Sex education in schools

Published: Sunday | September 27, 2009

Heather Little-White, Ph.D., Contributor

What if your six-year-old child starts asking you questions about sex? What would you say and how comfortable you would feel talking to him or her about sex? The appropriateness of sex education in schools is an on-going debate and views vary from among socio-economic groups and cultures. Parents, many of whom are uncertain as to how to broach sexual education at home, should be fully aware of what their children are being taught about sex at school. This ensures that the information is complete, accurate and reflects family values. It is also makes parents more prepared to answer questions about sex education their children may bring home from school.

In recommending what type of sex education should be given to children, many sex educators recommend that sex education be comprehensive and age appropriate. Prior to becoming president of the United States of America, Barack Obama expressed his support for age-appropriate sex education to be taught in public schools. Obama called science-based sex education in schools 'the right thing to do'. He believes that sex education is important with a coarsening of the culture and the over-sexualisation of our young people. Obama supports warning young people about inappropriate touching and feels that a kindergartener's questions about 'where babies come from' should be answered accurately and in an age-appropriate format when the questions arise.

President Obama has supported sex education in public schools throughout his political career. In 2003, as state senator, Obama supported an Illinois legislative measure that allowed age-appropriate sex education for children of any age including kindergarteners. (ABC News)

Age-appropriate information

For pre-puberty children (approximately up to age 10) teach children the basics of their anatomy, how their bodies work, how babies are conceived, and what they should expect of their bodies as they develop.

Primary schoolers: If the children will not be receiving another course in sex education in their early teen years, then at primary school children should be introduced to other aspects of sexuality, such as, love and relationships, contraception, sexual violence information (such as rape and domestic abuse), and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV. If the children will be receiving more sexual education in their later years in school, some of these advanced subjects such as contraception and STIs can be left for a more appropriate time because children are more likely to face these issues as teenagers.

How to teach

There are certain requirements for teachers of sex education:

They should always give accurate, comprehensive information, which should leave children with an awareness of their bodies and how to protect them.

They should be approachable.

They should feel comfortable in talking with the children.

They should let children feel relaxed about asking questions during class. It may be helpful to let them write a question on pieces of paper, then fold them up and answer them randomly. This gives children a chance to ask important questions, and it also lets the teacher know what the children are curious about.

They should consider using visual aids, when appropriate, so the children can see pictures and images of the things being discussed.

They should include parents and other adults in the design of the curriculum.

Broad spectrum

There are different strategies to imparting sex education in schools. Two common approaches adopted in consultation with parents and school officials include learning comprehensive sexuality education or abstinence-only-until-marriage programme. These programmes represent two completely different schools of thought, but either way, it is imperative for parents to know what their children are learning. Parents should not get caught up in the politics of implementation of sex education classes, but they should be the buffer or the fill-in person for their children.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education starts in kindergarten and continues through high school. It brings up age appropriate sexuality topics and covers the broad spectrum of sex education, including safe sex, STDs, contraceptives, masturbation, body image, dating among other topics.


Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programmes emphasise abstinence from all sexual behaviours and do not provide information on contraceptives, STDs, masturbation and other critical topics. Children who are part of this programme in schools will need answers from parents when they come home with questions from school. Regardless of the programme, parents will need to know what their children are being taught about sex and their sexuality. It also helps parents to be more prepared to answer questions with the correct answers, and not leave it the media and their peers.

Cultural differences

In so-called primitive cultures, sexuality and sexual relations are a natural part of child development. Sex education is an integrated part of growing up. In cultures like the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, an older Mangaian woman teaches a teenage boy about the art of sexual intercourse. Insights into the sexual education of children during the 17th century were gained from engravings showing adults and children gathered at public baths.

Anyway, bringing sexual knowledge to people, especially to students, is an urgent but long-term task. China is working hard on it with entirely new approaches. More compatible courses are introduced to junior and senior schools for teens. And college students are beginning to debate sex in class. Furthermore, organisations are established to lead the movement to a high level in order to modernise the old views on sex in China. (

Many parents believe that they should wait until their children are teenagers to teach them about sex education. However, with the influence of mass media and changing lifestyles the character of children are shaped much earlier and parents and the school are the best ones to educate children about sex.

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