Why is Sex Education Important for Teens and Young Adults?
Below are some common questions/statements by young adults relating to sex education.
- “When I first got my periods, I had no clue what was happening!”
- “If I kiss my boyfriend/girlfriend will I get pregnant? We didn’t remove our clothes. We only touched from outside.”
- “What is the connection between penetrative sex and pregnancy?”
- “We only need condoms if we want to avoid getting pregnant. Correct?”
- “He/she told me it was our secret, so I did not want to tell anyone.”
Young adults are curious about the three-letter-word ‘sex’. They have many different kinds of questions and confusions. Read the list above again to see the variety. Often, they ask friends for advice. But their friends may not always have the right answers. Nor do Google or Quora.
There is a constant debate in society about the right age and reasons to have introductory discussions around sex. Parents especially get worried when they hear the term ‘sex education’ thinking that it is something that will corrupt young minds. Not very long ago we heard of a ban on sex education in schools in India.
What we forget is that sex is a natural part of human life.
Just like we learn about other life skills, we also need sex education to help us prepare for this aspect of life. Some medical and healthcare professionals suggest that the basics should start very early when children are still toddlers with concepts such as ‘good-touch-bad-touch’ and ‘stranger danger’. But many parents and society, in general, hesitate because of fear, discomfort and shame.
Chances are, many parents themselves are not fully aware of what sex education is and why it is important.
Why should we introduce sex education early?
Pre-teen children need to know some basic concepts related to body safety. This is important for two reasons: 1) so that they know it is their right to speak out when they are uncomfortable with someone’s actions and 2) so that they respect the boundaries of other people’s bodies.
Once children are close to puberty however, teens and young adults should learn about sex and sexuality. Here are some of the most critical reasons to do this:
- prepare them with the right knowledge to avoid exploitation & manipulation
- prevent mainstream media and pornography becoming their primary source of information to satisfy their curiosity
- provide the right education that will enable them to make productive and effective choices for themselves
- build self-esteem and confidence so they don’t see themselves or their bodies as strange, different, or unusual
Mainstream media + Porn + Internet = Bad news
People born after the mid-1980s (also called ‘digital natives’) grew up immersed in digital technology. As a result, being online is second nature to digital natives. With the growth of the internet, all kinds of information is available at the click of a button. Anyone can write a blog or post a video about sex online without adequate knowledge or understanding. This includes adult and pornographic material. For the older generations, information was not so easily available. However, young digital natives are flooded with online content.
In addition to sex education, media literacy is another critical skill that we need in order to be able to filter what content to consume and what to ignore.
Without comprehensive sex education early on, many young individuals are led to believe that what they’ve seen or read online is realistic and true. Eventually, it influences them to think that those are the standards and that what they are watching is how reality is.
Why is the lack of sex education potentially dangerous?
The absence of sex-ed in our society and the oversupply of media that often portrays violence towards women is a very dangerous combination.
This repeated messaging (especially in porn) can influence us to believe that rape culture is normal. ‘Rape culture’ indicates an environment where sexual harassment, assault and discrimination against women is prevalent. Rape culture manifests in numerous ways, including the use of degrading language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamourization of sexual violence. Thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights, safety, consent and pleasure.
In India, a rape occurs every 15 minutes. One in every five young girls experiences some form of sexual assault before she hits puberty; while 1 in every 3 women experiences some kind of sexual assault before the age of 18. The statistics for non-binary genders and LGBTQIA individuals are just as horrific.
Yes, there are issues with law enforcement and fear of consequences. But the mindset, mentality, and the lack of sex education are important contributing factors.
The youth can play a hugely positive role here. If provided with the right education and guidance, the current scenario related to women’s safety and attitude towards sex in India can undergo a major change. The youth has to have an open attitude towards sex and understand that an equal approach towards all the sexes is the only way towards building personally satisfying experiences as well as a major societal change.
How the media misleads us…
What we see in media and on social media is very carefully created content: celebrities who are attractive, happy, and successful. They mostly have great bodies and seem to be having a great time, all the time. In pornographic content as well, the men and especially the women have near-perfect bodies and hair.
But do we pause to think of the kind of effort that goes into creating those appearances?
The great abs and toned bodies are a result of hours that they spend at the gym and eating right every single day. Sometimes even surgeries and performance drugs too. We only see what they want us to see. We must remember that the larger purpose is entertainment and selling us stuff!
In comparison to what we see in the media, our real-life relationships, confidence, and physical attributes rarely match-up. This leads to unrealistic pressure and expectations. As a result, it is our mental health and self-esteem that get affected negatively. Then, of course, there is peer pressure.
Self-esteem, confidence and bullying
Often, when one person in the friends’ circle starts doing something that is thought to be ‘cool’, everyone wants to follow it, without thinking if they really want to. ‘Body shaming’ and thinking that we are different and strange, is all a part of this transition during and after puberty. Peer pressure often worsens this situation which can lead to bullying because of how someone looks or acts.
Peer pressure is one of the major reasons teenagers have their first sexual encounters too.
In terms of our sexuality also, our role models from films and television are of heterosexual love. That is, a couple made of a man and a woman. Heterosexuality is the norm and hence the term ‘heteronormativity’, which means that love between a man and a woman is looked at as ‘normal’ and acceptable in society.
People who feel differently and are attracted to members of their own sex hence feel ashamed of their feelings. Others around them also may make them feel ‘abnormal’ and bully them. But this needs to stop. People are slowly getting more educated about sexuality and learning that homosexuality, for instance, is not abnormal or unnatural.
What we need is an unbiased and informed understanding of one’s bodies through sex education.
When more people are educated about sex and sexuality, the better it will be for society and individuals.
What are the consequences we want to avoid?
Kids today are getting intimate and exploring their bodies with partners as early as 14 years old. The comments at the beginning of this article are from teenagers who have these very real and serious concerns.
Unwanted pregnancies are an ongoing problem among young adults who are afraid to discuss these taboo topics with family members or medical professionals. So they end up in unauthorized clinics of quack doctors who take advantage of the situation financially while leaving the pregnant mothers with other health complications.
The problem with the lack of sex-ed is that lot of young teens (and eventually adults) don’t realize when they are exposed to unsafe situations.
They develop deep fears and anxiety about things during those delicate and formative years. Engaging in conversations about the impact of their decisions and how they can protect themselves (and their partners) is a big part of comprehensive sex education.
So please don’t shy away from the word ‘sex’ or anything related to it. We at Lokyatha are committed to ensuring that we help bust the myths related to sex and sexuality education and help you become comfortable with this all-important aspect of life.