In most parts of the world, the first and probably only kind of sex education many children receive is from those awkward biology classes on reproduction in secondary schools. This does not necessarily mean that children don’t know what sex is or what it entails – many observe by watching movies and adult contents. Because Nigeria is a deeply conservative society, many parents, guardians and teachers shy away from topics regarding sex, leaving children to navigate sex and sexuality with little or no information.
So what exactly is sex education, and why is it so important? Sex education, according to Science Daily, is teaching children and young adults about human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, and other aspects of human sexual behaviour. The European expert group on sexuality education further claims that sex education develops and strengthens the ability of children and young people to make conscious, satisfying, healthy and respectful choices regarding relationships, sexuality and emotional and physical health. It is not an encouragement for children to have sex but an opportunity to provide children with safe and positive views of sexuality using age-appropriate education about their sexual health.
Developing healthy sexuality is a crucial developmental milestone for all children and adolescents. This depends on receiving the correct information and building value systems and beliefs about consent, relationships and sexual orientation. When children and young adults receive sex education, they are informed about their sexuality and given the right tools to help them develop healthy sexual behaviour and make responsible decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. Unhealthy sexual practices may lead to health and social problems, including sexually transmitted diseases and infections, unwanted pregnancies, rape, sexual violence and sometimes death.
If sex education is so important, why then do we shy away from it?
Across the world, sex education remains a controversial topic, with heated debates on if it should be taught in schools at all and at what age children should start receiving sex education. Religion, culture, socio-economic status, personal and moral convictions are some factors that contribute to the reasons why sex education is not widely accepted and taught to children. Several myths are used to attack and spread misinformation about sex education despite evidence showing that children who receive sex education are confident about expressing boundaries, seeking consent and less likely to engage in risky sex practices. Let’s debunk some of these myths:
Abstinence is the only option; sex education only encourages young people to have sex
Several studies have shown that good quality sexuality education leads to later sexual debut and more responsible sexual behaviour. Meanwhile, abstinence-only programs do not help teens delay sexual intercourse and often lead to a surge in sexually transmitted diseases.
Sex education deprives children of their innocence
Providing children with accurate, non-judgemental and age-appropriate information on sex is of immense benefit to them. Sex education consists of different topics tailored to the age and developmental level of the child. For example, younger children are taught topics like identifying various parts of their bodies and different friendships and emotions. Gradually, as they advance in age, other topics like contraception, family planning and consent are introduced.
Sex education makes it easier for paedophiles to abuse children
This is not true. In fact, the opposite is the case here. Sex education helps children learn about equality, respect and boundaries in relationships, positioning them to recognise abusive persons and speak out when they experience inappropriate or abusive situations.
Teaching children sex education is not compatible with religious beliefs
Sex education is really about giving children and young adults access to information and the right tools to make informed choices while living their lives in ways that are compatible with their religious and familial values. Helping children understand how their bodies work, taking care of their health, clearly expressing and asserting boundaries, and navigating relationships empower them.
Sex education is just about sex
Sex education is more than just sex, it involves learning about the human anatomy, respect for others, bodily autonomy, safety, self-expression and much more.
As children and young adults enter into their lives’ reproductive and sexual stages, access to sexual and reproductive information, contraception, and safe spaces for them to express their fears and thoughts are essential. Parents, health care practitioners and teachers all have crucial roles to play in providing children with comprehensive sex education, and the importance of this cannot be overemphasized.
The value of any form of education, including sex education, cannot be overestimated. As a society, it falls on us to make sure that the correct and appropriate information is given to children and adults. To end sexual violence, we must teach sex education.