Health, Rights

Ignorance is Not Innocence: Importance of Sexuality Education

Felogene Post1
Felogene Post2

Photo Credit: Suzanne Majani

Let us face it: Sex is everywhere. Music videos, television adverts, movies, online pornography, characters in games. Did you know that nine out of ten children aged between eight and sixteen have viewed pornography on the Internet? As a result, young people are receiving conflicting messages on their sexuality, view on relationships, identity and gender. With the evolution of the information age, young people can now transfer information freely and have instant access to knowledge that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to find. The repercussions are vast and varying, not limited to early sexual debut, teenage pregnancies, spread of HIV/AIDS, increased vulnerabilities to sexual abuse and risky sexual behavior.

Education is a central determinant for behavior change. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) identifies the primary goal of sexuality education as that “children and young people become equipped with the knowledge, skills and values to make responsible choices about their sexual and social relationships in a world affected by HIV.” Several global and regional frameworks have acknowledged the importance of sexuality education. The Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda has called for the strengthening of school curricula by including the introduction of age appropriate and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health for all as part of quality education. For sexuality education to be effective, it needs to include the ABCs.

A – Age and Developmentally Appropriate

Children become curious about sexuality at different ages. Adults have the primary responsibility of shaping children’s future and ensuring they make informed decisions about their sexual lives.  More importantly this education can help avert child sexual abuse by providing an appropriate framework and context for educating young people about sexual abuse. For example, what is “good” and “bad” touch through exploring the body anatomy, how to resist pressure and how to report sexual abuse are all key components of sexuality education that are interlinked with prevention of sexual abuse.

B – Based on facts and Unbiased

Knowledge is power, more so with young people when it comes to decisions that affect their sexual lives. Education should not be used to scare or intimidate young people. As young people, we need to know that the society views us as leaders. Sex education programs need to share medically accurate facts about sex and sexuality. Young people should be trusted to make responsible decisions.

C – Comprehensive

Comprehensive education programs have been associated with positive behavior change among youth; postponement or delay of sexual initiation; reduction in frequency of sexual intercourse; reduction in the number of sexual partner/ increase in monogamy;  increase in the use of effective methods of contraception, including condoms.

With 500 days to the close of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), last week, young people from over 13 countries in Africa attended a High Level Youth Policy Dialogue in Nairobi. I had the privilege of moderating a session at the event. During the meetings, youth asked leaders to prioritize comprehensive age-appropriate, medically accurate and unbiased sexuality education for use in and out of school. The post-2015 recommendations posited that sex education should aim to prevent unwanted pregnancies, new HIV infections, substance usage, harmful cultural practices and gender-based violence.