Sex education is instruction on issues relating to human sexuality, including humansexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexual activity, reproductive health, emotional relations, reproductive rights and responsibilities, sexual abstinence, and birth control. Common avenues for sex education are parents or caregivers, formal school programs, and public health campaigns.
Human sexuality has biological, physical, emotional and spiritual aspects. The biological aspect of sexuality refers to the reproductive mechanism as well as the basic biological drive, libido, that exists in all species, which is strongly influenced by hormonal levels. The emotional or physical aspect of sexuality refers to the bond that arises between individuals, and is manifested physically or through emotions such as love, trust and caring. There is also a spiritual aspect of sexuality of an individual or as a connection with others. Experience has shown that adolescents are curious about aspects of their sexuality as well as the nature of sexuality in general, and that many will seek to experience their sexuality in some way.
Traditionally, adolescents in many cultures were not given any information on sexual matters, with discussion of these issues being considered taboo. Such instruction as was given was traditionally left to a child’s parents, and often this was put off until just before a child’s marriage. The progressive education movement of the late 19th century, however, led to the introduction of “social hygiene” in North American school curricula and the advent of school-based sex education. Despite early inroads of school-based sex education, most of the information on sexual matters in the mid-20th century was obtained informally from friends and the media, and much of this information was deficient or doubtful value, especially during the period following puberty when curiosity of sexual matters was the most acute. This deficiency became increasingly evident by the increasing incidence of teenage pregnancies, especially in Western countries after the 1960s. As part of each country’s efforts to reduce such pregnancies, programs of sex education were instituted, initially over strong opposition from parent and religious groups.
The outbreak of AIDS has given a new sense of urgency to sex education. In many African countries, where AIDS is at epidemic levels (see HIV/AIDS in Africa), sex education is seen by most scientists as a vital public health strategy. Some international organizations such as Planned Parenthood consider that broad sex education programs have global benefits, such as controlling the risk of overpopulation and the advancement of women’s rights (see also reproductive rights). The use of mass media campaigns, however, has sometimes resulted in high levels of “awareness” coupled with essentially superficial knowledge of HIV transmission.
According to SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, 93% of adults they surveyed support sexuality education in high school and 84% support it in junior high school. In fact, 88% of parents of junior high school students and 80% of parents of high school students believe that sex education in school makes it easier for them to talk to their adolescents about sex.Also, 92% of adolescents report that they want both to talk to their parents about sex and to have comprehensive in-school sex education. Furthermore, a “…study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are ineffective.”
There has also been some debate about whether LGBT issues should be included in school sex education programs. Proponents of LGBT sex education argue that encompassing homosexuality into the curricula would provide LGBT students with the sexual health information they need,and help to ameliorate problems such as low self-esteem and depression that researchhas shown can be present in LGBT individuals. They also claim that it could reduce homophobic bullying.Opponents often argue that teaching LGBT sex education would be disrespectful to some religions and expose students to inappropriate topics.They say that including homosexuality in the curriculum would violate parents’ rights to control what their children are exposed to and that schools should not inflict a particular political view on students.Currently, many sex education curricula do not include LGBT topics and research has reported that students often feel that they do not receive adequate instruction in LGBT sex topics.
Burt defined sex education as the study of the characteristics of beings: a male and female. Such characteristics make up the person’s sexuality. Sexuality is an important aspect of the life of a human being and almost all people, including children, want to know about it. Sex education includes all the educational measures which – regardless of the particular method used – may center on sex. He further said that sex education stands for protection, presentation extension, improvement and development of the family based on accepted ethical ideas.
Leepson sees sex education as instruction in various physiological, psychological and sociological aspects of sexual response and reproduction. Kearney (2008) also defined sex education as “involving a comprehensive course of action by the school, calculated to bring about the socially desirable attitudes, practices and personal conduct on the part of children and adults, that will best protect the individual as a human and the family as a social institution.” Thus, sex education may also be described as “sexuality education”, which means that it encompasses education about all aspects of sexuality, including information about family planning, reproduction (fertilization, conception and development of the embryoand fetus, through to childbirth), plus information about all aspects of one’s sexuality including: body image, sexual orientation, sexual pleasure, values, decision making, communication, dating, relationships, sexually transmitted infections(STIs) and how to avoid them, and birth control methods. Various aspect of sex education are considered appropriate in school depending on the age of the students or what the children are able to comprehend at a particular point in time. Rubin and Kindendall expressed that sex education is not merely a unit in reproduction and teaching how babies are conceived and born. It has a far richer scope and goal of helping the youngster incorporate sex most meaningfully into his present and future life, to provide him with some basic understanding on virtually every aspect of sex by the time he reaches full maturity.
Public opinion studies
A survey conducted in Britain, Canada and the United States by Angus Reid Public Opinion in November 2011 asked adult respondents to look back to the time when they were teenagers, and describe how useful several sources were in enabling them to learn more about sex. By far, the largest proportion of respondents in the three countries (74% in Canada, 67% in Britain and 63% in the United States) said that conversations with friends were “very useful” or “moderately useful.” The next reputable source was the media (television, books, movies, magazines), mentioned by three-in-five British (65%) and Canadians (62%) and more than half of Americans (54%) as useful.
There are some striking differences on two other sources. While half of Canadians (54%) and Americans (52%) found their sex education courses at school to be useful, only 43% of British share the same view. And while more than half of Americans (57%) say conversations with family were useful, only 49% of Canadians and 35 percent of British had the same experience.
One approach to sex education is to view it as necessary to reduce the risk of certain sexual behaviors and equip individuals to make informed decisions about their personal sexual activity.
Another viewpoint on sex education, historically inspired by sexologists like Wilhelm Reich and psychologists like Sigmund Freud and James W. Prescott, holds that what is at stake in sex education is control over the body and liberation from social control. Proponents of this view tend to see the political question as whether society or the individual should teach sexualmores. Sexual education may thus be seen as providing individuals with the knowledge necessary to liberate themselves from socially organized sexual oppression and to make up their own minds. In addition, sexual oppression may be viewed as socially harmful. Sex and relationship experts like Reid Mihalko of Reid About Sex suggests that open dialogue about physical intimacy and health education can generate more self-esteem, self-confidence, humor, and general health.
Another question in the sex education debate is whether the state or the family should teach sexual mores. Some believe that sexual mores should be left to the family, and sex-education represents state interference.
Some claim that certain sex education curricula break down pre-existing notions of modesty or encourage acceptance of what they consider immoral practices, such as homosexuality or premarital sex. A supporting web site is the Coalition for Positive Sexuality. Naturally, those that believe that homosexuality and premarital sex are a normal part of the range of human sexuality disagree with them.
Many religions teach that sexual behavior outside of marriage is immoral and/or psychologically damaging, and many adherents desire this morality to be taught as a part of sex education. They may believe that sexual knowledge is necessary, or simply unavoidable, hence their preference for curricula based on abstinence.
LGBT sex education
One major source of controversy in the realm of sex education is whether LGBT sex education should be integrated into school curricula. LGBT sex education includes safe sex practices for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual individuals and general instruction in topics related to homosexuality. Studies[who?] have shown that many schools do not offer such education today.
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