Learning about the birds and the bees is undeniably a daunting yet important task. It is also one, which no country’s education system seems to have mastered.
Let’s talk about sex! This may have been one of your least favorite sentences throughout middle school and high school. In reality, all the talk about sex that is happening outside the classroom, in the lives of adolescents, is what promotes many of the widely believed misconceptions about sexual health.
Quality sexual education is imperative to a society of young adults making smart sexual health decisions and valuing consent in college where hookup culture can be prevalent. Adolescents making safe and smart decisions in their sex lives come from having reliable information on protecting themselves and their partners.
With such variations even among respective schools, it is no wonder sex education differs vastly from country to country. Sex and relationships are a huge part of many people’s lives; in fact, none of us would be here without it. Its absence in the curriculum, therefore, can have detrimental effects.
How Different Countries Deal with the Subject of Sex Education?
Every country has its flaws with sex education, yet some may have more alarming consequences than others. In this article, I would like to take you around the world and show how different countries deal with the subject of sex education:
The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry in Malaysia have called for better sex education. Currently, sex education is integrated into subjects such as Moral and Islamic studies, science, and biology. The basis of sex education revolves around abstinence.
It also focuses on the biological aspect of sex, ignoring many other crucial facets like consent, emotional wellbeing, and contraception. Children, especially those who attend religious schools, are not prepared for the real world.
The Dutch are famously liberal. The general ethos in the Netherlands is that sexuality is a natural part of human life and should be taught as such.
All children aged four and older must receive age-appropriate sex education. Often, this education emphasizes building respect for their bodies and sexuality, as well as their peers’. One of their first lessons is on consent. Everything, ranging from contraception to relationships, STIs to pleasure is taught in apt detail. As a result of their extensive program, the country’s teenage pregnancy rate is very low.
It may come as no shock that the British are rather reserved in how they talk about sex. While sex education is now compulsory in all schools, the guidelines are relatively thin.
Sex education is incorporated into the curriculum through Personal, Social, Health, and Economics Education (PSHE), yet this varies vastly between schools. In a revolutionary step taken by the government, all children in secondary school education are taught age-appropriate material about sex, and sexual and emotional relationships.
Chinese sex education is often very reductive or even completely absent. With the number of abortions and contractions of sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) rising at an alarming rate, change must be introduced.
Sex education is not compulsory in China, which leads to gaps in children’s understanding of sex, as they enter adulthood. Allegedly, a Chinese couple laid next to each other in bed for three years trying to get pregnant.
Many Chinese universities have installed vending machines selling home testing kits for HIV to students. Additionally, some schools have been battling taboo by using sex education textbooks. While designed to tackle the problem, the books sparked uproar from parents and were quickly removed from schools.
Much like China, in India, sex education is not compulsory in schools. The statistics are shocking: a disturbing 53 per cent of children between the ages of five and 12 have been subjected to sexual abuse. India has the fastest-growing population in the world and one of the highest rates of HIV infection. According to The Times Of India, more than 50 per cent of girls in rural India are unaware of the concept of menstruation.
The culture around sex promotes silence and shame which confuses young people. Often they are unable to recognize abuse. However, The Guardian has suggested India has the best sex education program in the world. While India may run a successful program, it needs to be implemented in all schools to have a positive effect on its young audience.
In an even more extreme situation than the UK, US schools’ programs vary widely from school to school and state to state. According to the Guttmacher Institute, less than half of US states include HIV education in their programs. Guidance is given to schools in most states, but school districts ultimately call the shots.
For years, research has highlighted the need to provide effective, comprehensive sexuality education to young people. The US has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrialized world. There is also a pressing need to address harassment, bullying, and relationship violence in our schools, which have a significant impact on a student’s emotional and physical well-being as well as on academic success.
Studies have shown that nearly 9 out of 10 students from the LGBTQIA+ community were reported being harassed in the previous year. Two-thirds of LGBTQIA+ students reported feeling unsafe and nearly one-third skipped at least one day of school because of concerns about their safety. Those who reported frequent harassment also suffered from lower grade point averages.
Similarly, teen relationship violence continues to be a pressing problem. Although frequently under-reported, ten per cent of teens are physically harmed by their boyfriend or girlfriend in a given year.
Rethinking sex education means to make sure young people are receiving well-rounded, well-researched, accurate, and diverse information about their sexual and reproductive health. It means that we need to do more than simply identify “negative” health outcomes and potential risks such as unintended pregnancy and STIs.
My personal opinion is that “rethinking sex education” should involve teaching children to have respect and autonomy over their bodies and towards other people’s bodies as well. It should also include teaching young children about the changes that are going to occur to their bodies during puberty.
Due to the large-scale exposure to media, whether television, print, or the Internet, children now have easy access to sexually explicit content. Hence, they tend to gather knowledge according to their age and understanding. It is made to believe that sex is something dirty and should never be talked about whereas the fact is that sex is a natural phenomenon just like other faculties of the human body. This is where the students should be given primary knowledge.
What Can We Do?
The following recommendations/suggestions came to light during a survey that was distributed among professionals:
Weekly/Monthly workshops on topics like safe and unsafe touch, puberty in girls and boys, etc.
Easy accessibility to counselors.
Training of teachers on gender-related issues.
Informing students about the importance of consent.
Provide sound knowledge not only of the physical aspects of sexual behavior but also its - psychological and sociological aspects so that sexual experience will be viewed as a part of the total personality of the individual.
Develop attitudes and standards of conduct that will ensure that young people and adults will determine their sexual and other behavior by considering its long-range effects on their personal development, the good of other individuals, and the welfare of society as a whole.
A well-formulated, well-taught sex education course makes a tremendously important contribution to young adolescents’ development. It will help them sort out the confusing messages they get from peers, social media, TV, movies, and the internet, talk comfortably and knowledgeably about sex with family members, friends, and lovers, and greatly improve their chances of making it through the teen years without any traumatizing sexual experiences.
Insightful sex education might even help them lead happy sex lives as adults. Having access to sex education that is not only comprehensive but also medically accurate is a human right; it's our fundamental duty as a society to educate the current and the next generation.
Edited by Annanya Chaturvedi