Learning about the birds and the bees is undeniably an incredibly daunting yet important task. It is also one which no country’s education system seems to have totally mastered.
With such variation even between individual schools, it is no wonder sex education differs vastly from country to country. Sex and relationships are a huge part of many people’s lives; in fact none of us would be here without it. Its absence in the curriculum, therefore, can have detrimental effects.
Every country has its flaws with sex education, yet some have more dangerous consequences than others. Here’s how sex education looks around the world.
Belgians are a rather relaxed bunch, like many of their European neighbours. While this is seen as very reasonable by some, others find the Belgian approach to sex education rather disturbing.
Recently, the Belgian site Alles Over Seks (All About Sex), set up by sexual health organisation Sensoa, was criticised for “teaching seven-year-olds explicit sex positions”.
The site was originally intended for 15-year-olds but is now being recommended to those as young as seven. The Belgian media claimed the “Youth Guide”, an advisory pamphlet supported by the Flemish government and distributed in primary schools, endorsed the website.
Chinese sex education is often very reductive or even completely absent. With the number of abortions and contractions of sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) rising at an alarming rate, something clearly needs to change.
Sex education is not compulsory in China which leads to great gaps in children’s knowledge as they enter adulthood. Allegedly, a Chinese couple laid next to each other in bed for three years trying to get pregnant.
Many Chinese universities have installed vending machines selling home testing kits for HIV to students. Additionally, some schools have been battling the taboo by using sex education textbooks. While designed to tackle the problem, the books sparked uproar from parents and were quickly removed from schools.
Much like China, in India sex education is not compulsory in schools. The statistics are shocking: a disturbing 53 percent of children between the ages of five and 12 have been subjected to sexual abuse. India has the fastest growing population in the world and one of the highest rates of HIV infection. According to The Times of India, more than 50 percent of girls in rural India are unaware of menstruation or what it even means.
The culture around sex promotes silence and shame which confuses young people. Often they are unable to recognise abuse.
However, The Guardian has suggested India has the best sex education programme in the world.
The YP foundation designed and implemented a progressive curriculum for sex education. The programme teaches gender equality, sexual diversity and consent among other subjects. It incorporates role play, art and games to engage 12 to 20-year-olds across the 14 classes it runs.
While India may run a successful programme, it needs to be implemented in all schools to have a positive effect on its young audience.
In Indonesia, sex education is considered an “extra-curricular” activity.
Worryingly, often parents do not have a comprehensive understanding of the topic so it is down to the government to ensure teachers are well-informed and supplying this knowledge. Many young couples are forced to wed due to accidental pregnancies.
Indonesians are usually warned of the dangers of having sex, but not taught why it can be dangerous or how to do it safely.
However, things are looking up. In April, five Indonesian civil society organisations pushed for comprehensive sex education through a large conference.
The conference reasoned with Government to support a revised programme for Indonesian youth. The wheels are in motion to bring about change to Indonesia’s sex education.
The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry in Malaysia has called for better sex education. Currently, sex education is integrated into subjects such as Moral and Islamic studies, science and biology. The basis of the sex education revolves around abstinence.
It also focuses on the biological aspect of sex, ignoring many other crucial facets like consent, emotional wellbeing and contraception. Children, especially those who attend religious schools, are not prepared for the real world.
The Malaysian Council for Child Welfare has decided something needs to change. It proposed a proper channel be launched, detailing reproductive health for children and young people.
The Dutch are famously liberal. The general ethos in The Netherlands is that sexuality is a natural part of human life and should be taught as such.
It is compulsory for all children aged four and older to receive age-appropriate sex education. Often, this education emphasises building respect for both their own bodies and sexuality, as well as their peers’. One of their first lessons is on consent.
Everything is covered, from contraception to relationships, STIs to pleasure. As a result of their extensive programme the country’s teenage pregnancy rate is very low.
Sexuality is one of seven ‘key areas’ in the Health and Physical Education curriculum. It is compulsory for both primary and secondary schools to teach up until Year 10. Sex and relationships have been taught in schools since 1999 and also cross over into NZ’s Relationship Education.
The New Zealand Herald reported: “The Education Review Office assessed the quality of sexuality education programmes in Years 7 to 13 in 100 primary and secondary schools and found many were adopting a ‘one size fits all’ approach.”
However, in April Government Health Officials announced plans to improve sex education programmes in NZ. With the recent inauguration of new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, even more plans could soon be in motion for NZ’s youth.
Religion and morals often play a large part in a country’s sex education programme. Uganda is no different.
Recently, the Ministry of Health declined the proposal to distribute contraceptives to those aged 15 and over in Uganda on moral grounds. The proposal also suggested sex education was extended to 10-year-olds. It was a bid to lower teenage pregnancy rates in the country.
The Ministry claimed, however, the proposal would encourage promiscuity and abortions.
Over a quarter of young girls aged 15 to 19 in Uganda are currently pregnant or have given birth. On average, women have five children, yet a mere 24 percent of women use a modern form of contraception.
It may come as no shock that the British are rather reserved in how they talk about sex. While sex education is now compulsory in all schools, the guidelines are relatively thin.
Sex education is incorporated into the curriculum through Personal, Social, Health and Economics Education (PSHE), yet this varies vastly between schools.
In March 2017, the UK government announced all children aged four and above would be given relationship education. Additionally, all children in secondary school education would be taught age-appropriate material about sex and sexual and emotional relationships.
In an even more extreme situation than the UK, US schools’ programmes vary widely from school to school and state to state.
According to Guttmacher Institute, just under half of US states include HIV education in their programmes. Guidance is given to schools in most states, but school districts ultimately call the shots.
Planned Parenthood reported “overall, in 2011–2013, 43 percent of adolescent females and 57 percent of adolescent males did not receive information about birth control before they had sex for the first time”.