Sexual Health: The Myth of Education on Sexual Health
Sexual health is one of the most misunderstood of personal health and wellness. Much ignorance surrounds sexuality, sexual and reproductive health in our society. The purpose of the beginning of this sexual health series is to focus on education and myth demystification. High ignorance on sexual and reproductive health increases the occurrences of STDs, STIs, teen pregnancy and other sexual and reproductive related issues. More often than so, these topics have been shunned in our cultures; therefore, shameful. There has been a huge emphasis on protecting teens and young adults from sex and thereby forgetting the importance of educating them on sexual health.
Sexual and reproductive health is not only related to sex but also considers; how to take care of your sexual and reproductive system, learning about your body and understanding your biology, issues of protection, contraception and consent and more.
Knowledge is power, and wisdom is the application of that knowledge. When we are teaching and educating children, teens and young adults about sexual and reproductive health we are imparting knowledge. In the event of educating them, they are able to be conscientious and apply wisdom to make personal decisions that best affect them, including understanding their consequences.
According to WHO, Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.” (WHO, 2006a)
Most religious groups support and teach one of the most reliable forms of family planning and STI prevention; Celibacy. This is the abstinence from sexual activities for religious reasons. Sexual abstinence when defined as refraining from all acts of sexual activities works 100% towards the prevention of STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Nevertheless, abstinence-only education has been found to be less effective at preventing STDs and unwanted pregnancies especially among adolescents.
Abstinence- only education also comes with stigma and shame among people who do not abstain or do not subscribe to this belief. Practices like wearing purity rings or signing chastity cards have worked for some people while it hasn’t for some. This shame has led people into being secretive while engaging in sexual activities and protecting themselves against unwanted pregnancies and STDs. Buying a condom or visiting a gynaecologist either for a check up or getting a contraceptive pill only means that you are sexually active hence rebellious.
In some communities, unwanted pregnancies and symptomatic STIs like HIV/AIDS come with grave consequences. Some women have been cast out from their families and communities for getting pregnant out of wedlock. This shame is not only applied to the individuals (mostly the women) but also the whole family. Families show great disappointment and for those that cannot bear this shame and prefer to cut ties with their daughters or force the involved individuals to get married. Being a single mother comes with stigma and consequences that most people prefer not to face.
To avoid this judgement, people get creative with the process and engage in careless and dangerous activities. Abstinence has different meanings to everyone. Some people refrain from any form of penetration(anal or vaginal) hence engage in non penis-in-vagina (PIV) penetration outercourse and use sex toys, fingers or practice anal sex. While some of these methods do prevent unwanted pregnancies, they can lead to the transmission of STDs at an alarming rate. Moreover, for women that are not successful in avoiding pregnancies in these ways they opt for dangerous abortion options.
An all rounded sexual health education might just be the answer. Adolescents that are well sexually educated make up adolescents and eventually adults that engage in safe and responsible sex. As much as the desire would be that people abstain until marriage, the reality is that not everyone can do so nor wants to do so. Educating adolescents on sexual health in expansive ways equips them to make the right choices and being safe while doing so. Not necessarily encourage them to engage in sexual activities as most communities fear.
According to WHO, lack of public awareness, lack of training of health workers, and long-standing, widespread stigma around STIs remain barriers to greater and more effective use of these interventions.
In conclusion, what we are bringing across is that we should stop minimising sexual health to sexual activities and rather on the wellbeing of each individual. The focus on well being is key. Whether already practicing sexual activities or not.
We hope that we can learn to dimistify sex and refrain from singularly viewing sex from a moral perspective and employ a more health perspective.In this way, include it in school curriculums in a more positive and extensive way. Training and educating children, teens and young adults to take care of their sexual and reproductive health as part of their general health and wellness.
Adolescents that are well sexually educated, make up adolescents and eventually adults that engage in safe and responsible sex therefore this in turn lowers the rate of the all risks aforementioned.