Sexuality education for young people

Two teen girls whispering rumours“Few young people receive adequate preparation for their sexual lives. This leaves them potentially vulnerable to coercion, abuse and exploitation, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Many young people approach adulthood faced with conflicting and confusing messages about sexuality and gender. This is often exacerbated by embarrassment, silence and disapproval of open discussion of sexual matters by adults, including parents and teachers, at the very time when it is most needed. There are many settings globally where young people are becoming sexually mature and active at an earlier age. They are also marrying later, thereby extending the period of time from sexual maturity until marriage.”

This statement from the 2009 UNESCO publication International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education – An evidence-informed approach for schools, teachers and health educators, states clearly and simply the major issues facing young people today in regards to sexuality education.

Whilst sex ed. at school, if present, can offer a valuable source of information, children often name their parents as the biggest influence in their decisions about sexual behaviour. Studies show that those who report having easy, open conversations about sex with mum and/or dad are more likely to delay sexual activity, have fewer partners, and use contraceptives when they do have sex. However, when parents feel discomfort, shame or embarrassment on the topic, young people are left to learn about sexuality from friends, television, music, advertisements and the internet. These sources present a skewed and at times dangerous view.

legs charming girl removes lingerie in laptopExposure to pornography is unfortunately inevitable for most children in our media and device filled world. Seven out of ten youth have accidentally come across pornography online and nearly 80 percent of unwanted exposure to pornography is taking place in the home. It is suggested that this happens for many by the age of 11. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England has called for urgent action to develop children’s resilience to pornography following a research report it commissioned which found that: a significant number of children access pornography; it influences their attitudes towards relationships and sex; it is linked to risky behaviour such as having sex at a younger age; and there is a correlation between holding violent attitudes and accessing more violent media. Pornography viewing has been linked to unrealistic attitudes about sex; maladaptive attitudes about relationships; more sexually permissive attitudes; greater acceptance of casual sex; beliefs that women are sex objects; more frequent thoughts about sex; sexual uncertainty; and less progressive gender role attitudes (e.g. male dominance and female submission).

Pornography is not likely to go away, so what can we do? We need to help young people to contextualise the reality of pornography.

As parents it is useful to ask ourselves this question:

Do we want our kids to learn about their anatomy and sex from pornography, friends and the internet? Or do we prefer to do whatever it takes to be proactive in making sure they have the information they need to make safe decisions and good choices around their sexuality and to have fulfilling sexual relationships in their future?

Some parents express concerns that talking about sexuality early will somehow lead to early sexual activity. Far from over ‘sexualising’ our children, experts suggest that having open conversations based on a childs questions and age, supports them to make sense of the world so that the reverse is true. Understanding what is involved doesn’t lead to early experimenting or inappropriate behaviour, in fact it reduces these. And, importantly, studies show that age appropriate education around anatomy and boundaries needs to start as early as age 6 if we really want to have an impact on the world wide endemic of sexual abuse.

In Laura-Doe’s talk, “Don’t let you child’s sex education come from music videos and porn!”, she will discuss these and other issues involved and offer practical suggestions for parents, about how to empower yourself so you feel equipped and ready to approach these important conversations and to answer your children’s questions as they arise. She will discuss different approaches and subject areas that are useful when talking to different age groups – young children, tweens and adolescents – and suggest strategies to overcome the feelings of embarrassment and discomfort that many of us feel when faced with this topic.

Contact The yOniversity for more information about organising such a talk in your area or to discuss sessions with Laura-Doe designed for the children themselves at various ages.