO are treated with considerable differences between southern, central and northern Italy (another factor that creates inequalities and forms of cultural deprivation in certain areas of our country). 

What has been highlighted, and with a view to combating educational poverty, shows how desirable it is also in Italy to have recourse to a “comprehensive” sexuality education: to develop, by means of a transversal and holistic approach, interventions that are in line with the needs of girls and women and adapt to the changes, especially in the technological field, of a society in constant evolution. 

  1. E-WISEE: Europe Working for Inclusive Sex and Emotional Education: The role of Youth Workers in Emotional and Sexual Education.

The E-WISEE project (Europe Working for Inclusive Sex and Emotional Education) was set up with the aim of strengthening the knowledge, skills and abilities of European youth workers (hereafter referred to as youth workers) in the context of their work with young people on affectivity and sexuality issues in educational settings outside school and the family.  According to the report Standard for Sex Education in Europe (WHO), the intervention of youth workers in the field of affectivity and sexuality education is strategic because these issues are central to young people’s development and, if poorly managed, are a source of discomfort, marginalisation and discrimination for them. By enhancing and improving the skills and practices of youth workers in the field of affectivity and sexuality education, youth workers themselves can become qualified antennas in the field, capable of intercepting the signs of discomfort among young people and acting in a preventive way by contributing effective non-formal methods. Youth workers have a fundamental role to play in the prevention of social and identity difficulties among young people, by informing and creating spaces for discussion and reflection with the young people they accompany, as well as in the identification of emerging critical situations. They can intercept the signs of discomfort, act preventively by practising affectivity and sexuality education in their own “educational actions”.  

  1. The E-WISEE project: priorities, innovative elements and methodological approaches.

The E-WISEE project is funded by the Erasmus+ program. The priority of the intervention is to increase the quality, innovation, and recognition of socio-educational animation through informal and non-formal learning practices. There are three elements that distinguish the project action: the internationality of the partnership, the involvement of Youth Workers from the conception phase of the initiative, and the development and implementation of a platform, a virtual space for reflection and sharing. The E-WISEE project partnership consists of three organizations: Marak Digital Marketing, the association Arcipelago APS, and Cyclisis, a non-profit organization. These organizations represent, respectively, three European Union countries: Spain, Italy, and Greece.

Marak Digital Marketing has experience in creating and developing digital platforms and social networks specifically designed for target audiences such as youth and Youth Workers, for both national and international projects. They have experience in planning and managing work, as well as in managing communication and dissemination activities for project activities on both national and international scales.

Cyclisis is an association committed to developing participatory processes and democratic citizenship with young people. It participates in national and European projects where gender issues are central, and there is a need to counteract social and cultural stereotypes that threaten adequate education on affection and sexuality for young people.

The Arcipelago association focuses on strengthening life and soft skills of young people and adults, enhancing the professional skills of Youth Workers, improving digital skills, promoting well-being, and engaging in evaluation and self-assessment processes for organizations and individuals.

The transnational value of the project lies in the networking of different and complementary knowledge: the creation of the platform and the contents within it are the result of knowledge acquired over time by the various partners. Interaction and exchange among partners strengthen their capacity to intervene in local contexts and encourage them to solidify a European vision on the specific theme. The common heritage of knowledge and tools gathered during the project implementation is disseminated to local and national networks during the dissemination phase, contributing to the qualification and enhancement of the stakeholder network (professionals, service providers, teachers, institutional representatives, etc.) promoting actions and interventions on issues related to education on affection and sexuality.

4.1 The direct target

The direct target of the intervention is Youth Workers, and the focus of the project is to enhance intervention methodologies that Youth Workers can implement in the field of education on affection and sexuality aimed at adolescents and young people aged between 12 and 18 years old.

There are 15 Youth Workers (5 per partner) actively involved in carrying out the various actions of the project: building the platform’s content, experimenting with it, and organizing dissemination events. These are educational figures who are part of the partner organizations and/or local networks they collaborate with and have experience in working with adolescents and young people: some work in open educational centers in the afternoons, while others conduct prevention activities in schools or informal gathering places. They are professionals who require continuous training paths to update their skills. 

The professional figure of the Youth Worker represents a key element in establishing contact and relationships with young people, especially those who avoid or evade educational relationships with other training agencies (such as family and school). Youth Workers often operate in informal contexts (such as streets, neighborhoods, places of spontaneous socialization, etc.) adopting an approach to others based on methodological elements such as empathy (Benvenuti, 2008, p. 118) and facilitation. 

This occurs in face-to-face relationships, but increasingly, this type of unstructured engagement without a predefined setting also occurs in the digital realm, where relationships become even more nuanced and elusive (Eusebio, 2022). Enhancing the relational skills, thematic knowledge, and operational strategies of Youth Workers regarding the priority needs for the training of boys and girls has become one of the priorities of the European agenda for strengthening Youth Policies ( Youth Goals, ). Within this framework of socio-educational analysis, the focus of the EWISEE project on the chosen direct target fits in.

4.2 Presentation of the project output

The E-WISEE platform aims to enhance the skills and knowledge of Youth Workers on the topic of affection and sexuality education, equip them with effective non-formal educational tools related to the highlighted theme, and create a European network of Youth Workers who engage in discussions on methodologies and issues related to sexuality that arise in their work with young people. The platform is divided into sections, each with its specific purpose:

E-WISEE Glossary: a collection of terms related to the themes of the project intervention.

E-WISEE Event: a compilation of activities, events, appointments related to the project’s focus, taking place in the territories of the partner countries.

E-WISEE Lab: a collection of multimedia materials useful for the non-formal educational work of Youth Workers on the topic of sexuality, and for the deepening and development of a range of skills and knowledge: a) activities to reinforce skills such as active listening, empathy, effective communication, emotional communication; b) offline and online non-formal education activities and tools; c) collection of best practices; d) collection of in-depth “pills”, held by sector experts.

A social area, a tool for dialogue and exchange among European Youth Workers. In this space, it is possible to: post photos and stories of work experiences; chat with other Youth Workers; create thematic discussion groups; launch proposals for future collaborations.

The uploaded material is in English, but the presentation texts contained on the platform will be translated into all the languages of the partnership to facilitate navigation and understanding of its contents. The video content on the platform is recorded and uploaded to a YouTube channel. At the end of the project, it will be possible to create additional content and upload it to the platform, making it an updated and active tool. For each of the partners, the project is in line with the development of their current and future actions.

In particular:

  • for Marak Digital Marketing, achieving the project’s results further opens the way to achieving the goal of providing efficient and effective digital tools in the socio-educational field and promoting digital interaction as forms of enhancing the skills of professionals in the socio-educational and learning sectors.
  • for Cyclisis, achieving the results is functional to an overall strengthening of the organization’s know-how, which is strongly committed to promoting the well-being of people, gender equality, and the creation of effective educational tools in digital format. The association also intends to organize periodic thematic deepening events among European Youth Workers using the social and content potential of the Platform.
  • for Arcipelago APS, the project is an opportunity to develop methodologies and increase the skills of Youth Workers whose educational action is often aimed at fragile targets or not easily identifiable within the framework of the existing educational offer (e.g., school).

For all three partners, the project contributes to strengthening ties and creating transnational products that have a qualitative impact on the professional training of Youth Workers at the European level.

5. Conclusions

The EWISEE Platform is an operational tool that can be permanently adopted in the non-formal learning paths by European youth workers.

Affection/sexuality education and support for the process of identity growth are essential educational strategies to assist boys and girls in their growth journey and in achieving a state of well-being.

Feeling comfortable with oneself and in relationships with others is one of the elements that helps young people avoid developing conflictual ties and/or self-exclusion from the external environment (adults, peer group, the other in the relationship).


1-January 2017 Special Issue of National Geographic magazine

 2-Why are young people having so little sex?

3-Defining sexual health

4-Defining sexual health

5-Women’s reproductive health, Istat

6-Atlas italiano sull’accesso alla contraccezione, Associazione italiana donne per lo sviluppo.

7-Studio nazionale Fertilità, Istituto Superiore di Sanità EpiCentro – L’epidemiologia per la sanità pubblica

8-I dati sulla violenza di genere, Centro Nazionale delle Ricerche

9-Here we refer to the concept of empathy as explained by the sociotherapeutic approach, whereby empathy enables the operator to ‘suspend’ their own affective and cognitive judgment in establishing a relationship, at least in an initial phase, with the person/group/situation encountered.

10-Facilitation consists in creating a communication channel (linguistic, visual, sound, written, etc.) that can translate the needs, thoughts, desires, feelings of each other, to restore ‘clear and effective communication’


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Mustanski, B., Kuper, L., & Greene, G. J. (2014). Development of Sexual Orientation and Identity. In D. L. Tolman & L. M. Diamond (Eds.), APA Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology (Vol. 1): Person-Based Approaches (pp. 597–628). American Psychological Association.

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Bauermeister, J. A., Leslie-Santana, M., Johns, M. M., Pingel, E. S., & Eisenberg, A. (2011). Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now: Romantic and Casual Partner-seeking Online among Young Men Who Have Sex with Men. AIDS and Behavior, 15(2), 261–272.

Bert F, Gea M, Previti C, Massocco G, Lo Moro G, Scaioli G, Schilirò T, Siliquini R, 2023, The Environmental Health Literacy of Italian General Population: The SPeRA Cross-Sectional Study

Diamond, L. M., & Huebner, D. M. (2012). Is Good Sex Good for You? Rethinking Sexuality and Health. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(1), 54–69.

Fisher, C. M., Hatzenbuehler, M. L., & Greene, G. J. (2021). Promoting Inclusive Sexual Education: A Quasi-Experimental Evaluation of a School-Based Program. Journal of Adolescent Health, 68(3), 527–533.

Hill, C., & Willoughby, B. L. B. (2020). “Exploring Gender Identity Fluidity in Adolescents: A Longitudinal Study.” Developmental Psychology, 56(11), 2073–208.

Jolliffe, D., & Farrington, D. P. (2006). Development and validation of the Basic Empathy Scale. Journal of Adolescence, 29(4), 589–611.