Michael Abrahams | Time for comprehensive sex education
Recently, I encountered a survey on Twitter concerning sex education, specifically the role of parents. The question presented was: “Growing up, were your parents/guardians your main go-to source for information about sex?”
Three hundred and seventeen persons responded, and the results were as follows:
1% Definitely yes
50% Definitely no
The results are disappointing, but not surprising, and highlight an issue that demands urgent attention: our failure to appropriately educate our children about sex.
Whether we want to believe it or not, most of our children begin sexual activity in adolescence.
Many of you reading this would have begun at that stage was well, so do not fool yourselves.
The conundrum we are faced with is that many parents are uncomfortable discussing sex with their children, but also express discomfort with the concept of sex education being taught in schools.
So, if we are uncomfortable with these avenues for the education of our children, how do we expect them to learn about sex?
When we abandon these routes, our children learn from inappropriate sources, and what they hear and see would likely make us cringe.
Our children know much more about sex than we would care to admit, but their introduction is often somewhat warped.
Other youngsters who educate them are usually misinformed, and are likely to offer advice based on their limited experience.
Many children tap into popular culture, especially dancehall, where many of the hit songs are loaded with sexual references.
I urge those of you unfamiliar with current dancehall to visit YouTube and check out the uncensored versions of the more popular songs.
I guarantee that you will hear the words “f**k”, “c**ky” and “p**sy” ad nauseam.
Check out rap, and women are commonly referred to as 'bitches' and 'hos'. With the advent of the Internet and smartphones, porn is often just a click or two away.
Investigate, and it will likely be a challenge to find a teenager who has not received a video on WhatsApp of persons, sometimes their peers, engaging in coitus, fellatio or cunnilingus.
So our kids are exposed to sexual content, but the presentation of it is not what we would desire.
Sex, in these instances, is presented merely as penetration of orifices, devoid of the concepts of bonding, affection, intimacy, love or commitment.
Again, if we are honest with ourselves, all of these components are not necessary during every sexual encounter, but it is important for our youngsters not just see sex as ‘something to do’.
When some of us are able to stomach the idea of sex education, many tout the abstinence-only or abstinence-until-marriage approach.
But although we desire our youngsters to abstain, this strategy does not work.
Surely, abstinence as a behavioural goal is to be encouraged, but it is unrealistic to expect our youth to be obedient and just abstain.
We must not be hypocritical. We live in a society where the majority of us are born out of wedlock, and sex outside of committed relationships is common.
The abstinence-only approach is also unethical as it tends to be coercive, involves withholding information about contraceptives, is insensitive to teenagers who are already sexually active, and often discriminates against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.
Abstinence-only-until-marriage programmes have not been shown to help teens significantly delay the initiation of sex or to protect themselves when they do initiate the activity.
As a matter of fact, The Society for Adolescent Medicine declared that “abstinence-only programmes threaten fundamental human rights to health, information, and life.”
Research out of Columbia University found that virginity pledge programmes in the United States increased pledge-takers’ risks for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy, with 88 per cent of pledge-takers initiating sex prior to marriage.
Although these programmes do not teach our youngsters about the appropriate use of contraceptives, misleading information is often disseminated about contraception and abortion, with religious beliefs often presented as scientific fact.
According to local data, obtained from the National Reproductive Health Survey in 2008, 34 per cent of adolescent girls in Jamaica reported that their first sexual encounter was coerced.
So, if our youngsters are not properly advised about contraceptive options, they cannot be expected to protect themselves when they are in situations such as these, and if we do not engage them in conversations about sex, they are less likely to report incidents of assault.
If we truly care about our children and their well-being, comprehensive sexuality education must be considered.
This provides age-appropriate and scientifically accurate information about human development, anatomy, reproductive health, contraception, childbirth and STIs and is effective in assisting young people to make healthy decisions about sex and to adopt healthy sexual behaviors.
Sex education also includes discussions about family life, relationships, culture, gender roles, human rights, gender equality, discrimination and sexual abuse, and empowers youngsters by helping them to develop self-esteem and skills in communication, refusal, and negotiation that can avert life-changing disasters.
The pushback against comprehensive sex education from some quarters is grounded in irrational fears.
Some feel that it provides children with too much information, which may be harmful.
But objective assessment of such programmes has shown that not only do they not lead to earlier sexual activity or riskier sexual behaviour, but that they actually reduce such behaviour, with positive outcomes such as increased condom use or reduced unplanned pregnancies.
The addressing of gender and power issues also leads to better health outcomes.
So, let us be real about discussing sex with our children.
Let us all grow up and be honest and understand that this is about protecting them.
The time has come for us to pull our heads out the sand or from whichever other dark places they may be snugly buried in.