Published on: Jul 24, 2008
Type: Opinions

For a very long time, the issue of sex education for young people, particularly in the African region but not exclusively so has remained a taboo. Although sex is a natural developmental process, many parents, cultures and societies frown at discussing sex with their adolescent children because it is perceived as a generational taboo.

Without destroying the fabric of the society or culture, it is imperative to teach young people about sex education in a way that not only reflects the values of the family and society, but also enhances the sustainability of a balanced culture. Having sex is a primitive, intrinsic natural human tendency that emerges in all of us in different forms and at different times. One thing is certain: if we don’t educate our children on sex and sex-related issues, they would learn from other people or the mass media. Sex education is not only important as a developmental process in the life of a child, it arms the child with the tools to understand him or herself better in relation to the immediate environment and the threats that could emerge from such interaction. This is to say that young people would gain incremental knowledge of the ability to protect themselves and alert people of the threats of sexual exploitation if they are sexually educated.

Sex education provides young people with the information they need to understand their bodies and gender roles in positive ways. It is about better understanding of humanity, our reproductive rights and developmental changes such as puberty, menopause, aging, that could be experienced in the course of one’s reproductive life. It provides a safety net for young people whose lives are already infiltrated by messages from the media that may not reflect core family values. Educating our young people about themselves sends a message of self-appreciation, self-esteem and highlights the fact that the change they are experiencing or would experience is indeed normal.

Humans are curious animals and young people are exploratory as an expression of their intrinsic curiosity. Peer pressure and the media have enormous influence in the lives of the so called generation Y, and if we don’t teach them about sex, somehow they would learn and maybe learn in a way that may have devastating consequences. Some elements of the mass media - television, radio, magazines - are biased, ill informed and may not portray accurate reflection of reality. Sex education will serve as counter-insurgency to the war that has been declared against family values by mass media. Children are more likely to make better and more informed decisions when adequately educated, and parents will feel more confident knowing that their children are aware of the realities around their reproductive lives. Although most parents work hard to prevent their children from premature sexual relationships, the reality is that it still happens and could happen in spite of threats and intimidation. Educating the child on the importance of protection as part of safe sex routine may serve a higher purpose of preventing sexually transmitted infections.

There are a number of reasons why parents are reluctant to teach their children about sex. Prominent amongst the reason for families frowning at sex education include but not limited to the preservation of virginity, prevention of premarital sex, illegitimate pregnancy and abortion, religion and culture, as well as maintenance of family honor and dignity. Contrary to this assumption, a number of surveys have shown that girls who were not educated about sexuality, including changes during puberty are more likely to embark on sexual indiscretion and become pregnant in their teenage years than those who were educated about sex. Knowledge, they say is power, and this power when bestowed on adolescents could be the difference between an irrational decision and a well informed one.

Sex education should ideally start in the home where parents should engage their children as active participants in their development process. This education continues at school in a way that preserves the family values while embracing societal realities. Sex education that begins at school could have an untoward effect of these young children not understanding the position of their parents, leading to sexual licentiousness and catastrophic experimentation. The result is that these individuals may become pregnant or contract infectious diseases, and may never regain the will or opportunity to achieve their greatest potential. The social development of young people is a product of family and society partnership, where these children are active participants in their own lives. Education is by no means an enemy of humanity but ignorance is. Education provides the enabling environment for young people to question and understand better some of the existential questions they may have.

The debate continues in the western nations whether sexual education should at all be taught to young people and who as well as when should this ideally commence. For sex education advocates, the ravages of HIV/AIDS, sexual molestation of children and all forms of pervasive sexual abuses are enough to continue to keep this issue on the forefront of public discourse. There is a staggering statistics that 25% of all girls and 16% of all boys will be victims of some type of sexual abuse or assault by the time they turn 18 years. Sadistic acts of sexual exploitation has been recorded against children as young as two weeks old. Some people are abused from a very young age into their teenage years. The resultant effect could be a teenager that is emotionally imbalanced and psychologically deranged. Some end up as self-harmers with increasing urge to kill themselves and some ultimately commit suicide.

Families should exercise reasonable judgment in disseminating the all-important information of sexual education to their children. If children are not comfortable discussing sexuality with parents, how then would they have the courage to inform parents of sexual abuse? This results in the child having self-blame, guilt, poor self-esteem, anxiety and fear of both the family and outsiders. For teenagers, there may be increased aggression; hostility and some may turn to drugs and other high-risk behaviors for consolation later in life. Having appropriate knowledge of sexual education would help the child deal with challenges that life may throw at them in relation to their sexual future. Children of the 21st century need more education on their bodies and body imagery, reproductive rights and birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual abuse and high-risk sexual behaviors and other exploitative behaviors.

Until the society, both in advanced and developing nations make sex education a common public discourse and encourage families to embrace the idea, sexual abuse and exploitation will remain a common threat to our children. There are sexual perpetrators everywhere one turns, from big cities to small country towns. Taking a collective stand and educating our children on sex and related matters will go a long way in preventing some of the tragic exploitative sexual experiences that harm our children and threaten their humanity.

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