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SEX-ED PLEA - Most Jamaicans want Church, school to help teach kids but not before 11

Published:Wednesday | October 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM
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Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

A majority of Jamaicans believe that the role of educating youngsters on sexual relationships should not fall solely within the purview of parents, but should, instead, be a partnership with the Church and/or school.

In a Bill Johnson poll commissioned by The Gleaner last month, only 12 per cent of the 1,208 respondents believed that sex education should be left up to parents alone. Seventy-two per cent and 69 per cent believed Church and school, respectively, also had a significant role to play.

Everton Hannam, president of the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica, thinks a collaborative approach to sex education could be the best approach, provided a framework of parameters is set up.

"What we need to do is probably agree on … who will introduce what or be responsible for what, and then we come to some understanding as to how it needs to be introduced - at what level, at what age, at what grade. So by time we would have covered certain years of existence, our children would have been exposed - both at home and in schools - to certain things," he said.

But child, adolescent and adult psychologist Dr Ganesh Shetty believes Jamaicans should not be too quick to entrust the imparting of such sensitive information to outside institutions, but instead focus on a home-based approach.

"Human beings are born with sexual organs and are curious about them from an early age, and if they are guided at home in an age-appropriate, natural way, [it teaches] them not to seek information from other sources, which may not be accurate, like from their other friends and so on, which might be misleading."

Shetty believes there should be an organised system which is centred on the parents.

"I think that should be the first step - whether the Ministry of Health does it or clinics where you have expectant mothers or mothers with small children who come for different explanations, and so on; or it should be done at PTA (parent-teacher association) meetings; it should be done at church. That's something we need to debate, and what needs to happen is it cannot be left for chance; it cannot be left for whenever, whatever, because the chance of misinformation, misleading [is greater]," Shetty said.

When respondents were asked what age is most appropriate to start teaching sex education to children, the poll returned findings with an average age of 11 years old, which is in line with Ganesh's time frame.

"It has to be age-appropriate. Definitely, they need to know about wet dreams and menstruation when they are hitting puberty or just little bit before that. You know, sometimes we have early puberty. But do they have to know details about vaginal sex, oral sex, anal sex when they are in primary school? No, not in that detail," Ganesh said.

Opposition to the teaching of sex education was strongest when it related to specifics like oral sex, anal sex, and homosexuality. And for these categories, the mean age rose to 14 years. Thirty-one per cent believed that exposure to anal sex and homosexuality should be a no-no for children; while 22 per cent were opposed to oral sex.

Two per cent of those canvassed believed that sex education should not be taught to children and such information should be reserved for those who have reached 18 years.

The poll, which was conducted September 6-7 and 13-14, carried a margin of error of +3% or -3%.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com