Sex education, sexual health education, sex ed, sex talk… All these terms that we have listed essentially mean the same thing. Namely, it relates to spreading knowledge about the anatomy of the human reproductive system, sexual reproduction and intercourse, reproductive health, sexuality and pleasure, about the emotional and sexual relationships with a partner, as well as the psychology of relationships, the rights and responsibilities associated with reproduction, suitable family planning, hygiene and means of contraception, sexual orientation, gender roles, boundaries and consent, and ethics.
Teenagers are not the only ones who need sex education lessons. Most sexologists maintain that reliable scientific information should be made available to people of all ages, be it children or adults, who, due to a lack of guidance, often find themselves filling in their knowledge gaps.
Most sexologists maintain that reliable scientific information should be made available to people of all ages, be it children or adults, who, due to a lack of guidance, often find themselves filling in their knowledge gaps.
The evolution of sexual awareness
While studying human anatomy and the processes that define our bodies, researchers laid the foundation for the domains of medical science and anatomy, which have gradually been popularised in the media. This knowledge popularisation peaked at times when the health of the general population was greatly affected by the growing epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases and an alarmingly high maternal mortality rate among young girls. The interactive timeline below demonstrates the development of sex education in the world.
So why do we need sex ed
The UN recently published a document (available in full here) that promotes the importance of sex education. In a nutshell, the main objective is to ensure that we have a healthy and safe sexual life in all respects. Contrary to popular opinion, studies have shown that sex education classes do not corrupt society, they do not encourage a premature interest in the subject matter among children or adolescents. Quite the opposite, these classes ensure that schoolchildren are more conscious of the sexual relationships which they have later on, and since they are more familiar with the use of contraceptives, they are far less likely to become pregnant at an early age and not as likely to suffer from STDs. Programmes that recommend abstinence and uphold the belief that children should steer clear of any sexual insight have precisely the opposite effect. Below we will break down some of the central points of the significance of sex education in society according to the UN document and a wide array of other studies in the field.
Sex education plays a key role in…
- reducing the spread of HIV and STDs
In 2018, approximately 37.9 million people worldwide were affected by HIV or AIDS. Find out more about these conditions here.
- decreasing the number of teenage pregnancies, which, in many instances, may result in abortion, death at childbirth and/or poor upbringing due to the immaturity of both or one of the parents.
- overcoming the stigma of sexuality and confronting bullying from the perspective of gender (such as menstruation, for example)
The vast majority are convinced that women alone should be aware of the female reproductive system. Menstruation and other aspects are often considered to be rather dirty, unpleasant and even indecent. The stigmatisation of this subject that is often seen as taboo means that girls are insecure about themselves and their own bodies during adolescence. A survey showed that almost 60% of all American women felt a certain degree of embarrassment when on their period.
- ensuring that teenagers get involved in sexual relationships at a mature age
Sex education programmes have already been integrated into the curriculum of primary schools in the Netherlands, for instance. Thus, teenagers have their first sexual experience at almost 18 years of age and the country has one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in the world. A schoolchildren survey in Ukraine, however, revealed that 82.9% had sex before the age of 17. Almost 20% of all young boys had engaged in sexual intercourse by the age of 15. On average, one in every ten schoolchildren had sex at the age of 12 or younger.
- preventing sexual harassment, rape, pedophilia (see the paragraph on the “Sex education for children”)
- limiting childhood trauma and mental blocks related to sex life
- improving mutual understanding, which, in turn, could potentially reduce divorce rates (see the paragraph on “Sex ed for adults”)
- promoting tolerance and inclusion in society
Sex education for children and adults
Sexologists and psychologists are of the opinion that children should be introduced to sex education as soon as they begin to speak and understand speech. It goes without saying that the manner in which the information is presented (as well as the amount of it) should be suitable to that particular age group. At the age of three a child can be expected to make the distinction between boys and girls and they can name the respective organs, whereas a child in primary school can have a basic understanding of almost everything (including, but not limited to, puberty, menstruation, erection, pornography and masturbation). Soon afterwards, parents can talk about contraception and the first time. Failing this, children will discover whatever interests them in a distorted or more aggressive way on the Internet (based on a study, the Internet is the first recourse for 58.4% of Ukrainian teenagers) or from their friends (in almost 50% of all cases). Youngsters can also be unaware and terrified of certain aspects of puberty. It is important to keep in mind that conversing about sex in the right way does not, as mentioned earlier, debauch children, but will enable them to approach it sensibly, as established by scientific research.
A timely sex education allows children to avoid the formation of a taboo topic and helps have a healthy sex life in the future. In addition, having a better understanding of intimacy and boundaries means that children can recognise when their privacy is being invaded, as in the case of adults (and peers) who are overly curious or fixated on the subject. When children have fundamental knowledge with regard to their own physique and the concept that no one is entitled to touch the intimate parts of their body without their express consent, they can certainly realise when something is not quite what it seems and it is highly probable that they will either report the incident to their parents (or supervisors) or resist. Sexologists and international organisations that specialise in this sphere have suggested the ‘swimsuit rule’: a child should be taught that the body parts covered by a swimming costume are important and no one has the right to touch or see them without permission.
A timely sex education allows children to avoid the formation of a taboo topic and helps have a healthy sex life in the future.
The European Council has launched the ‘One in Five’ campaign against child sexual abuse. It teaches children the proper names of the sexual organs and encourages them not to shy away from talking to their parents about it. Children are taught to distinguish between ‘good’ secrets and those that induce fear. These ‘bad’ secrets should be shared with their parents. Parents may not even realise that their child was, or continues to be, subjected to sexual harassment, if there is a reluctance to tell mum and dad or if the said child cannot understand that there is a deviation from the norm. The subject of different orientations can likewise be raised at a young age, as well as the fact that families can be different (without either a father or a mother, with two mothers, and of the like). You need not be afraid of imposing different sexual orientations on a child since it has been proven that this cannot be done artificially.
“Sex education starts from the day a baby is born. Parents literally establish taboos during the first few months of life when children are not permitted to explore their privates. There is nothing wrong with that, babies are simply learning more about themselves, which is absolutely normal. Children should learn the basics of hygiene, that is to say, how to take care of the vulva and the penis, from two or three years of age. In this manner, the child likewise learns their own physiology in terms of what it’s called and how it works. Thus, children are convinced that there is nothing bad, dirty or forbidden about the genitals, these organs are as important as all the others. Taboos are created, whether deliberately or unwittingly, when parents use euphemisms (…)”, claims the Ukranian sex ed teacher Yulia Yarmolenko in an interview on the subject.
“We really cannot talk about our wishes, our needs. It is hard for us to put a stop to it, if we experience pain. And it is practically impossible to declare that condoms are a must or that we no longer want to have sex, because… We don’t feel like it.”
Sex ed for adults
More often than not, adults need sex education as much as children, simply because these adults did not have sex ed classes at a young age. They often dealt with unverified sources and unreliable information that they got from their peers or from porn, which they then relied upon (see “Pornography as a source of sex ed”). It becomes incredibly difficult to have a healthy sex life as an adult, due to the fact that the subject of sex and sexuality was considered to be taboo while growing up. If no one ever talked to you about sex or if you were persuaded that the entire subject is shameful, to say the least, then it comes as no surprise that you will feel quite uncomfortable speaking about it. Conservative sex education programmes (which advocate for abstinence) are highly manipulative with guilt and shame. As a result, adults encounter communication problems with their sexual partner. This becomes evident when an individual cannot discuss their preferences, suffers from psychological trauma, is ashamed of expressing their reluctance and true sexual desires. This gives rise to conflicts, disappointment in yourself and your partner and, of course, divorces. The different articles on sexual communication and education for adults can be found here, here and here.
Pornography as a source of sex ed
When children lack sexual insight, they often assume that sex in real life can be likened to porn and that private parts are exactly what videos online make them out to be. It should be brought to the attention of children (and adults who have formed their opinion before their first sexual experience) that porn is a commercial enterprise that profits from human fantasies. Fiction is an inherent characteristic of these films. To name but a few aspects, sex duration is significantly shorter, private parts can appear completely different and women may not enjoy being treated in the same way as the actors in the sex videos. Your partner will not always necessarily want to have sex, be it due to fatigue or mood, and this is yet another possibility that is altogether absent in porn, which gives teenagers the wrong impression of sex.
The porn industry fosters misconceptions of gender roles among boys and girls, which can lead to dissatisfaction with their own sexual prowess, as well as the reactions and attitudes of their partner. Girls can develop discontent with their own bodies, including their genitals, when watching such films. To quote the sex ed teacher, teenagers nowadays start to watch porn at 5-8 years of age, on average. At this age children do not have any fundamental understanding that would disprove whatever they had just seen, and they are not mentally mature enough to process such emotional content. Furthermore, porn can depict rape scenes and there are forbidden episodes that involve children and animals. These videos can have a serious impact on any and all viewers, especially those who cannot yet filter information. Studies have shown that although pornography may not be the cause of sexual aggression and rape, it can be dangerous for those prone to such behaviour. It has been proven that porn addiction noticeably affects the libido – it becomes increasingly difficult to feel pleasure during a real sexual intercourse.
TEXT: LIKBEZ MEDIA
TRANSLATION: DASHA EVSINA
PHOTOS: UNSPLASH, FREEPIK
- TED: The great porn experiment
- The Atlantic: Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?
- Social ad: Girls Puberty Education
- TED: The cost of menstrual shame
- TED: Men need to talk about menstruation
- TED: Making sex normal
- TED Playlist: Sex ed for adults
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