Do We Need Comprehensive Sexuality Education In Schools?

An educator teaches comprehensive sexual education to students in a classroom.

Young learners often need help unraveling the ‘sex’ mystery box in an age-appropriate manner. Educators, who spend the most time with students outside the home, are largely responsible for this challenging task. Despite the challenges, the benefits of comprehensive sexuality education in schools are immense.

Why comprehensive sexuality education is important?

Teaching sexual education in schools involves providing students with medically accurate, age -appropriate and culturally relevant content on sexuality through resources like videos, textbooks, and games.     

Sexual education formally introduces students to human sexuality, including information about the act of intercourse, sexual health, values, and beliefs associated with these topics, as well as what it means to navigate healthy relationships with oneself and others. 

Including human sexuality in education plays an important role in building a foundation for healthy, responsible social interactions among students and communities in the long run.

What is Comprehensive Sexuality Education?

Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) refers to an extensive, age-appropriate sex education approach that covers all matters relating to human sexuality, and it’s expression. Beyond focusing on the biological aspects of sexuality, CSE also instructs students on the emotional and social aspects such as family life, bodily autonomy, relationships, discrimination, culture and gender roles, gender equality, human rights, sexual abuse and violence.

Comprehensive sexuality education is often contrasted with “abstinence-only” education, which promotes the idea that the only way to avoid unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections is to abstain from sexual activity. On the other hand, CSE recognizes that young people will make their own decisions about sexual activity and aims to provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to make informed and healthy decisions.

Even with its obvious advantages, CSE has encountered heavy criticism internationally, particularly from members of conservative and religious societies who consider the education to be a form of sexual grooming and threatening to family values. Such resistance led by The Russian Federation and a coalition of African countries prompted the World Health Assembly to reject the term “comprehensive sexuality education” in a resolution on violence against children adopted during the annual meeting of the governing body of the World Health Organization.

Why should sexual education be taught in schools?

It is inevitable for adolescents and young adults to make life-changing decisions about their sexual and reproductive health as they mature.

The lack of sexual education leaves students vulnerable to risky sexual behavior, diseases, guilt complexes, coercion and unintended pregnancy. For instance, American youth (ages 15 -24) account for 25 percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S., according to an Advocates for Youth publication.  

In a 2021 report, UNICEF estimates 14 percent of adolescent girls globally give birth before age 18, resulting in derailed education, health complications, stigmatization, rejection, or violence by family members and in some cases, forced marriages.

These extreme consequences can be prevented through sex education. Teaching sexual education reduces the chances of students learning about sex by trial and error, contracting sexually transmitted diseases, as well as engaging in sexual violence and abortions.   

A man and a woman hold hands. Comprehensive Sexual Education.

Why sexual education should not be taught in schools?

Many advocates argue that parents or other trusted adults in the family should be tasked with educating their children about sexual health instead of the school system —rightfully so. Parents play a crucial role in empowering their children with the right knowledge to make sexual decisions responsibly.   

As UNESCO points out, complimenting school sexual education with home or community-based education can destigmatize sex and further strengthen emotional intelligence and the formation of healthy boundaries among young people.

Unfortunately, due to strict cultural and religious norms in some countries, students are denied the basics of this education, exposing them to manipulation, abuse and human rights violations. For example, in Afghanistan it is a taboo to discuss marriage and sex, as such no provision for sex education is made in school curricula. In many parts of Nigeria, sex education is inadequately explained or discouraged altogether, with peers or siblings being the only source of sometimes misleading information for its mammoth youth population.

Despite arguments that sexual education should not be taught in schools because it is believed to promote premature sexual activity, no study to date has found evidence validating this claim. Rather, this education fosters a positive sexual and reproductive health and rights culture among young people.  

When should sexual education be given?

Learning to freely discuss human sexuality in education ultimately provides students with the choice to delay sexual activities until they are ready, helps them understand and value bodily autonomy, navigate healthy and unhealthy relationships and protects their overall well-being.

Since there is no fixed time for delivering sexual education to students, comprehensive sexuality education is often given during the middle or high school years, as young people become more aware of and interested in issues related to sexuality.

However, the timing for introducing sex education should be given can vary depending on many factors, including the specific needs and developmental levels of the students, the social and cultural context as well as the goals of the education program. 

The most important thing is for schools to seek parental consent and involvement in the sexual education process. Parents, too, must learn to respond to their children’s curiosity honestly, and naturally, while bearing in mind that comprehensive sexuality education is most effective when taught over several years by introducing age-appropriate information.

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