Educate to liberate: A new way to teach sexual education in schools

For one moment, think back to the sex education you received in school. What do you remember? Detailed, in-depth lessons given by qualified professionals on topics such as sexual orientation, gender identity, assertiveness, desire and pleasure? In most cases, the answer is, unfortunately, a resounding no.

It goes without saying that we are sexual beings and sexuality is part of our life from the moment we develop our sexual organs at an embryonic level. Let’s not forget that we are also the fruit of sexuality!

Why then has this aspect of everyday life always been considered a taboo subject? It is quite clear that sex education is too conservative and, almost always, still influenced by religion. This taboo that has been created does little more than instilling doubts in children and young adults which will only be answered – extremely poorly, might I add – when these young people turn to the virtual world for clarification.

The internet has, therefore, become a double-edged sword. You can certainly find excellent information regarding sexuality and emotion, but this information becomes problematic when children and adolescents look for it in the wrong place, that is to say, in pornography.

Pornography is usually heterocentric and male chauvinist and if this is the sexual education that future generations have to look forward to, then we will see an increase in cases of sexual dysfunction due to these fantastical, fabricated falsehoods. For this reason, it is necessary to intervene at school and, indeed, in the family setting.

While it is unlikely anyone thinks of 2020 as the best year of their life, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it brings with it great news that appears to signal the start of a shift in education.

Scotland has officially become the first country to integrate LGBTI teaching into its curriculum in most subjects, starting from kindergarten and leading right up to third-level education. All this was possible thanks to a campaign by Time for an Inclusive Education (TIE), a non-profit organization founded in June 2015 which, with the intention of integrating the history of the LGBTI community into school education, proposed an action plan to the Scottish Government that was approved in 2018 and became a reality in June 2020.

Thanks to this approach, it will be possible to achieve greater tolerance from society and continue the fight against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, thus normalizing differences in gender identity and sexual orientation, all the while helping individuals to grow freely and express themselves.

Scotland has transformed itself into an example to follow in terms of committing to a social approach to sexual education, but how do other countries fare?

In the 2013 report, "Policy for Sexuality Education in the European Union", it was noted that sex education is compulsory by law in almost all European countries, with the exception of Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Cyprus, Lithuania and Italy. We must not settle for this, however, as the importance of emotional-sexual education lies in the quality of the teaching and in the issues that are addressed.

Several studies reveal that efficient sex education delays the first instance of sexual intercourse and promotes more responsible behaviour. Similarly, experts point out that insufficient sex education leads to a higher teenage pregnancy rate and a greater spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The veracity of these studies is reflected in the Nordic and Benelux countries (the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) where sex education is of a higher quality than in eastern and southern Europe, where the aforementioned indices are lower.

In Sweden, cartoons are shown in schools dealing with sexuality issues. In Denmark, sex education programs include meetings with prostitutes, homosexuals and people with AIDS, to share their experiences and raise awareness among pupils about these issues. In the Netherlands, sex education begins at the age of 4, while in Austria, the parents of pupils are also involved in participating in various sex education lessons.

Contrastingly, in Italy, sex education has always had to fight against the opposition of the Catholic Church, as well as some political groups. For this reason, there is no law that makes the teaching of sex education compulsory in schools. Public Education, in accordance with the Church, is therefore not obliged to give lessons on sexual issues. In fact, sex education remains optional – not to mention, undeniably superficial –and when it does exist, it is limited to topics such as: the menstrual cycle; puberty; reproduction; the transmission of sexual diseases; and a couple of contraceptive methods.

Sexual education that includes an emotional approach would be the most adequate to train individuals to not only become aware of their body but to learn how to respect and love it, while simultaneously learning the importance of respecting the desires of others.

It should be taught from childhood with the aim of raising people that are capable of understanding everything that is encompassed within the sphere of sexuality, as well as teaching them to appreciate and take responsibility for their actions in this aspect of life.

Despite many people thinking that sex education belongs exclusively in schools, for it to be really effective, the first lessons must be taught at home, normalizing themes understood as taboo and calling things by their correct name (eg genital organs). With regard to families, the right support and information should be given on how to deal with certain issues such as pleasure, assertiveness and self-esteem.

We are all sexual beings and the sooner we acknowledge this, explore our feelings and educate our children on these topics, the sooner the antiquated taboos around sex will crumble.