Student nurses' competence in sexual health care: A literature review

J Clin Nurs. 2017 Dec;26(23-24):3906-3916. doi: 10.1111/jocn.13810. Epub 2017 Jun 20.


Aims and objectives: To explore the way in which sexual health care is perceived and experienced by students in clinical practice.

Background: Student nurses understand the need to learn about sexual health but report a variety of learning needs and experience challenges acquiring skills to deliver such care in part due to varied clinical experience. Furthermore, there is a paucity of data exploring clinical competence of sexual health care among student nurses.

Design and methods: A literature review of the published literature was conducted following a search of online databases. Articles were selected for analysis according to inclusion and exclusion criteria. Eight articles were critically appraised and thematically analysed.

Results: The following themes were identified: student nurses report having a positive attitude towards sexual health care; however, many felt uncomfortable about addressing sexual health and are reluctant to initiate a conversation; many student nurses lack knowledge about sexual health; they also lack role models at university and on clinical placement. Student nurse caregiving in relation to sexual health was also noted.

Conclusions: It is encouraging that student nurses have some knowledge, but their knowledge assessed is narrow. Their attitude is generally positive although many feel uncomfortable discussing issues of sexual health and sexuality. Very few student nurses report delivering sexual health care. There is a lack of positive role models both on clinical placement and at university.

Relevance to clinical practice: The reasons behind a lack of sexual health care delivery by student nurses should be understood. Student nurses should be supported to assess patient need and provide holistic care. Positive role models should be established in clinical and educational environments along with a focus on wider sexual health knowledge and skills.

Keywords: nurse education; public health; sexual health; sexuality; student nurse.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Needs Assessment
  • Nursing Education Research
  • Sexual Health*
  • Students, Nursing / psychology*