Tuesday, July 28, 2009

World Approaches to Sex Education

By Molly Hays, Communcations Intern

Teenage pregnancy tends to be a good indicator of the effectiveness of sexual education programs. Currently, the Netherlands hold the record for lowest incidence of teenage pregnancy. Conversely, teenage pregnancy is the greatest in sub-Saharan Africa. Both cultures are on the extreme opposite ends when it comes to sexual education; and it shows. Meanwhile, China and America are undergoing major policy changes in their sex education programs.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for every 1,000 girl’s ages 15 to 19 years old, 143 become pregnant. In addition, lack of proper health care resources means that carrying and having a child places the mother’s life at great risks.

Sub-Saharan Africa deals with human rights issues like child marriage, genital mutilation, sex trafficking and gender equality. These issues coupled with a lack of basic education can be disastrous.

Thankfully, education is on the rise, both basic and sexual. Previously higher education levels in the region had been linked with increased contraction of STIs and since holding a higher education afforded people more free time and access to sex workers and HIV/AIDS during a time when sex education was almost nonexistent. However, that has been reversed with the onset of HIV/AIDS education.

Unease about sexuality creates a taboo in sub-Saharan Africa that sexual education programs have a hard time combating. Studies show that cultural sensitivity like explaining sex education as a tool to prevent HIV/AIDS makes the programs more socially acceptable than just the sexual education descriptor alone.

The biggest component of lowering teenage pregnancy and STI rates is primary education for the skills learned in school affords people the reasoning skills to effectively make conscious decisions regarding their sexual health.

Unlike sub-Saharan Africa, sexual education taboos have been eradicated in the Netherlands. An open approach is taken in schools where teachers and students converse freely about sexual topics, blending hard facts with feelings.

The program called “Lang leve de liefde” or “Long Live Love,” was developed in the 1980s when AIDS became a hot topic. Sex is treated as a natural interaction between two human beings, and teachers are taught to teach the truth about sex to even elementary school children. This openness has silenced snickers and giggles – giving way to completely open forums where children are relaxed and not afraid to ask questions.

Honesty is important as children are also informed about homosexual intercourse, prostitution, masturbation and contraception. Currently 93 percent of sexually active youth use contraception.

However, a negative stigma is attached to having a child before reaching the age of 20. Also sex is viewed in terms of love and not conquest, resulting in many youth waiting until almost 18 years of age to have sex.

Until recently, sex education in China had been limited and taboo. Now, however, new policies are breaking through the limitations and taboos by making sex education available and easier to talk about.

In February the government launched a campaign aimed at eradicating old views and replacing them with knowledge and ease in seeking medical assistance for sexual health
Prior to this campaign, it was not uncommon for sex education to be limited to a single page in a book that children were instructed to read on their own. Many children learned about sex from pornography websites, since their education need was not being met by schools or family.

Many people suffering from sexually transmitted diseases were reluctant to seek help, or never did. In addition, STI rates, especially that of HIV and AIDS continued to rise, forcing the government to take action thus the new program; the goal is to educate and guide people but also to restrict negative sexual influences like the very porn websites children sought out.
Sex and the State

President Obama has initiated many changes in policy already; the greatest change that pertains to sex education is that the budget eliminates funding for abstinence only sex education programs.

This is a drastic, 180 degree turn from the abstinence only programs President Bush promoted. Obama is opting for an education based teen pregnancy prevention program.

On the campaign trail, Obama had been attacked for backing a bill that would begin sex education in elementary school. He insisted that age-appropriate, science-based education was necessary, saying it was the right things to do.

Only time will tell if the policies will be followed and if states will catch on to implementing science-based and age-appropriate sex education in their schools and just how these education programs influence STD, STI and teen pregnancy incidence.

These changes do look bright, allowing for more discourse and actual education.

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