Sex Ed: Overexposure Or Unpreparation?
Sex, a word often regarded across traditional cultures as that which must be spoken with caution. In some traditional societies, anything related to sex and genitalia must not be said euphemistically. The perceived vulgarity must be attenuated so minds might not be corrupted.
In fact, sex education is a no-go area. Such is the perception and consequently, sex education becomes a casualty of a belief that has, in itself, become anachronistic in an era where the internet makes every information anyone needs seamlessly accessible.
The three-letter dreaded word
Confined within a cultural and religious environment, it is not uncommon to see Africans shy away from discussing anything sex-related, including public display of affection.
In the past, questions surrounding sexuality were not asked. Those who found the courage to ask were met with accusations rather than answers. Thus, in Africa, although there is a sense of urgent secrecy, there’s also a desire to appear decent before the fellow man.
Ironically, a lot of African dances and music exude sexuality. But contraceptives are looked down on as the propagators of sexual recklessness.
Regardless, this irony continues to be enlivened in the name of cultural preservation while the salient questions of when the African child should be exposed to a proper sex education remains stunted in the name of sexual purity.
For the ‘do-not-say-sex-publicly’ brand, religions are a tool for furthering the gag order. Verses and chapters of Holy Books are twisted to enhance the agenda that has kept sex education at the backseat.
The consequences? Teenage pregnancy, improper sexual hygiene and perpetuation of sexual myths.
As at 2014, 23 percent of Nigerian women aged 15 – 19 have started bearing children, according to Demographic and Health Survey 2013. In the rural areas where antagonism to sex education seems prevalent, the figures are even more dastardly. 32 percent of teenagers in rural areas have begun childbearing. In urban centres, there is only 10 percent of teenagers.
“The report shows disparities within the geopolitical zones as follows: Northwest (36 percent); Northeast (32 percent); North Central (19 percent); South Central (12 percent); South East (8 percent ); and South West (8 percent),” Let Girls Lead said in an opinion piece.
Millenials and their embracement of sex
If he holds your hands or smiles at you, you will get pregnant.
These poorly prepared words have been embraced by the average Nigerian parent as the best way to teach a child about sex education.
This is borne out of the notion that sex education equals teaching children how to have sex, a complete upsurge of traditional African culture. Yet, the aim of sexual education is to curb the risky sexual behaviours prevalent in the society.
Statistics show that in Nigeria, the childbirth complications is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 19-year-olds.
What is more? The 2017 National Health Survey showed that only 29% of women and 27.9% of men between the ages of 15 to 24 can explain how to prevent the transmission of HIV.
With the constant exploration of self and the body, the internet has become the go-to resource for millennials. This widely embraced medium for the dissemination of information is widely accessible to adolescents and adults. A huge effect of this access is exposure to pornography which generated $15 billion (N5,433, 300,00) worldwide in 2017.
Portrayals of sex and sexual relationships are prevalent and mainstream in the media today. Analyses estimate that sexual content appears in approximately 85% of major motion pictures, 82% of television programs, 59% of music videos, and 37% of music lyrics which leaves most youths (47%) are exposed to sexual content.
Advertisements abound where people are objectified as sexual beings. With the use of lewd words and films like 50 Shades of Grey and South Park, cartoon children are exposed to different orientation. A child watches television for an average of six and a half hours daily. Stanley Baran note, children use television to appropriate sex-role behaviours and expectations.
With a steady upward climb of sexual exploitation, it is for this reason that the call for comprehensive sexual education has received universal attention.
United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) director, Audrey Azoulay states in the 2018 International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education that sexual education “promotes structured learning about sexuality and relationships in a manner that is positive and centred on the best interest of the young person”.
The Action Health Incorporated’s “Guideline for Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Nigeria” provides that the four primary goals for sexuality education includes information on attitudes; values and insights; relationships and interpersonal skills and responsibility. These it opines, is the right step towards teaching people knowledge of the sexual, reproductive health as well as being responsible.
Sexual education provides a conducive environment for children to learn, in different stages, about their sexuality in all ramifications including how to use condoms and avoid sexual traumatising implications. Universally, the need to educate children early enough is on the rise. In Nigeria, however, the question persists: What age is early enough?
Sex for children: When is the right time?
“They grow up so fast” parents always mutter.
UNESCO states that the ideal age for children to be educated about sex is between the ages of 5 to 18. This, it appears, conflicts with the belief of some Nigerians: why teach sexual education when you can preach abstinence?
Yet, UNESCO reports that abstinence programmes have “failed” to prevent “early sexual initiation, or reduce the frequency of sex and number of partners among the young”.
A look into the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) showed that 2% of girls aged 15–19 and 1% of boys aged 15–19 are human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected as at 2012 while the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey Population (NDHS) showed that as at 2009, 23% of girls aged 15–19 were either mothers or pregnant with their first child. UNICEF also revealed that every three minutes, a girl between the ages of 15 to 19 is infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.
All these begs the question: Shall we continue to ignore the times we are in and face consequences that can be avoided?
Conscious of these findings, the need to educate adolescents raises another question, who is to educate the child?
Former Minister of Education Prof. Chinwe Obaji told News Agency of Nigeria in 2017 that, “At the primary school level, I will say no. The parents should take charge of that at home, but in schools, such education could be introduced, beginning with the Senior Secondary class.
“For children, who are still in primary school and junior secondary schools, such education should be imparted to the children by their parents. This is because they understand the development of these children better than the teachers.”
Her reason is not far-fetched: some teachers are poorly trained to teach the children either because of the same circle of cultural education or because they believe it is not their duty but the parents.
On the other hand, another school of thought opines that sex should be taught but nicknames should be adopted. This adoption has some success.
Yet, another school is concerned with trust for the educator and materials used in the education: educators may not hold the same values as the parents of the child and might teach the children wrongly and instructional materials may not be properly prepared. In 2017, a parent, Bello Abdullahi, posted a picture of a textbook for JSS 1 students, “Religion and National Values: Social Studies for Universal Basic Education 7” where masturbation was encouraged as a way to prevent premarital sex.
Still, Florence Ubajekwe, Coordinator, Children and Women against Child Sexual Abuse Initiative, said “A mother should mention every part of the child’s body from head to toe and call them by their names, not nicknames’’.
The need for a new narrative
Nigeria is one of the five developing nations where sex education intervention programmes such as the Family Life HIV education (FLHE) are on the rise especially among 10 to 19 year-olds.
While this is commendable, it is hoped that the programme would include an enlightenment on sex education for parents putting into perspective, the need and urgency to reduce the rate of sexual disorientation. The goal is not to avoid the issue, but to approach it head-on so that children learn about sex and relationships from their most trusted and reliable sources.
Rather than remove sex education from secondary schools’ curricula, there should be a review of books used to educate the children and the strategies involved.
Sex education should not be opt-in or opt-out but mandatory, as it is the fundamental duty as a society to educate the next generation. Currently, we are failing. There are a lot of vices on the rise as it pertains to sexual violence and abuse, it is our duty to equip the next generation with the knowledge and give them a fighting chance.
This form of enlightenment starts with you.