Sexuality education: Is it a game changer?

Mariana Kayaga

What you need to know:

Formal sexuality education has been found to reduce adolescent sexual risky behaviours

During the national consultations by the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) on the East African Community Sexual and Reproductive Health Bill (EAC SRH Bill), a section of clerics argued that sexuality education sexualises children and that “children have no business engaging in sex”.

They further argued that sexuality education for children should be left to the parents. Discussions on sexuality education have always been a polarising debate and this is partly fueled by misconceptions and misinformation. For a long time, there has been the misconception that sexuality education and sex education are the same thing. However, sexuality education is a curriculum-based means of teaching and learning about cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality.

It aims to equip young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to realise their health, well-being and dignity, and develop respectful social and sexual relationships. It provides them with the opportunity to explore their own values and attitudes, make these decisions, communicate and reduce the risk of unhealthy sexual and reproductive behaviours.

Sexuality and reproductive health indicators for young people are currently worrying and action is needed. Pregnancy rates among young people are alarming with one out of every four girls (25 percent) getting pregnant, 2.1 per cent prevalence of HIV/sexually transmitted infections, and increased cases of unsafe abortions.

In Uganda, unsafe abortion contributes to 26 percent of maternal death among adolescents. Statistics further show that 18 percent of annual births in Uganda are a result of teenage pregnancies.

The above figures demonstrate that young people are engaged in sexual activity. The cost of not taking action to address teenage pregnancies is catastrophic and will roll back progress in promoting gender equality.

It is anticipated that teenage mothers are three times less likely to have professional jobs and are more likely to be self-employed in agriculture. The implication is that teenage mothers will have lower income levels that eventually affect their standards of living and contribution to productivity.

Sexuality education is intended to provide young people with the information and skills needed to make healthy and informed decisions about their sexuality. It also presents abstinence, delaying first sex encounters, limiting the number of partners and safer sex. There is no evidence to justify the argument that sexuality education promotes experimental sex or increased sexual activity.

Formal sexuality education has been found to reduce adolescent sexual risky behaviours when provided before sexual initiation. It is important to note that the world is already saturated with sex and the high levels of teenage pregnancies attest to this.

In Uganda, children are brought up to view sex as a dirty word. Some people believe that talking about it openly will normalise sex among young people. It is this perception that limits sexuality education and likely contributes to Uganda’s high teenage pregnancy rate currently at 25 percent.

 Evidence from countries that have embraced sexuality education shows that these have lower teenage pregnancy rates compared to those that have not. Research confirms that the quality of sexuality education improves young people’s self-confidence and esteem, positively changes attitudes, and gender and social norms, strengthens decision-making and communication skills and builds self-efficacy.  Many people fail to acknowledge the fact that sexuality education existed in African traditional societies. Different cultures used storytelling and circumcision songs to teach about sexuality.

The writer is the president of the Youth Advisory Committee, SRHR Alliance and a Programme Associate at CEHURD.