It's almost impossible to discuss sex with a straight face- even if it's a five-minute conversation with a two year old . At least, one of the parties involved will find it awkward, confusing, funny, or completely impossible.
Some parents still prefer to shut down about sex education. Quite a number kick against offering sex education in schools, yet they won't take up the responsibility at home. When Sex-Education was newly proposed to be introduced into the Nigerian school curriculum, the media was flooded with angry comments about how it will corrupt our children. Let's see...
Face It: Kids Are Having Sex
Let's start with debunking the 'loss of innocence' myth. Can we all agree that whether we tell our children or not, they already know? Think of all the things you knew about sex and other matters that your parents had no clue of. Even when children are not looking for such information, it looks for them. For example, if you type in "how to" into Google search bar, the first four suggestions include "how to make love" and "how to kiss". It's cliché that children are becoming more sexually active younger than they used to and this is probably because they don't have the right information to understand and manage their sexuality. Doubt it? Look at these studies- all from Nigeria:
Two lecturers (Akande & Akande) from the University of Ilorin reported that as at 2005, 70% of 10-18 year old Nigerians involved in a study stated that they had never discussed sex with their parents yet 54% of them admitted to being sexually active. Is there a correlation between lack of sex education and experimenting with sex at a young age? Maybe. The authors further showed that as at 1983, 70% boys and 30% girls in Nigerian secondary schools had had sexual relations at least once. Similar studies from OAU found that 52.3% girls and 77.8% boys were sexually active. The median age at first intercourse was 12 years with a range of 6 – 19 years! Then a 2001 study in Benin showed that by age 16, 55% of the secondary school girls studied were "sexually active and 40% of them admitted to at least one previous pregnancy". Please don't ask what happened to the pregnancies.
In 2003, E. Orji and O. Esimai of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) conducted a study with 1000 respondents (400 students, 400 parents and 200 teachers). 92% of the parents, 90% of the teachers and 78% of the students supported sex education in the school curriculum but 5.4% opposed its introduction because they believed that it would corrupt the students. The researchers conducted a similar study later and found that out of 300 male and female secondary school students aged 13 – 19 in the area, 50% were sexually active, and circumstances leading to sexual debut included mutual agreement, coercion and curiosity. . 86.7% did not use contraception at the time of first coitus and most of them had more than one sexual partner.
Now, if despite our 'don't ask don't tell' attitude, we have these disheartening statistics, we need to change our approach. Obviously,silence isn't golden; ignorance isn't bliss, and what children don't know can certainly hurt them.
What's wrong with our Sex-Ed Curriculum?
Research shows that teenagers want to receive information about sexuality. They are naturally curious and any source of information has a ready customer but the information children get about sex from the media and their peers is often unrealistic, inaccurate, and sensationalised. This is why parents and teachers must take it up through a structured platform, a curriculum.
In 2002 when the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) and other partners drafted and proposed a curriculum on sexuality education for primary and secondary schools, it generated raging controversy. A journalist mentioned that, "the curriculum contains significant portions that fester with the pus of reckless moral indiscretion which can outrage the sensibilities of parents, teachers and moralists of all shades."
The part most people quoted as offensive are:
Primary School Sex Education Curriculum:
- Pupils should be able to recognise suitable ways of conveying affection/acceptance like Hugging, shaking hands, holding hands, etc .
- Pupils should be able to elucidate situations when it feels good to touch like when happy, in need of support and so on.
For Junior Secondary School:
- Students should be able to give details of the difference between sex, sexuality and sexual interaction and potential implications for example: sex anatomic characteristics (male and female)
- Sexuality feelings, attitudes, relationships, etc.
- Definition of masturbation, myth surrounding it
- Identify potential ways of showing sexual pleasure like touching, kissing, hugging, masturbation, etc.
The controversy about sexuality education results from the fact that many people don't have complete understanding of what sexuality education is about. In the past, many Sex-Ed campaigns focused on reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDs. 'ABC Campaigns' as most of them were called talked about abstinence, being faithful and using condoms. One Tukur Lawal from Kano said "personally, my understanding of this program is that it is aimed at causing malevolent and malicious campaign against morality... This is all orchestrated under the vogue disguise of fighting AIDS. What we need to fight AIDS is certainly CONDUCT not CONDOMS". Perhaps this narrow design contributed to the panic parents expressed when the curriculum was introduced, as many people assumed that like campaign ads, the curriculum would glamorize intercourse among youths, emphasise safe sex and gloss over abstinence.
If this is all that the curriculum would do, then by all means, let's yank it out. But an ideal Sex-Ed curriculum does much more. Sexuality Information and Educational Council of the United States (SEICUS) states that the goal of sex education includes "to provide accurate information about human sexuality, provide opportunity for young people to develop and understand their values, attitudes and insights about sexuality; to help young people develop relationships and interpersonal skills and to help them act responsibly regarding sexual relationships, which include addressing abstinence, pressure to become prematurely involved in sexual intercourse and the use of contraception and other health measures". These are good objectives.
In Malawi, Hetlizer (1995) discovered through a study that "more than half of the young girls surveyed from ten villages said they would rather risk pregnancy, and of course HIV infection than ask a boy to use condom". That's scary, to say the least. It is also avoidable if everyone involved is properly educated. We need to have the Sex-Ed curriculum implemented. We are not doing enough right now.
Perhaps, the mistake proponents of the curriculum made is ignoring what Wikipedia wisely displays on its Sex-Ed page: "for any sexuality education to be successful especially in Africa, the culture of the immediate recipients must be put into consideration when selecting content and methodology."
Nigerians are deeply religious, and that's ok. We have a right to be. We also want to be perceived as being morally upright. That's why the average Nigerian parent would almost die from internally generated shame if his teenager got pregnant. The first cause of panic is not the possibility of death during child birth or dropping out of school, but of what everyone would say about the failed parent.
Nigerians are fairly conservative and we shy from information that appears to promote promiscuity. It is reported that Planned Parenthood in America tells teens that sex is serious yet; they hand out condom lollipops and created a site where teens can brag about where they did it. If it is true, that's not the kind of sex education we want. No curriculum should ridicule abstinence.
These are factors that the education governing body should consider, because if you import the best curriculum, you still have to rely on local educators for effective implementation. Our sex education curriculum is supposed to have been in practise since 2002, yet we haven't optimised it.
Perhaps parents will feel better if we adopt a holistic curriculum that presents reasonable options and does not ridicule abstinence . Such curriculum should also empower students against sexual abuse, a frightening growing vice.
The alleged practise of moving students to special sex education centres and giving them money or condoms at the end of each session, if true is also ridiculous. It will not buy parents' approval and it just sends inappropriate messages to the children involved. Let's bear in mind that the essence of any form of sex education is to ensure that children get timely, objective and accurate information from responsible sources (parents first, then teachers), not from their peers or the media. Agreed, no curriculum will satisfy everybody but by infusing local statistics, culture considerations and sound judgement, we can implement a realistic and effective guide that wouldn't please everyone but would put the interests of our children first, second and third