SEX education is defined as the teaching and learning of topics relating to sex and sexuality, exploring values and beliefs about these topics and gaining the skills that are needed to develop relationships and manage one’s own sexual health.
Another definition by, The European Expert Group explains sex education “as an education that aims to develop and strengthen the ability of children and young people to make conscious, satisfying, healthy and respectful choices regarding relationships, sexuality and emotional and physical health”.
Parents have different views on sexual education. Some believe that sex education should not be taught in schools. While others believe, that only certain aspects of sex education should be taught. Some think it should be part of the school curriculum. If it should be taught, when is the appropriate age?
However, what should be the ideal in a world where there are different opinions about sex and sexuality? Should the topic of sex be taught in Nigerian schools?
Topics taught in sex education could include the following: Sexual intercourse, reproduction, puberty, dating and romance, child planning, birth control, sexual orientation, sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) Gender identity, Abstinence, how to use the condom, Sexuality throughout life, Gender roles diversity, Sexuality in the media.
Sex education may be taught in community settings, schools or online. However, there are disputes on whether or not sex education should be taught in schools in Nigeria. Some have argued that educating students on topics relating to sex safety and the use of condoms may make them become rebellious and act out.Others believe that children should be taught sex education in schools, based on their level of understanding.
But then, one may ask, what is accurate and balanced sex education? This can include information about contraception and condoms which is actually a basic human right for youths. Such education helps young people to reduce their risk of potentially negative outcomes, such as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Sex education can also help improve the quality of their relationships and assist in developing decision-making skills that will prove invaluable to life.
Most times, you hear children who did not have the opportunity to get any form of sex education ask questions like: What pill do I take if my monthly period fails to come? How often do I take the pill? Can I have sex and get pregnant if I take these contraceptive pills? Is it safe to have sex during my period? What about the pull-out method? For example, on the issue of the use of contraceptive, lack of knowledge could lead to having unwanted pregnancy, STIs, or both.
It is a known fact that most children, aged 12–18 years have watched romantic movies of some sort. Most of them have read romantic materials of some kind and most of them too have listened to romantic radio programs.
You now see that at these ages, these children are already learning about sex and romance through other means. Bear in mind that what they see in the media or read in the books are not necessarily accurate.
This brings in the next question of age. At what age should sex education be taught? Should sex education be taught in Preschool? And if it should be taught, what terminologies should be used?
According to Mrs Uzoamaka Ifewulu, a secondary school teacher, “sex education can be taught in pre-school but age-appropriate answers must be given. Questions should be answered calmly, positively, honestly and accurately. Children are sexual beings; it’s a strong part of their identity and it is linked to their values and respect. Rigid views on gender are associated with abuse and domestic violence”
“Surely toddler sex education (if that is really a thing or if there is anything like that) should start in the home and not at daycare. Sex education is a difficult issue and best handled in a sensitive manner with families”.
“Be age-appropriate, but answer questions calmly, positively, honestly and accurately. Start with basic information about reproduction. Find out exactly what your child wants to know and answer the specific question. There’s no need to go into elaborate details when it might not be necessary. Preschoolers must talk about the right names for boys’ and girls’ genitals, good touches/bad touches, and stop/go/tell if something happens. Sex education is not just about the ‘nuts and bolts’ of sex, sexual identity and gender”.
“In all, what I am saying is, if it is possible, sex education should be part of the education curriculum, because sex education does not harm children and youths in any way”.
For Mr Ikechukwu Usonwa, a civil servant, “schools and parents must not shy away from discussing sexual education or else children will learn from people and media that do not really care for their physiological, psychological and spiritual well-being. Sexuality education does not harm children and adolescence in any way. There is no corrupting influence of sexuality education neither does it lead to early or increased sexual activity. Instead of silencing sex education because of cultural belief, culture should be taken into context while teaching sex education”.
“Sex is a natural part of life, and it happens with or without sex education. Just because we refuse to talk about sex doesn’t mean it’s just going to go away. Sex education is important. It’s been proven time and time again. We know students who receive formal sex education in schools are shown to first have sexual intercourse later than students who have not had sex education. Sex education does not encourage teenagers to have sex, it does quite the opposite.
Teenagers should have sex education incorporated into their schooling. It shouldn’t be opt-in or opt-out but mandatory. Why should parents be able to opt their children in or out of a subject that they’ll need later in life, one way or another? Sex education should be mandatory, comprehensive, medically accurate, and taught throughout student’s school years, just like maths. It’s been shown to help students, not hurt. Not only is having access to sex education that is not only comprehensive but medically accurate a human right; it’s our fundamental duty as a society to educate the next generation. Currently, we are failing, something needs to be done, and fast too.