Comprehensive sexuality education: A foundation for life and love

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A global campaign for comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), “Foundation for Life and Love”, was released by UNESCO in Bangkok, Thailand.

“UNESCO is committed to ensuring that all children and young people are able to benefit from quality comprehensive sexuality education, so that they are equipped and enabled to take control and make informed decisions about their sexuality and relationships, freely and responsibly. We are pleased to launch the global campaign entitled ‘A Foundation for Life and Love’, giving voice and urgency to the need for CSE to be an integral part of conversations in families, at schools, and across civil society,” said Maki Hayashikawa, Chief, Section for Inclusive and Quality Education, UNESCO Bangkok.

UNESCO talked to families across the world, asking them to reflect on their experience of sexuality education, and what they wish they had learnt. Featuring these voices in videos and an exhibition, the campaign shows why it is so important for young people to learn about health, relationships, gender, sex, and sexuality. Foundation for Life and Love is an extension of the #CSEandMe social media campaign recently launched by UNESCO, with UNFPA, ARROW, and other organizations participating and promoting it.

“The campaign ‘CSEandMe’ led by UNESCO provides us real life examples from around the world of how comprehensive sexuality education should be a part of every one’s lives from the age of five, or earlier. It is about family, relationships, decision-making, communication, respect, love and much more as we see in the videos. Above all, it is about gender equality. UNFPA works with UNESCO and other UN partners to ensure that every child is provided with the skills they need through Comprehensive Sexuality Education, so that they can reach their full potential,” said Bjorn Andersson, Regional Director, UNFPA APRO.

The exhibition included the story of Mai, a 14-year-old girl from Thailand who, when speaking about comprehensive sexuality education, said, “In this day and age, it’s not something to be embarrassed about, it’s something we should learn about because we’re in this society together. There’s no harm to it, and it would make us understand things better.”

Echoing Mai’s view, Dr Jiraoporn Arunakul, also featured in the exhibition, adolescent medicine specialist also featured in the exhibition, said, “I think Thailand is going to benefit a lot from CSE. It’s not only talking about how to prevent pregnancy and how to prevent STDs, it’s related to how you are going to have a good relationship, how you are going to learn how to communicate what you want and what you don’t want.”

The exhibition was attended by Dr Jetn Sirithananont, Secretary General, Asian Forum of Parliamentarians for Population and Development, and Chairman, Senate Standing Committee on Public Health.

The Prevention and Remedial Measures for Adolescent Pregnancy Bill (“Adolescent Pregnancy” Bill), consisting of 23 sections, stipulates that young people aged 10 to 19 in Thailand must be given access to reproductive health information and services. The Bill states that schools must offer comprehensive sexuality education, provide consultations on pregnancy prevention and allow teenage mothers to continue their studies at school until graduation.

Sivananthi Thanenthiran, Executive Director of Arrow, a regional non-profit women’s organization based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that has consultative status with UNESCO, explains, “Comprehensive sexuality education is a critical right of every young person. CSE enables us to understand our bodies and our sexuality, and to negotiate and navigate relationships in a complex world. CSE is a game changer for young people because it not only helps them understand how to protect themselves from STIs and pregnancy, but also how to understand consent, how to differentiate it from coercion, and helps reduce gender-based violence, and create more meaningful, mutually respectful and fulfilling relationships.”

Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE): The facts

  • CSE is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that will empower them to: realize their health, well-being, and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.
  • A new review of evidence, together with a review of curricula around the world commissioned by UNESCO in 2016, reemphasizes that sexuality education, in or out of schools, does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behavior, or STI/HIV infection rates. It also concludes that abstinence-only programmes are not effective in delaying sexual initiation, reducing the frequency of sex, or reducing the number of sexual partners.
  • Young people face numerous sexual and reproductive health issues, from puberty and access to contraception to early pregnancy, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS. CSE plays a pivotal role in helping young people navigate these challenges.
  • A fully updated International technical guidance on sexuality education was released by UNESCO in 2018, in collaboration with UNAIDS, UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women, and WHO. It assists education, health, and other relevant authorities in the development and implementation of CSE programmes and materials. The Technical Guidance is voluntary and non-mandatory, based on international best practice, and recognizes the diversity of national contexts in which sexuality education is taking place.
  • The Technical Guidance outlines the key concepts, topics, and learning objectives which should guide the development of locally-adapted curricula for learners aged 5-18+. These include:
  • 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 behavior; and
  • Sexual and reproductive health.