With a lack of sound facts, many learners navigate their sexual identities in murky waters. Now that parents can choose to exclude their children from comprehensive sexual education, it’s about to get murkier.

In December last year, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga announced that parents would be able to opt out of comprehensive sexual education in schools, provided they could offer an alternative that meets the curriculum and assessment policy criteria. 

According to the UK-based charity, Avert, it is estimated that in 2016, only 5% of schools in South Africa provided comprehensive sexual education. In 2017, 10.9% of births were among girls aged 10-19, according to Statistics SA. This information points to lack of empowerment around sex education and that young people are not being taught about safe sex practices.

Kim Windvogel, director of Freedom of Education Motivates Empowerment (Femme) Projects, a black, queer and woman-owned organisation that runs comprehensive sexual reproductive health and rights workshops with youth in the Western Cape, says: “Young people need to be informed about the things that society exposes them to. Parents think that children are only exposed to what [they] curate for them and this is not the case.”

They add: “We live in a hypersexualised world and if we narrow sexual and reproductive health to comprehensive sexual education, which it is not, but if you focus on that part of the curriculum, it is there to inform children.” It speaks to the misconception, they say, that sexuality education supports sex and the hypersexualisation of young people, which is not the case. 

Gaps in sex education

With South Africa having one of the highest rates of HIV in the world, education is often directed at HIV-prevention, leaving out knowledge about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

Current curriculums show there is also limited education in schools around safe sex that is not heterosexual.  LGBT+ youth are not taught how to practice safe sex, nor about hormone replacement therapy, in the case of transgender students. 

‘Not an encouragement but an information session’

Sex education needs to be inclusive and extensive, Windvogel says: “If you encourage kids to abstain from sex, it means you’ve lost half of the room. They’re not listening anymore because a lot of kids are having sex and experimenting with their bodies.” 

Teachers too don’t feel comfortable teaching pupils about sex and sexuality. “They circulate bad truths or myths without really knowing the proper information and if you don’t have proper information, and [are] living in world of secrecy and being shamed [because] of [the] choices you’ve made, you’re not going to get the healthcare you deserve and won’t know what’s good for you.”

They add: “The curriculum isn’t that bad before the issues with abstinence. It’s not always the content, it’s the teachers [who] perpetuate the myth of virginity and bring in their own religion and their own thoughts. They don’t speak about masturbation and self-love. There’s a lot to be done,  teachers need to conscientious to not be ashamed to talk to young people about sex because it’s not encouragement, it’s an information session.”

Article by Clio Koopman, republished courtesy of Health-e News.