Sex education:

Sex education, also known as sexual education, sexuality education or sex ed, is the instruction of issues relating to human sexuality, including emotional relations and responsibilities, human sexual anatomy, sexual activity, sexual reproduction, age of consent, reproductive health, reproductive rights, sexual health, safe sex and birth control. 

Abstinence only sex education is form of sex education that teaches not to have sex outside of marriage. It often excludes other type of sexual and reproductive health education, such as birth control and safe sex. 

Comprehensive sex education, by contrast, covers the use of birth control and sexual abstinence. Sex education may be provided by parents or caregivers, or as part at school programs and public health campaigns. In some countries it is known as Relationships and Sexual health education.

Understanding Sex Education:

Leepson sees sex education as instruction in various physiological, psychological and sociological aspects of sexual response and reproduction. Kearney also defined sex education as “involving a comprehensive course of action by the school, calculated to bring about the socially desirable attitudes, practices and personal conduct on the part of children and adults, that will best protect the individual as a human and the family as a social institution.” 

Thus, sex education may also be described as “sexuality education”, which means that it encompasses education about all aspects of sexuality, including information about family planning, reproduction (fertilization, conception and development of the embryo and fetus, through to childbirth), plus information about all aspects of one’s sexuality including: body image, sexual orientation, sexual pleasure, values, decision making, communication, dating, relationships, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and how to avoid them, and birth control methods.

Various aspects of sex education are considered appropriate in school depending on the age of the students or what the children can comprehend at a particular point in time. Rubin and Kindendall expressed that sex education is not merely the topics of reproduction and teaching how babies are conceived and born. Instead, it has a far richer scope and goal of helping children incorporate sex more meaningfully into their present and future life and to provide them with some basic understanding of virtually every aspect of sex by the time they reach full maturity.

It is taught over several years, introducing age-appropriate information consistent with the evolving capacities of young people. It includes scientifically accurate, curriculum-based information about human development, anatomy and pregnancy. It also includes information about contraception and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. And it goes beyond information, to encourage confidence and improved communication skills. Curricula should also address the social issues surrounding sexuality and reproduction, including cultural norms, family life and interpersonal relationships.

Professor Dr Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a senior sex therapist and counsellor from Mumbai, practicing for more than 35 years. He has authored six books on sex education and human sexuality. He has published an article on importance of sex education for children. Some excerpts of the article are reproduced below for educating parents.

Dr Bhonsle believes that today’s parents are becoming more and more aware and open to actively educate their growing children about ‘sexuality’. However often they are faced with dilemmas such as – “How and when should we educate kids about sex? How much do we tell the children? If we say too much – too early, will it harm them psychologically? Will it encourage them indirectly to experiment and become sexually active?”

He further emphasises that modern parent is quite convinced that it is necessary to make children feel comfortable about their own sexuality from the very beginning. This prepares them and make it easier for them to ask any further question about sex, without any inhibitions throughout their lives. As children grow, parents and teachers can educate them further by giving them age-appropriate yet correct information, so that they can make healthy and responsible decisions about their sexuality.

Often parents are concerned that telling children too-much-too-soon in a way can harm them, or will encourage them to become sexually active earlier in their lives. It is necessary to know that education and information would not encourage children to be sexually active prematurely. On the contrary, it helps them to make better decisions about sex, when there are no restrictions on what they can ask and talk about at home and when they have all the necessary knowledge they require. This helps them to be better equipped at protecting themselves against sexual abuse, molestation, incest, STDs and even unwanted pregnancies.

According to Dr Bhonsle there is information that is more suitable for children at particular ages. For example, a 5-year-old child must know the right names for his body parts, including sex organs and that his genitalia is a ‘private’ part which should never be touched by anyone. Such training at an early age goes a long way to prevent sexual abuse, which is so common in society today.

He emphasises that it is not always necessary to have a major discussion with children each time they ask a sexual question. It is so important to first listen to them carefully. They may just need the answer to one question right now and that is perfectly fine. Always be sure that you are answering the question precisely, rather than talking in general terms. It is good to clarify decently, if you are not sure what your child is asking. Make sure that they know that they are always welcome to ask follow-up questions.

Public Opinion:

A survey conducted in Britain, Canada and the United States by Angus Reid Public Opinion in November 2011 asked adult respondents to look back to the time when they were teenagers, and describe how useful several sources were in enabling them to learn more about sex. By far, the largest proportion of respondents in the three countries (74% in Canada, 67% in Britain and 63% in the United States) said that conversations with friends were “very useful” or “moderately useful.” The next reputable source was the media (television, books, movies, magazines), mentioned by three-in-five British (65%) and Canadians (62%) and more than half of Americans (54%) as useful.

In 2011, Angus Reid Public Opinion said that half of Canadians (54%) and Americans (52%) found their sex education courses at school to be useful, only 43% of Britons share the same view. And while more than half of Americans (57%) say conversations with family were useful, only 49% of Canadians and 35% of Britons said so.

Sex Education in India:

In India, there are many programs promoting sex education including information on AIDS, sex and sexuality in schools as well public education and advertising. AIDS clinics however are not universally available.

Shri Gulam Nabi Azad, ex-Hon’ble Minister of Health and Family Welfare, once said, “India has a strong prevention program which goes hand in hand with care, support and treatment. We have been able to contain the epidemic with a prevalence of just 0.31%. We have also brought about a decline of 50% in new infections annually.”

UnTaboo, a company dedicated to sex education, however, has age- appropriate programs on sex, sexuality and safety awareness education which are conducted in schools and in small private groups outside of schools. Sexual reproduction and different contraceptive methods are taught in grades 8 and 10 (age 14 and 16) compulsorily.

If parents do not teach their children about sex and sexuality, then they will learn about it from somewhere else, and an opportunity to instill family values may be missed.

Discussing sex is also part of starting open communication with your child. Early, honest and open communication between parents and kids is very important, especially when your child becomes an adolescent. If open communication is normal, kids are more likely to speak with parents about all the other trials of adolescence, such as anxiety, depression, relationships, and the use of drugs and alcohol, as well as sexual issues.

Beginning a conversation about sex early and continuing that conversation as the child grows is the best sex education strategy. It lets parents avoid giving one big, and likely uncomfortable talk when the child reaches adolescence (and will have already gotten information and misinformation from their friends). These conversations are easiest when they come out of a life experience, like seeing a pregnant woman or a baby.

When parents talk with their children about sex, they can make sure that they are getting the right information. Parents should be a child’s first source of information about sex. Understanding correct information can protect children from risky behaviour as they grow up.

Instilling Your Family Values:

Sex education also provides an opportunity to instil your family values in your kids. For example, if you come from a family that believes intercourse should be saved for marriage, this can be part of the discussions about sexuality. If the subject has never come up before, there is significant risk that your child, now a teenager, will not be receptive to this message.

If parents do not teach their children about sex, they will learn about it from somewhere else:

A child’s exposure to information about sex begins much earlier than many parents imagine. Not speaking with children about sex means parents will have little control over what and how they learn about sex.

Is Sex Education Safe:

Studies show the more children are exposed to sexual images in the media, the more likely it is they will engage in sexual behaviours at a younger age. However, actual sex education does NOT lead to promiscuity. Children who receive sex education at home are actually less likely to engage in risky sexual activity.

Having open communications with children about sex and other matters is healthy and safer in the long run. This does not necessarily mean it will be easy or without awkward moments. Teens are still very private people. However, speaking about sex early increases the chance that teens will approach parents when difficult or dangerous things come up.