A look at sex education across the globe
By Kaelen Pelaia, Staff Writer
Many would argue that an education is a vital factor for success in the modern world. With more and more jobs requiring some type of post-secondary education, it seems the pressure is on students to plan their future earlier and earlier. With a heavy focus on traditional subjects like math, science, and literacy, most students leave high school with a foundation well-suited to a further concentration in a respective discipline. However, for sex education – a topic rife with controversy from a myriad of sources and the subject of much debate in modern politics, many students around the world are unprepared for everyday life.
Understanding sexuality and the human body is crucial to living a physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy lifestyle. If you went to school in Canada, it is very likely that you received at least a nominal sex education beginning around Grade 5 or 6, ranging from naming body parts to effective contraception. However, recent legislation in Ontario and several other provinces will change the curriculum to better introduce kids to the concept of sexuality at an early age. Now, kids will begin to learn the biological distinctions between male and female genitalia at younger ages, as well as being introduced to more complicated concepts such as consent and sexual orientation sooner than before.
Despite its long history with struggles around gender roles and sexism, India has seen a remarkable progression towards more egalitarian sex education in recent years. The best example of this is the work of the YP Foundation. The YP Foundation is a youth-led and run organization that seeks to empower, educate, and encourage young girls, women, and other marginalized groups. They have recently set up a new program to educate young people about gender equality, sexual diversity, and consent. The organization uses role-play activities as well as art and other game-like activities. While the Indian government still maintains reservations towards the benefits of sex education, the progress being made is a huge step forward for the most populous democratic nation in the world.
In European countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway, the concept of attraction and the distinction between genitalia are all taught around Kindergarten. In the Netherlands, kids are taught about ‘puppy love’ during their annual ‘spring fever week.’ Norway showcases a surprisingly explicit sex education video series called Puberteen at the middle school level, and Swedish primary schools teach students about genitalia, which are called snoop and snippa in the classroom (guess which one is which), before addressing more complicated concepts. These countries have adopted a far less stringent approach to the concepts of sexuality, nudity, and emotion than the curriculums of North America or of more traditionally conservative European countries. The impact is apparent however: Sweden has a teen pregnancy rate one quarter of that of the United Kingdom’s.
While the UK mandates sex education in its school systems, the implementation leaves a little to be desired; often, sex education is restricted to a single-day seminar tacked on to the end of the school year, as per curriculum standards. Parents also have the option to remove their children from these sex education classes if they disagree with the subject matter – and unfortunately, many do.
In 2011, a Chinese couple made headlines after reportedly attempting to have a baby by laying in the same bed next to each other for three years. Although the story was admittedly absurdly hilarious, it reveals the unevenness of the quality of sex education China’s population of 1.4 billion receive in their formative years. The Communist Party of China banned compulsory sex education during Mao’s rise to power in the 1945, and had not loosened this stance on the subject until the 1980s. As a result, several generations of Chinese citizens were deprived of sex education. Combined with a lack of proper access to birth control, this is likely one of the reason for China’s large population. China has also seen a horrifying growth in the amount of its citizens contracting AIDS/HIV in recent years, and while Chinese universities are making steady progress in that area, the country suffers from a lack of integration of sex education in the lower grade levels.
The American education system has accrued itself a rather infamous reputation in the subject of sex education. Scare tactics and shaming – such as passing a cookie around the class for male students to spit on, before asking if anyone would still eat it – are common demonstrations in many abstinence-only programs. Education is handled at the state level, however, the federal government has continued to support abstinence-only education through funding and other methods of support. John Oliver reported in a 2015 episode of Last Week Tonight that only 13 states require the information presented to be “medically accurate.” According to CDC data from 2014, over 76% of American schools taught students that abstinence was the best method to prevent STDs, pregnancy, and other complications, neglecting to adequately teach students about contraceptives or sexual responsibility. As a result, nearly 23 out of 100 of women aged 14-19 in the United States become pregnant. The U.S. also has a higher rate of adolescent pregnancy per 1000 women (21) than China (7), and is only slightly lower than India (23). The lack of sexual education in the U.S. results in thousands of teen pregnancies every year, and combined with a lack of access to health care puts both mothers and children in lower-income households at risk.
A comprehensive sex education is an important topic for discussion that unfortunately seems to be often brushed off or ignored. While some places around the world are leading the way, such as those which begin instruction of sex education as early as Kindergarten, to other countries which provide optional or downright inaccurate sex education programs, ultimately produce generations of young people that are simply uninformed and unprepared. It is paramount that access to adequate education is made accessible to everyone, especially when it comes to sex.