• literature review;
  • mental health problems;
  • psychiatry;
  • sexual health education

Research into sexual risk behaviour among people with ‘severe’ mental health problems suggested that they are likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviour, for a number of reasons, putting them at risk of sexually transmitted diseases. The aim of this review is to describe approaches, content and outcomes of sexual health education programmes, developed and implemented for people with mental health problems. A literature review from 1980 to 2005 was carried out using the electronic databases CINAHL, PsycINFO, British Nursing Index, Pubmed and Medline, and the Cochrane library was also searched. The literature search was confined to papers written in English. The keywords ‘sexuality’, ‘sexual health education’, ‘sexual health promotion’, ‘HIV’, ‘sexually transmitted disease’ were combined with ‘mental illness’, ‘chronic mental illness’‘severe mental illness’‘persistent mental illness’‘psychiatry’, ‘mental disorder’, ‘education interventions’ and ‘evaluation’. A vast amount of literature was recovered on sexual risk behaviour in people with severe mental health problems, and sexual dysfunction as a result of prescribed medication. As the focus of the review was on sexual health education, this literature was omitted. Although the literature on sexual health education for people experiencing mental health problems was sparse, 14 studies were located that either described or evaluated sexual health education programmes. Most sex education programmes focused on topics such as HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, negotiating safe sex and skill development in condom use. Findings suggested that the people who attended benefited from sexual health education programmes, facilitated in a sensitive and supportive manner. Education tended to produce a reduction in sexual risk behaviour as opposed to complete cessation. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to consider integrating such education with service provision. The results of the review provide guidance to service providers and mental health nurses wishing to develop and evaluate sexual health education programmes for service users. Areas for future research are also identified.