Sexuality is integral to being human and sexual development a completely normal part of growing up.
For teenagers, this phase of their lives feels both extremely exciting and terribly scary at the same time. For their parents, it’s an uncomfortable truth they’d like to sweep under the carpet and pretend it doesn’t exist. Teaching about sex ed is a job they’d rather not do.
Problem is, they’d rather schools not do it either. Sexual education is still one of the most poorly taught subjects in schools – when it is taught at all. The curriculum tends to focus only on the biology of reproduction, completely ignoring what goes on before two people enter the bedroom: their relationship with each other.
I’m not just talking about love and romance. Often, relationships that eventually lead to sex can be unhealthy, compromising a young person’s ability to enjoy sexual pleasure. The best way to keep teenagers safe and help them create a positive relationship with their sexuality is to teach them all they need to know while they are still in school. Here’s why:
Parents don’t like the idea of their children having sex and often prefer to hide their heads in the sand than tackle the issue head on. But, like it or not, teenagers start to experiment with sex early, with a third of boys and a quarter of girls losing their virginity before turning 16.* Letting them do so without teaching them about sex and relationships is like handing them the keys to a brand new car before they’ve had a single driving lesson and expecting them to ride it without accidents. It’s just not going to happen.
Remember what it felt like to be a teenager? You were so confused about relationships and curious to experiment with sex. But there was no one there to answer all your questions. Your parents dodged it and sex ed, if it was even taught, covered only the most basic biological facts about human sexuality. You had to look for answers somewhere else. From your peers, who pretended to know it all but actually knew less than you and swore that douching after sex would prevent a pregnancy. From your favourite songs and books, which made you believe that unhealthy relationships were actually romantic. From the internet, even though there’s so much contradictory info on there, you were never quite sure what to believe. Imagine how many mistakes you could have avoided if only you were given the right sex ed from the start!
Did you know that teenagers who receive a sexual education that goes beyond mere biology and enters into the realm of relationships are more likely to have sex for the first time at an older age? And to do it with a partner of a similar age they truly care about? And to use contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancies and STDs? It’s not pretending that sex doesn’t exist that keeps teens safe. It’s talking about it loud and clear that does the job.
A comprehensive sexual education doesn’t lead to better sex. It also leads to a better life. Young people often have skewed perception of what does and does not constitutes consent, find it harder to recognise the signs of an abusive relationship, and are under incredible pressure to give in and engage in sexual activities they don’t feel fully ready for yet. Knowing what behaviours are perfectly normal in relationships and which are red flags that should make them run for the hills allows young people to make smarter and more fulfilling choices about their love life.
* National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles
Let’s bring back Sex Ed!
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