Sex education continues to be a controversial topic for just about everyone. Beyond the comprehensive versus abstinence-only argument, there is significant debate among researchers, educators, and advocates about what defines “comprehensive.” Another layer of this dialogue is how early and how often sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information should be taught. A recent analysis from Georgetown University advocates for investment in SRH promotion in very young adolescents (aged 10-14 years).
The article has an global focus but its implications are relevant to developed and developing countries alike. The authors looked at SRH development of very young adolescents as well as meso- and macro-level influences on this development. They ultimately conclude that earlier intervention is beneficial for numerous reasons:
- Addressing root causes of SRH problems (e.g. STIs, unplanned pregnancy, etc) rather than focusing on fixing them as they develop.
- Ensuring the majority of adolescents receive SRH information before their sexual initiation. According to the CDC, this is not currently the case.
- Guiding adolescents through the changes of puberty with known support system (e.g. teachers) focused on these issues.
- Giving them time and self esteem needed to make empowered SRH decisions later in life.
- Teaching coping mechanisms, including the normalizing of the puberty experience, to handle changes they are experiencing.
- Providing a foundation for future healthy relationships and sexual and reproductive health.
Both puberty and the solidification of gender roles begins during early adolescence, making this an especially critical time to reach the population. As the authors write, “Investing in younger adolescents can produce an ‘SRH and gender’ dividend […]” that may carry on into later years.
Most research shows that comprehensive sex education curriculums do have positive SRH outcomes in the short term, but that these outcomes diminish over time. This is not unsurprising, given what we know about adolescents’ brain development, especially their frontal lobe. Their idea of “risk” is diminished. Though this can be a scary concept, it supports the idea that the most effective sex education is not only comprehensive in terms of topic but also ongoing over several years. The messages can be increasingly complex as students get older, but by repeating similar information in new and engaging ways, it allows messages to better sink in and for those short-term impacts to be repeated and combined into more long-term improvements.
At the end of the day, the authors summarize the end goal best:
“As the [very young adolescent] population burgeons worldwide, advocates must strive to put this critical group on the global health and development map, moving them from a position of vulnerability to one of empowerment.”
Other Sexual Health News This Week
Federal Judges Refuse to Stay Decision Striking Va. Same-Sex Marriage Ban (The Washington Post)
ACLU Leader Wants Federal Review of Polk Sex Stings (WTSP 10 News – Tampa Bay Sarasota)
Why the Price of Commercial Sex Is Falling (The Economist)
The following conference proposals are due in September. Click on each title for more information and to submit.
The following conferences take place in August and September. Click on each title for more information and to register.
Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, August 14-17, Alexandria, VA.
National Sexual Assault Conference, August 20-22, Pittsburgh, PA Be sure to check out “Sexual Violence in ‘The Scene’:Lessons from and Challenges Within BDSM/Kink Circles” presented by Aida Manduley from SHR’s partner organization, The CSPH.
Catalyst Con, September 11-14, Los Angeles, CA Say hi to staff writer Kait Scalisi who is presenting on two panels: “Sex, Dating, Kink, and the ‘C’ Word,” and “How to Be a Sex-Positive Warrior in Public Health.”
Widener University’s Sexuality, Intimacy, & Aging Conference, September 19-20, Chester, PA Check out Kait’s session, “Sexual Health and Pleasure in Cancer Survivorship.”