Sexual Health Through Education
There are a number of confusions about sexuality education, one of which is defining it as “sex education”. The word “sex” is used in our culture to mean sexual intercourse. “Sexuality” is a much broader word and its meanings include sexual values and decision-making, biology, emotions, gender identity, sex roles, relationships and feelings. It’s often difficult to talk with our children about sexuality, in part because most of us didn’t have parents who discussed it with us. Therefore, we lack models of positive sexuality educators. Also, we may believe some of the following myths.
Fact:In every subject, students are given a foundation in the early school years that is expanded upon in later years. Children are often curious about issues related to sexuality and need accurate, age-appropriate information. Children also need to learn the correct names of all their body parts so that they can tell someone if they have been sexually abused.
Fact:Children who are well informed and comfortable talking about sexuality with their parents are also the least likely to have intercourse when they are adolescents. Knowledge does not lead to inappropriate behavior, whereas a lack of information poses greater risks.
Fact: Kids are constantly picking up sexual messages, many of them ones that do not promote healthy sexuality. They will pick up the commercial and exploitive messages that are in the interest of advertisers to promote, and they will pick up misinformation from their uninformed peers. From adults, they may pick up the message that there is something wrong with feeling comfortable about sexuality.
Fact: It is quite common to be uncomfortable talking about sexuality. However, we should not let this stop us from educating our students. It is important for educators to provide comprehensive Sexual Health Education that is culturally and socially appropriate, and that meets students’ needs. Talking about facts rather than values is an effective way to combat apprehension. Educator training is an effective method for developing comfort and skill.
Fact: Comprehensive Sexual Health Education stresses abstinence as the preferred sexual behaviour among teens. Abstaining from sexual activity that involves exchange of bodily fluids and/or genital-to-genital or skin to genital contact is the only way to be absolutely sure of avoiding the risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. Postponement of initial sexual activity until maturity, adherence to one sexual partner and protected sexual intercourse are sequentially offered as the next best alternatives. The programs that have been most effective in helping young people to abstain discuss both abstinence and contraception.
Adapted from SIECUS, 1996-2003.