WHY are we so scared of talking about sex? What kind of twisted logic drives some parents, teachers and education ministers to protect children from sex education, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of cultural taboo and dangerous misinformation?
Sexuality is broader than sexual activity. It encompasses all the things that make us who we are. Shaped by culture, history, values, education and experience, our sexuality influences our views of individuality, family, parenthood, and community.
From a young age, children are exposed to sexual imagery and language in their environment, and their bodies are experiencing and developing sexual responsiveness. Their curiosity is inevitable and the answers they get should clarify – not confuse – the issue for them.
Parents have to first understand that sex education does not teach children how to have sex at an early age. It teaches them about the physiological, social and biological aspects of leading a healthy sexual life in the future.
This encompasses not only the physical act of sex, but also gender identity, physical changes, consent, awareness about sexual abuse, birth control measures, and prevention of HIV and STDs.
It is also to help young people gain a positive view of sexuality and to provide them with developmentally appropriate knowledge and skills so that they can make healthy decisions about their sex lives now and in the future.
Medically accurate sex education is an investment for our children’s future well-being. Our “return on investment” could be a generation of young people who have heard more helpful messages about sexuality than the provocative media images and/or silences they currently witness. It could be a generation of women and men comfortable in their own skin, able to make well-informed and responsible decisions, form healthy relationships, and take care of their bodies.
Young people have the right to lead healthy lives. As they develop, we want them to take more control of their lives so that they can make important decisions on their own. The balance between responsibility and rights is critical because it sets behavioural expectations and builds trust while providing young people with the knowledge, ability and comfort to manage their sexual health throughout life in a thoughtful and empowered way.
But responsibility is a two-way street. Society needs to provide young people with honest, age-appropriate information while young people must take personal responsibility for their health and well being.
Advocates must also work to dismantle barriers to sexual health, including poverty and lack of access to health care.
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