Many countries and communities find themselves at a crossroads from time to time when it comes to a sensitive but extremely important topic. Sex education.
Recurring debates prove that it’s difficult to find a way to accommodate all role players’ needs. People’s perspectives, values and goals differ too much when it comes to teaching young people about sex, intimacy and aspects like masturbation and sex toys.
Is there a ‘right’ way to handle it? Is society causing harm by not finding a proper approach?
Why is it Important?
In this case, the cliché of ‘knowledge is power’ does ring true. A dynamic sex education curriculum must be comprehensive and will cover topics ranging from sexuality and human development to relationships and even culture. This can be seen as a way to empower young people to handle certain situations:
- Confusion about his or her own sexuality.
- What is acceptable behaviour from adults? When they know how to determine when someone is invading their personal space or manipulating them, they may be able to avoid scenarios that could lead to abuse such as rape or molestation.
- Knowing how to practice safe sex can prevent many teens from becoming HIV+ and lowering the number of teen pregnancies.
- How to respect others.
- Ways to promote gender equality and help fight common problems such as toxic masculinity.
Most people would agree that it’s a desirable outcome that young people can navigate such situations. But where are they supposed to obtain the information that will arm them with facts and wisdom?
What is the Role of Parents?
When you raise the matter of sexual education, there’s often a large group of parents that oppose schools who want to go into too much detail on certain topics. For example, they may feel aspects like masturbation or sex toys shouldn’t be discussed. One opinion is that it can rob them of their innocence. Also, they may feel that visual representation of certain matters in textbooks border on pornography.
In addition, there’s the concern from both parents and teachers about whether all children in a certain class or age group are equally mature. And are they mature enough to handle the information provided to them?
Some will say these are valid points. After all, it’s parents and teachers’ responsibility to put the child first. So, it’s right to put sex education curriculums under intense scrutiny. But if the education doesn’t happen in schools, the responsibility falls on parents to take up the task at home.
The unfortunate reality is that not all parents provide the necessary information to their children. Because they feel uncomfortable, they may not broach the topic at all. In other households, teachings are superficial and insufficient to arm young people with insight into handling situations or understanding themselves, their bodies and their desires.
Topics related to sex may even be taboo for certain cultures. In these cases, some parents may even welcome the idea of schools taking up the task on their behalf.
No matter which group parents fall into, they must still understand that their own actions and words matter. Children often model parents’ behaviour, so how these adults react to the topic and to others will affect kids’ future actions.
What are the Dangers?
Unfortunately, when schools are given free rein on compiling sex education curriculums, there is the possibility of overstepping certain boundaries. Schools could teach lessons that don’t align with parents’ personal values.
For example, schools may teach safe sex, while parents believe in abstinence-only. A school’s worldview may be in conflict to what a religious group believes. This can be upsetting to parents and religious leaders, as well as confusing for children who are getting different viewpoints.
What do Students Think?
Perhaps one of the most important viewpoints to consider is that of the young generation. For many, the reality is that students receive too little or irrelevant information at home. Superficial discussions mean they stay curious. And if they don’t get the necessary, relevant information at school, they will look for it elsewhere, often online.
The problem with obtaining information from sources such as online forums is that it can create unrealistic expectations. Also, by using these unsafe sources they may even become victims of online predators.
The truth is that there will always be opposing viewpoints. Should this prevent parents, teachers and communities from trying out new ways to discuss this with children and teens?
Knowledge about our own and others’ bodies, along with facts about topics like personal space and sexual violence, is too important to simply ignore. Society must take up the responsibility to empower the next generation, even if it’s new territory to us.
Are you a parent? A teacher? A community leader? Educating ourselves about all the realities and different perspectives of this topic may be a first step in the right direction.