In this day and age when toddlers are allowed to play with hi-tech gadgets that connect to the Internet in the blink of an eye, why do we even need to worry about teaching children about sex, right? Well, there’s a teeny-weeny problem with that. For starters, proper sex education will reduce teenage pregnancies in the rural areas where there’s no wi-fi. It will help children and adolescents learn about their physical changes. And most importantly it will help them know about sexual abuses and rights. The Internet will have a hard time teaching kids one-third of all this without leading them to pornographic content, and let’s save the debate on its repercussion for another day.
Sex ed is not an instruction manual. It’s not about abstinence verses promiscuity. More than anything else, it is about teaching adolescents how to deal with physical changes while growing up. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or feel embarrassed about. It’s about respecting oneself and others – their bodies, their consent and learn about drawing boundaries for oneself and respecting that of others. Crucial information such as the consequences of sexual intercourse, protective sex, STDs, human reproductive system and very importantly their reproductive rights should be made available to teens. Children should also be taught the differences between someone touching their faces/hands and private parts of their bodies; whether that someone is a family member, friend, relative or a stranger. And finally they should be taught how to respond to certain form of physical interactions.
There’s a brief chapter on human reproduction in our textbooks but it’s hardly touched on. Most teachers are reluctant to go through it. They fear they won’t be able to get their point across on the subject matter without feeling embarrassed. And interestingly enough, sex ed is something so debatable worldwide that even the western countries raise an eyebrow when it comes to it.
So let’s say that the National Curriculum and Textbook Board finally decides to introduce sex ed in the programme, how will the majority react to it? Are we going to be happy that our kids are taught what they need to learn and feel safe because they will be able to protect themselves from pedophiles and molestation? Or are we going to be embarrassed and conduct a rally like the one just held a couple of days ago in Ontario, Canada to opt out of sex ed on religious grounds?
We have conducted a focused group discussion and here’s what the participants had to say:
Is sex education part of your school’s curriculum?
“There is a small chapter on it in our social science textbook. But I feel it would be beneficial for all if the textbooks were replaced with something more modern and elaborate where the wordings are changed so that it would be easier for the teachers to teach them in schools, without the students feeling embarrassed about it.” - Brother Robi, principal, St Joseph Higher Secondary School, Dhaka
Would you give an example of how that can be achieved?
“Well for example it could be rephrased to 'physiology education’ rather than ‘sex ed.'” - Brother Robi
Who decides what to include in the national curriculum?
“The Bangladesh Textbook Board.” - Brother Robi
Do you think it’s important to teach kids about sex?
“Not just important. There is no other way but to teach kids sex education. Starting from understanding their own body, to not being ashamed about what their body is and very importantly, to teach them how abuse can happen.”
- Tasaffy, human rights activist
“Yes it is. It's better to know the correct facts from an adult rather than misguided info from friends or the Internet.”
- Rumayla Mannan, team leader, Sir John Wilson School, Dhaka
“Of course every kid needs to know about their physical changes and how to deal with them, otherwise, they’d be left feeling confused, ashamed and frustrated.” - Brother Robi
Do you think sex ed at an early age could lessen sexual violence in Bangladesh?
“Of course, if children are taught about it, they have a higher chance of knowing when they are being abused. Or being able to report it, even if it is just to close relatives or friends, and most importantly they have a much higher chance of stopping it. And teaching these things will also ensure that people commit less abuse, violence, etc, since they have that respect for other people's bodies, needs and consent. And even if they try anything, they will be called out more and reported, because everyone is being taught about how to respond to these behaviours.” - Tasaffy
“There is always a possibility it might lessen sexual violence. But then again it is more important to teach boys/men not to treat women as objects.”
“Not necessarily but awareness will definitely make anyone think twice before committing an abuse.” - Brother Robi
Do you think Bangladesh is ready for sex education?
"Accepting that many parents are uncomfortable with sex education in schools, the reality is that children often have access to Internet websites that contain inappropriate sexual content. I can't believe that any parent would want their child to learn about intimate relationships this way, rather than through a factual approach provided in schools." - Farah Ghuznavi, writer and columnist
“There is nothing about being ready. You can't deny sex, it is there as a part of being sexually reproductive living beings. You can't deny abuse, because it has been there since the beginning of history. Ignoring it, or being silent about it has not worked. So, the next way to try to curb it would be to accept its existence and try to ensure proper education around it. Not literacy, but education!” - Tasaffy
“Bangladesh will never be ready for sex education.”
“Doesn’t matter whether we’re ready or not. What matters is if it’s necessary, which it is.” - Brother Robi
At what age, do you think, children/teens should be taught about sex?
“This should be taught before their adolescence, probably between 10 and 13 years of age. And when sex is explained, I think it is important to be open and teach children that it is not a shameful thing, but also highlight that it is something that they should learn and feel comfortable about when they go into it.” - Tasaffy
“Children from age three onwards should be taught to respect their bodies and not allow adults other than their parents to touch their private parts. And teens starting from the age of 12 should be made aware of physical changes and how to deal with them.” - Rumayla
“Since the changes start at 12 , I think 12 is a good age to start. But the books and the content have to be very carefully prepared and selected.” - Brother Robi
It is often argued that sex education can go against someone’s moral or religious values. If sex education is made mandatory in our national curriculum, should it be synced with our cultural and socio-religious context?
“Unless, Muslim Bangladeshi people culturally do not have sex, or do not abuse people, or do not rape - then sex is very much part of our culture. Sex education should take into consideration that most families in our culture do not know how to deal with these issues. So, properly trained individuals should teach these to both children and parents. This should not be a choice, schools should have mandatory sessions for parents to teach them how to deal with sex related talks. But proper sessions have to happen in schools, universities and workshops to directly teach children and young people to understand sex and more importantly, their own relationship with their own bodies.” - Tasaffy
“It shouldn’t go against anyone’s moral or religious values. Children should be taught what is right and what is wrong. Both girls and boys should know all of it. But not in a manner where it encourages them that it is okay to have sex if you are using protection. Our culture lets men treat women as sexual objects so we have to be careful. Our religion that is wrongly interpreted is also oppressive when it comes to women. Hence a lot of women aren’t aware of their sexual rights. Sex education is very necessary, regardless of religion, culture or what society thinks.” - Rumayla
“I think it’s all about interpretation. Everything can be interpreted the wrong way. We have to be extra careful in our word selection and the approach that we use when we teach kids about these matters.” - Brother Robi