What was the first time you encountered sex? Was it an innocent conversation with a friend who had learned something from another family member? Perhaps it was a movie with the two leading actors kissing while dropping out of frame, returning to the screen after the rustling of sheets. For many of us, the lesson came from parents whose primary concern was safety or from overworked teachers who would rather disappear into the ether than continue teaching how to put a condom on a banana.
Whether it came from school, a community-based organization, a beloved family member or an internet-savvy friend, sex is such an intrinsic part of today’s societal make up that it inevitably pops up in conversation. Widely accepted social constructs are bolstered by the diffusion of misinformation, causing people of all genders and sexualities to feel disempowered and unlikely to live up to their true, full sexual potential. This is why it is crucial that everyone receives a comprehensive sexual education (CSE), free from judgement and stigma, that promotes up-to-date, credible evidence-based research that enables everyone to win, both inside and outside the bedroom.
According to the International Federation of Planned Parenthood (IFPP), a comprehensive sexual education isn’t solely “about biological functions and reproductive systems, but more broadly about sexuality, orientation, gender and gender identity, diversity, relationships, power, the meaning of consent and responsibilities towards oneself and others.” There is a sex positive approach that focuses on the joys of being a sexually active individual and affirming messages about owning one’s body are given centre stage, encouraging everyone to choose a lifestyle that fulfills their needs and strikes a balance between sexual identity and personhood.
Shannon Boodram, sexologist, intimacy educator and author, in her 2019 book, The Game of Desire: 5 Surprising Secrets to Dating with Dominance - and Getting What You Want wrote that “knowledge is power and power is the luxury of doing things your own way.” The key to finding a system that works for you works the same way all great discoveries are made, through trial and error.
Through critical thinking and rational decision-making, the incorporation of past experiences and newly acquired information empowers a person to have an elevated sense of self-mastery. Topics such as puberty and its accompanying sex characteristic development, fertilization and menstruation, are a part of the biology curricula of many schools that provide fundamental knowledge that can and must be built upon. It is never too late to plug the holes in your knowledge that can transform sex, a rudimentary, animalistic act, into one that is fulfilling and contributes to a life that oozes with sensuality and pleasure.
Humanity has been acutely strained since 2020 by the coronavirus pandemic, a global health crisis that rattled the cornerstones upon which our global ecosystem stands. A more chronic and insidious source of stress is sex, more precisely the hegemonic ideologies that lead to disastrous consequences, such as the reprehensible and tragic murders of trans and queer people.
In many nations around the world, sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHRs) are being challenged, through the systematic maintenance of practices such as gender-based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and revocation of abortion rights. Many of us have stuck stringently to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines on how we should live safely amid a deadly virus, it is of the utmost importance that we do the same regarding safe sex.
In 2018 the International technical guidance on sexual education was revised and released by the WHO, providing a tool that can be used “to assist education, health and other relevant authorities in the development and implementation of school-based and out-of-school comprehensive sexuality education programmes and materials.” It covers 8 concepts that are as follows: relationships; values, rights, culture, and sexuality; understanding gender; violence and staying safe; skills for health and well-being; the human body and development; sexuality and sexual behaviour; and sexual and reproductive health.
CSE not only has a positive effect on sexual behaviour, leading to better health outcomes such as fewer unplanned pregnancies, it also ameliorates attitudes toward sex and reproductive health. It is a cost-effective system that with rigorous implementation could improve the health and rights of young people globally.
A comprehensive sexual education (CSE) is tantamount to the accomplishment of the WHO's Sustainable Development Goals, which tackle health, inclusivity, equity, gender equality and reduction in inequality differences between countries. Any steps towards a sustainable future for this and future generations is a good one; the fact that CSE equips individuals with the tools necessary to develop a unique sex life tailored to their lifestyle and preferences serves as a serendipitous bonus.
Written by Ndidi-Amaka Omosigho