Sexuality and Physical Education at Home and School

Written and Narrated by: Fozia Tahir

According to UNESCO (2009), the primary goal of sexuality education is to equip children and young people with the knowledge, skills and values to make responsible choices about their sexual and social relationships in a world affected by HIV. In addition to learning about the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), children and young people also need to learn about the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse to recognise these when they occur, to protect themselves as far as possible and to identify and access available sources of support. Sensitising children, parents, teachers, police and local communities to the nature and extent of sexual violence, and giving permission to discuss it, are essential steps in tackling it. Sexuality education can provide an appropriate framework and context for educating students about sexual abuse.

This process of gaining knowledge about sexuality can come from both formal and informal sources focusing on the core set facts about sexuality. What should be included in the formal sex education is yet another area that needs more research and discussion.

Values permeate the whole process of sex education. But one must still question why should there be a discussion on this?

  • Because the diversity that exists in contemporary society makes a consensus on value impossible
  • Because some of the aims of sex education such as reduction in number of child abuse cases, teenage pregnancies, exposure to diseases etc, are of much importance to all societies
  • Because it can help individuals develop a non-judgmental approach towards diversity in society (not however towards rape and sexual abuse)

The process of value development begins at earliest childhood and goes throughout life and schools have a distinct role to play in this value system, including

  • Reflect the values of the society
  • To fill in the gaps in student knowledge and understanding including the knowledge of importance of values
  • Encourage pupils to choose a rational path through the variety of influence that can impinge on their experience e.g. they need help to make sense of diversity of sexual values which they have picked up from variety of sources and to be critically reflective

All of this however requires for the teachers to be critically reflective themselves.

There is a lack of consensus on sexual values, with religion being the major influence. Over the time however, sexuality has become more visible and much more widely accepted. When it comes to global sexuality education programs most often three approaches are observed

  1. The right based approach
  2. The morality approach
  3. The health approach

Schools are very often given freedom in sexuality education curricula.

  1. Right based approach (RBA):

This approach is based on human rights i.e. entitlements that belong to individuals despite their gender, race, religious orientation, ethnicity or socio-economic status. It is up to governments on how to proceed with these rights. RBA combines human rights, development and social activism to promote justice, equality and freedom. It also ensures gender sensitive and sex positive education for young people to be more empowered. Sexuality education can also address social inequality and exclusion.

  1. Morality based approach:

The idea of morality-based approach is to make children honest, responsible, compassionate and virtuous i.e. to turn students into mature adults. Sexuality education is tied to sexual morality and religion. Moral values are quite a sensitive issue e.g. presenting the idea of pre-marital sex in many religious countries.

  1. Health based approach:

Education that relates to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, rather than concentrating on sex prevention strategies. This approach allows individuals to face the facts and understand health challenges and outcomes of unsafe sex.

  1. Abstinence until marriage:

The main opposing approach to sexuality education is abstinence only. Not only does it encourage abstinence of sex until marriage but also avoids discussion on use of contraceptives and disease prevention.

In terms of practice and application in schools, Morality based approach seems to be the preferred type.

But how does individual make these choices?

Decision theory explains the factors that go into each decision that a person makes. Decisions may happen in a split second or over a matter of minutes, days, or years. When faced with several decisions, a person considers the benefits and risks of each choice. They make a comparison and decide that one choice is worth a substantial risk because of its substantial benefits. Weighing the benefits and risks of sexual activity is usually a longer and more complicated process. The sex education debate is much about decision theory. What information will enable young people to view risk and benefit in ways that will lead them to make good sexual decisions.

Sex and sex education although being ageless are a taboo topic in conservative societies like ours. It is true that even educated people like myself will not appreciate too much information for children at a younger age. But if one thinks about it closely there is a floodgate of information available online and It is perhaps better for students to learn basic physical and health education in schools.

Whether this education should come from homes or schools is still arguable, I personally think it has to come from both.

United Kingdom

Sex education in school

Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) is taught as part of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) under the National Curriculum in the UK.

SRE aims to:

  • recognise the importance of marriage and stable relationships in family life and raising children
  • provide information appropriate to each age group
  • involve parents as much as possible in their child’s sex education
  • reduce the number of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Initially, parents had the right to withdraw their child from SRE classes up until the age of 19. But it has now become compulsory for children aged 15-16.

What will a child learn in sex education class in the UK

Children are taught about different aspects of sex at different ages, summarised in the following table

Age Guide to what is taught
ages 5-7 puberty, relationships and how to be safe
ages 7-11 puberty, relationships (including marriage, divorce, separation, same-sex and civil partnerships), managing emotions and dealing with negative pressures
ages 11-14 sexual activity, human reproduction, contraception, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, relationships
ages 14-16 body image and health, choices about sex, parenting skills and family life, separation and divorce

Faith schools are encouraged to devise SRE classes that reflect their faith’s values and ethical codes.

Sex education at home

Role of a parents in child’s education about sex and relationships is important. The teaching of these subjects in school is designed to complement the discussions parents have with a child at home.

Before discussion, parents should

  • Think about their own views on sex and what matters to them in relationships and family life.
  • Work out their own values and morals so that the children get clear, consistent messages about sex and relationships throughout childhood.

Sex education is most effective when it’s built up gradually over a number of years, so ignoring the subject will not help the children. Its helpful for a child to grow up with clarity about sex and relationships.

Tips for parents on talking to a child about sex and relationships:

  • Try to make discussion of sex a part of normal life not just a one-off talk (according to your norms and values).
  • Talk as naturally as possible to your child as this will encourage him or her to be more relaxed and open with you.
  • Answer any questions your child asks as clearly as you can so that he or she doesn’t become confused.
  • Listen carefully to what your child has to say and try to deal with any fears, concerns or misunderstandings as they arise.
  • Be truthful if you don’t know the answer to a question – try to find out the answer and then raise the topic again another day.
  • Don’t avoid a topic if you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about raising it. Consider introducing the subject via discussion of a TV programme or magazine article or what your child is learning in class.
  • Make sure any discussions are appropriate to the age of your child

 

Challenges of Sexuality Education

  1. Influence of parents on the education of their children
  2. Teaching social skills relevant to sexual behaviour in classroom settings requires special expertise in both design and delivery of the content

 

Pros of sex education:

A sexually educated person besides being educated and informed

  • Will have certain personal qualities e.g. self-assertion, personal security, and fairness etc
  • Will have certain attitude e.g. such as views on abortion, divorce, or homosexuality
  • Will have certain skill e.g. responsible decision making

So, I would like to conclude that with the amount of information available online and offline and rising occurrences of cases of child sexual abuse and sexual harassment, bans on abortion its becoming more and more important for proper research and debate in this field and for it to be taught from formal forms of education and therefore schools and education systems have a huge role to play in it.

References:

  • Magoon, Kekla. Sex Education in Schools. Edina Minnesota: ABDO Publishing, 2010
  • Bella, V. L. 2014. Incorporating Sexuality Education in the Public-School System: Perceptions from the Philippines. University of Amsterdam, MSc International development studies, Amsterdam.
  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/parents/sex_education_support/ (30-1-2018)
  • Halstead, J. M. & Reiss, M. J. 2003. Values in sex education: from principles to practice. RoutledgerFalmer, London
  • 2009. International technical guidance on sexuality education. Paris: Unesco. Online at http://data.unaids.org/pub/ ExternalDocument/2009/20091210_international_guidance_sexuality_education_vol_2_en.pdf

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