Education

When We Should Teach Kids About Sex

Research shows kids benefit longterm from early sex health education.

According to a new study from Georgetown University, sex education should be tailored to target children as young as 10 which would significantly decrease unintended pregnancies, abortions, maternal deaths and sexually transmitted diseases, Think Progress reported.

The study examined adolescent behaviors and risks around the globe and found that 90 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents reside in lower and middle-income countries, where sexual health programs are for the most part absent.  This is despite the fact that researchers determined that sexuality and gender identity begins during “very young adolescence” typically between the ages of 10 and 14. It is during this time that children are most receptive to sex education messages that will go on to shape their beliefs around sex in the future.

“If programs…are implemented at a time when adolescents are still malleable and relatively free of sexual and reproductive health problems and gender role biases, very young adolescents can be guided safely through this life stage, supported by their parents, families and communities,” the authors contend.

Yet, here in the United States, just 18 states and the District of Columbia require sexual health courses which include birth control information with most sex education directed at older youth after they have already become sexually active.  In addition, there are no mandatory national standards for comprehensive sex education in America and many conservative states still enforce abstinence-only courses, for fear it will encourage children to engage in sexual behavior.  This is despite evidence that shows that sex education has the opposite effect - namely, it leads to young adults delaying sex as they become empowered by knowledge.

In this regard, Director of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown, Victoria Jennings says the U.S could take away some valuable lessons from the research in re-formulating its own sex ed policies to include very young adolescents.

“The implications are so clear. Adolescents in all cultures and every social status are learning at 10, 11, 12 how to match up to gender roles and expectations for them." Jennings told the Chicago Tribune. “[Sex education] has to be done in the context of helping them develop healthy self-esteem and the ability to negotiate their way in the world and develop expectations for themselves and their lives that will cause them to make decisions that will lead to positive outcome.”

Subsequently, the study recommends policy makers, education and parents shift the sex education conversation to those children entering puberty which they say will lay a stronger foundation for a lifetime of healthy sexual behavior.

Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.