Sex education has always been treated as a taboo. For a few years now, several fake news have appeared on the subject, causing it to be even more disapproved by parents and generating doubts such as: what can you learn from this? How can matter benefit the health of young people?
Eliane Maio, professor at the State University of Maringá (UEM) and coordinator of the Center for Studies and Research in Sexual Diversity and Gender (NUDISEX), talks about the subject.
What is sex education really?
Sex education, currently called sexuality education, is a subject that includes ways of teaching about the expressions of sexuality for children and adolescents, both within the family and at school.
Eliane explains that “education in sexuality is a way of bringing information about sexual expressions”, being a way of “contributing to a healthy sexual expression, aiming to enable children and adolescents to express themselves, ask questions and be able to develop properly” ”.
Sex education also happens at home
The conversation about sex and sexuality between parents and children is always portrayed as a tense moment in movies and series, reaffirming an established taboo in society. However, according to Eliane, sex education should start at home, since the information coming from the family is the most appropriate. “As I always say: it (family education) is ‘eye to eye. This is when people who like each other can express themselves, and so the conversation flows faster and with more affection.”
“Learning in this way is necessary, as it allows the emergence of doubts and questions, and to elaborate and return questions, based on trust”, concludes the teacher.
5 tips for approaching sex education at home
- Be understanding and welcoming: Eliane says that sex education must come from an affective, welcoming, careful and affectionate environment. Thus “the child will be educated with more tranquility, understanding the issues involving sexuality, aiming at a much more adequate cognitive construction.”
- Clear all doubts: it is normal that there are doubts, and they will probably be many. The important thing is to stay calm and try to answer everything you can. The teacher also explains that there’s nothing wrong if you don’t know how to answer right away. Check that you will research and come back with the answer later.
- Don’t beat around the bush: It can be complicated, or even embarrassing, to talk about sex and sexuality. However, its discussion is essential and needs to be taken as something natural, as it actually is. The researcher indicates the adequacy of the language according to the age of the child or adolescent, but keeping a direct speech and without many taboos.
- Leave the metaphors aside: hey, this teenager has heard that babies come from everywhere. So, leave the metaphors aside and explain, with the right names, everything they need to know and have questions about.
- Don’t leave it for later: some questions may be uncomfortable to answer. Many parents explain the basics and understand that the rest the child or teenager will learn when they are old, not knowing for sure who will explain to them later. This opens up loopholes for misinformation or false and harmful information.
The internet provides access to information in a few clicks. However, such data can often be false or wrong, making source checking very important. Children and adolescents do not usually seek the veracity of the information they read, so support in the family circle serves as an essential filter.
Sex education in schools
The main discussion among parents, teachers, politicians and researchers in the field of education is whether or not to include the subject in school subjects. According to Eliane, sex education should indeed be addressed at school, since “there are many aspects that must be scientifically explained on the subject. And this is the role of the school at all levels of education, from kindergarten”, explains the teacher. Check out other reasons that validate the presence of the subject in schools!
Why is it important to talk about sex education in schools?
- Prevents sexual abuse: sex education teaches children where, when and who can touch them or not, developing the idea of consent and respect, as well as teaching how to react and who to report if a person touches them inappropriately. This helps prevent childhood sexual abuse.
- Teaches about differences: at school, or even before, many children are already starting to question themselves about the differences between the female and male sexes. Knowing about the biological differences of the human body from an early age, in a natural and objective way, without moralism and judgment, creates more conscious and respectful citizens.
- Helps to report abuse: according to data from the Ministry of Health, between 2011 and 2017, there was an 83% increase in reports of sexual violence against children and adolescents in Brazil, with more than 184,000 new cases registered. Most aggressions happen at home, by acquaintances or even family members. With an in-school sex education system, children can report and seek help from their teachers in a safe and trusted environment.
- Prevents sexually transmitted diseases: sex education for children and adolescents helps to prevent various diseases, since the best way to avoid them is to protect yourself. With information on sexuality education, adolescents become aware of the risks of unprotected sex and are instructed on how to seek ways to protect themselves, for example, with the free condoms distributed by the SUS.
- Teaches respect for one’s own body: Many young people learn about sexuality through pornography and materials that do not express the reality of sex and bodies. Learning about the topic in a safe environment is important for them to respect each other, respect their future partners and not create distorted views about sexual relationships.
- Prevents early pregnancy: The World Health Organization considers “early pregnancy” when a girl becomes pregnant before age 19. The main reasons for this early pregnancy to occur is the lack of access to contraceptive methods and misinformation about them. Schools that offer sex education classes educate teens about contraception options, how each works and how to access them.
Sex education is a right of every child and adolescent. Having a safe place for them to learn about consent, about their bodies and about sexual safety is critical to the development of a healthy adult.
And what does science say about sex education at school?
The United Nations (UN) considers that sex education is directly related to the rights of children and adolescents. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also support this idea. In partnership, the organizations created a guide with measures that promote socio-emotional skills and a healthy lifestyle for children, including sex education as one of the ways.
UNAIDS, the United Nations program created to discuss the fight against AIDS, states in its guide that “sex education is a teaching program on the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. Its objective is to equip children and young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that empower them to: experience their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how your choices affect your own and others’ well-being; understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout life”.
In unison, Professor Eliane explains that there are many benefits of learning sex education at school, such as the idea of studying the sexual organs without taboo, in an objective way, as they study the respiratory, excretory, digestive systems, etc. In addition, “a well-educated child sexually manages to free himself from abusive people. She will be able to discern between the aspects of healthy and abusive sexuality. She will know how to say no to physical violence and ask for help. In the future, she will take care of the body aiming at not transmitting STIs as well as unplanned pregnancy.”
How does sex education work in Brazilian schools?
In 2019, the PeNSE initiative, the National School Health Survey, questioned adolescents aged 13 to 17 years about various aspects of their health. Some questions generated data regarding the sexuality of these adolescents, such as, for example, the fact that 35.4% of the total stated that they had had sexual intercourse at least once in their lives. Of these, 36.6% were 13 years old or younger during their first sexual experience.
In addition, 82.1% of students claim to have received information about sexually transmitted diseases in schools. 75.5% of them also received information on preventing early pregnancy and only 67.6% received information on how to purchase condoms for free.
The data show that adolescents are not completely helpless in relation to sex education. However, according to Eliana, the quality of the information, the in-depth study on the subject and the effective actions in Brazilian schools leave much to be desired. “I know of few isolated cases where professors call someone from outside to give a lecture. Which contributes little or nothing, because the person does not participate in the school context, students do not always answer their doubts, and time is short. It would be necessary to have the subject as school content, in all subjects, dialoguing together.”
Sex education at school is not only intended to explain about the sexual act, but also to prevent illness and pregnancy, improve self-esteem and self-acceptance, naturalize the differences between bodies, teach about consent and about gender and diversity issues.
What should sex education look like?
In an ideal world, Eliane explains that sex education should be shared and discussed with the entire school. “The lunch lady, the janitor, the secretary, etc. must participate in courses, events, group studies on this topic, as sexuality is expressed everywhere in the school. From Kindergarten to High School. With in-depth studies, as is done on literacy, the environment, etc.”
The researcher also claims that sex education is much more than just talking about sex. “It’s not talking about ‘sex’ but about ethics, respect, equal rights and gender. For example, I always ask, why do boys and girls line up to enter or leave the room? What purpose? Other than segregating by gender? There are so many questions that must be asked about gender issues, and they should talk about it and act differently, respecting everyone”.
How is sex education in schools in other countries?
The teacher explains that few countries serve as a model of sex education, but some give…
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