Sex education or sexuality education is the process of acquiring information and forming attitudes and beliefs about sex, sexual identity, relationships and intimacy. It is also a term used to describe education about human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, reproductive health, emotional relations and other aspects of human sexual behavior. It is generally accepted that young people have a right to be educated about sex. This is because while growing up, they may be exposed to a wide range of attitudes and beliefs in relation to sex and sexuality. Some of the information available to these young people may sometimes be contradictory and confusing. The media for one may promote the idea that being sexually active makes one mature and confident. And on the other hand, some health messages always hammer on the adverse effects of having sex such as contracting a sexually transmitted infection, unwanted pregnancies etc. These differing opinions may lead to confusion amongst the populace. Sex education should therefore entail finding out what young people know about sex, adding to their existing knowledge and correcting any misinformation they may have.
People get information about sex from different sources. It could be through the media, from friends, parents, schools and health institutions. It has formed part of the curricula in schools across the world. It is said to be formal or informal depending on its source. When the source is from a parent, friend, religious leader, from a casual conversation, or through the media, it is said to be informal. When offered by schools or health care providers it is referred to as formal.
Aims of Sex Education
The basic aim of sex education is to reduce the risks of the negative outcomes from risky sexual behavior. It is a means through which the youths learn and adopt the right attitudes towards sex. It aims to inform people about the dangers of risky sexual behaviors which may lead to unwanted teenage pregnancies, contraction of a sexually transmitted infection such as HIV among other complications. It helps the youth to have a positive mindset about sex and their sexuality. It helps to improve relationships between young people. It also empowers the youth against sexual abuses.
When Should Sex Education Begin?
Although it is generally accepted that young people have a right to learn about sex, it remains a controversial issue in several countries particularly with regards to the age at which children should start receiving such education. At what age would children be able to understand the concepts taught during sex education? Should it be delayed until people are sexually active before they are exposed to it? Or should it be taught to children in order for them to use the information later in life when they might really need it? When taught at an early age does it encourage young people to have sex? People are concerned that providing information about sex and sexuality arouses curiosity and can lead to sexual experimentation. Contrary to that, studies have shown that sexuality education did not increase sexual activity. It either reduced sexual activity, or increased rates of condom use. it should therefore be provided to young people before the age of puberty, and upwards before they establish their patterns of behavior. The precise age should depend on the physical, emotional and intellectual developments of the young people as well as their level of information.
The Curriculum of Sex Education
The issue of the amount of information that should be given to young people during sex education is still very controversial. Its content most times differs in schools across countries. Different people have their opinion and beliefs about sex, and this usually influences their willingness to accept sex education on the basis of the fact that what is taught might contradict their moral inclinations. For example, the Roman Catholic Church is strongly against the use of any form of artificial contraceptives. On the subject of sex education, Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation titled Familiaris consortio, enjoined parents “to give their children a clear and delicate education” and that “if ideologies opposed to Christian faith are taught in schools, the family must join with other families and help the children not to depart from the faith.”
In India, attempts by state governments to introduce sex education as a compulsory part of school curriculum have often been met with harsh criticism by people who claim it is against Indian culture and would mislead children. In England and Wales, it is not compulsory in schools as parents can refuse to let their children take part in the lessons. In some countries, parents must give their consent before their children may attend such classes. These variations in different regions are believed to have arisen due to the lingering controversy over the curriculum of sex education.
A range of topics are usually treated in sex education lessons depending on the laws of the region. Some of these include:
The male and female reproductive system
Physical and emotional changes of adolescence
Growing up process
Dangers of sexual violence
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Safe sex/use of condoms
Resisting peer pressure
Teenage pregnancies: among others.
Some people feel that sex education curricula breakdown pre-existing notions of modesty and encourage acceptance of practices that are immoral. Many religions teach that sex outside of marriage is immoral, and adherents prefer the abstinence-only sex education. For this reason, homosexual, bisexual, transgender youth, and those with other sexual orientations or practices which are considered immoral are often ignored in sex education classes. There is even lack of discussion about safer sex practices for manual, oral and anal sex with regards to the risks involved. Such practices are becoming more rampant among youths and many indulge in such acts believing that they are risk-free. The neglect of such delicate issues can end up causing harm to individuals affected. Sex education should therefore apply a non-judgmental approach in tackling such sensitive issues about sex. People providing sex education have attitudes and beliefs of their own about sex and sexuality but it is important that they do not let these influence negatively the sex education that they provide.