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Tell Them about Sex Education. They Deserve To Know.
“I don’t want to have sex, but my friends say I have to or the relationship isn’t real.”
“Is it true that I’m supposed to have sex with him if he pays for the movie?”
“Where do I go if I get an sexually transmitted infection? I don’t know what to do.”
“Can I get pregnant the first time I have sex?”
They want to know. Young people are desperately seeking information about how to safely navigate their sexual lives. Too often, I leave these conversations with a swirling mix of emotions. I am saddened that they know so little about personal agency and protecting their sexual health. I am enraged because schools and communities consistently deny them this lifesaving information under the guise of morality. I am worried about young women and girls who are frequently targets of sexual assault. I am frustrated because faulty ideas about comprehensive sexuality education in schools are still being used to influence policies. While decision-makers throw around rhetoric about sexual purity, these girls exist in a world where approximately 50% of victims of sexual assault are girls under the age of 16.
There is the misconception that giving adolescents accurate information about their sexual and reproductive health and rights will propel them into careless, unfettered sex. In reality, the opposite is true. When adolescents have sound, comprehensive information about the responsibilities associated with sexual activity, they are more likely to delay sexual activity. Those who are sexually active are more likely to adopt responsible practices, such as consistent contraceptive use.
This moral grandstanding is particularly ironic given the shocking numbers of statutory rapes around the world. Frequently, girls under the age of legal consent are sexually assaulted by older men. Yet, some people are concerned about “corrupting” girls with information while the true violations are the sexual violations they endure. The outrage should be reserved for the fact that, for 30% of women worldwide, their first sexual experience was forced and rape increases women’s vulnerability to HIV infection.
So answer their questions. They deserve to know.
Tell our girls and young women that their bodies are their own, and no one has the right to coerce them into any sexual activity. Tell them that any and all forms of rape and sexual assault are wrong and the blame lies fully with the perpetrator. Educate them that sexual harassment is never a woman’s fault and that no woman ever invites rape. They deserve to know.
Tell them they have the right to comprehensive education about all aspects of their sexual and reproductive health. Tell them they have the right to wait until they can—and want to—give legal consent. Make sure they have all the information necessary to make healthy decisions about their lives. Explain that sexuality is neither evil nor dirty. It is a topic that requires honest, factual engagement.so that young people have the tools to navigate this arena confidently and safely.
Tell them all the ways to reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancies and contracting sexually transmitted infections. Abstinence, while valid, is not the only answer, and young people should not be shamed into thinking so. Explain to our girls and women that they have the right to determine if and when to have children. No one should be confused and uncertain about where to access information, services and care. They deserve to know.
The Commission on the Status of Women is taking place this week at the United Nations in New York. The meeting aims to address global discrimination against women and girls and the rampant violations of their human rights. The denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights remains a barrier to gender equality and justice. It is time for political decision-makers to not only speak, but implement. Their actions and inaction continue to cost young people, especially girls, their lives. Comprehensive sexuality education in schools is not the enemy. Ignorance is.
“I know that I don’t have to do anything I am not ready for. When I am ready, I know exactly how to protect myself and be safe.”
It is our duty to create a world where all conversations end like this.
Originally published by AWID
Patrice Daniel is a psychotherapist and feminist activist from Barbados. Her passion lies in racial and gender equality, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and combating gender-based violence.