Talking to kids about sex and consent is imperative. Here’s why.

children sex education

Adults may want to skip sex education due to discomfort or personal beliefs, but children need precious information to help them grow into healthy adults.

The debate on whether sexual education is the responsibility of parents or the school system has been going on for decades — and so far, the key people losing out are children. Many adults consider sexuality to be a private matter. They don’t feel the government should have any say in what their children learn. Furthermore, some parents want their children to be taught about sexuality in a way that stresses their own personal and religious beliefs… and other parents want to skip the conversation entirely.

But here’s the thing: kids need comprehensive sexual education in order to grow into healthy adults. Without it, we’re essentially throwing them into the ocean and waiting for them to sink, become antisocial pirates or reach safe shores.

What Kids Believe

If you ask a kid what they know about sex, you’re likely to get some strange and misguided answers. These days, children are getting most of their information on sex from the media, the internet, pornography, and their friends. These sources either portray sexuality in an unrealistic and sensationalised manner, or – in the case of friends – are just flat-out incorrect.

In a survey on sexual behaviour among adolescents, researchers found that some teens believed condoms lessened sensation, while others found it embarrassing to discuss safe sex with their partners. Some also felt that visiting a clinic to undergo testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) was embarrassing. Which is something that needs to change, because getting an STI health check is an important way to love your body.

In an era when children have the world at their fingertips, we have to take charge when it comes to sexual education. We can’t be sure that kids are receiving the information they need on sex from their parents; therefore it’s the public’s responsibility to provide comprehensive sexual education. Like many other controversial subjects, this one is a matter of public health.

The Role of Comprehensive Sexual Education

Comprehensive sexual education programmes — those which include information on anatomy, communication skills, contraceptives, STDs, and so on — have been shown to be extraordinarily effective. Not only do these programmes motivate teens to delay sexual activity until they’re ready, they also are far more likely to use contraceptives when they do become sexually active. Comprehensive sexual education programmes also help kids to:

  • Develop a healthy attitude toward sex: These programmes provide positive messages about sexuality, sexual identity, and sexual expression. They teach that sexuality is a natural, normal, and completely healthy part of life.
  • Understand and communicate consent: Comprehensive sexual education programmes teach both children and teens that they have the authority to determine what sexual acts they’re comfortable engaging in as well as how to say no to unwanted sexual advances.
  • Steer clear of STDs: These programmes include accurate medical information on all STDs. They explain how abstinence is the best method for avoiding STDs, but also provide detailed information on condoms and other contraceptives to reduce the risk of infection. This is especially important as STD rates are on the rise.
  • Prevent unintended pregnancies: Comprehensive sexual education programmes point out how consistent and correct use of contraception can greatly reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy. They also explain how a person faced with an unintended pregnancy has options such as raising the baby, placing the baby up for adoption, or ending the pregnancy with an abortion.

Where Are We Now?

In England, sex and relationship education (SRE) is currently compulsory from age 11 onwards. Children are taught about reproduction, sexuality, and sexual health. However, much of the curriculum is grossly outdated, and parents are allowed to withdraw their children these classes. However, by order of the U.K. government, two revamped sexual education programmes — Relationship Education (RE) for primary schools and Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) for secondary schools — will be made mandatory starting in 2020. Officials are currently seeking opinions on what should be taught in these classes.

In the United States, things are far bleaker. As of March 1, 2016, only 24 states and the District Columbia require public schools to teach sex education. Furthermore, only 12 states require discussion of sexual orientation in sex education, and of those 12, three states actually demand LGBTQ+ related sexual orientation be represented negatively. Many states promote abstinence-only sexual education — a program which has been shown to be extremely ineffective.

What Can We Do?

Public health administrators are doing their absolute best to make sure kids are getting the information they need, but we must add our voices to the mix if we want to continue to see improvements. Here’s how you can help:

  • In England:
    • Take the online survey to give your views on what should be included in RSE.
    • Encourage the teens in your life to sign and present the Young People’s Manifesto to their school to add their voice to what’s needed in RSE.
    • Donate to, fundraise, or volunteer with Brook, an organisation that provides well-being and sexual health support for people under the age of 25.
    • Donate to or volunteer for with the Family Planning Association.
  • In America:

Beyond school, there are other ways you can ensure the young people in your life are receiving the information they need on sexual health. Start by turning to your family doctor. Healthcare providers are qualified to talk to about a range of seuxual heath topics. Other places to look to include the Family Planning Association (U.K.) and Planned Parenthood (U.S.) as both offer medically accurate, comprehensive sex education materials.

Kids deserve to know about sex and consent.

It’s well past time for this ridiculous debate to end. Our kids need accurate and detailed information in order to responsibly manage their sexual health — and it’s society’s job to provide it. As advocates, we need to do everything we can to tear down the barriers surrounding sexual health. If you care about the children in your life — and indeed, public health at large — it’s time to act.

Editorial note: ‘Female’ condoms would be better-named vaginal condoms to include all people with vaginas.