Speaking Out

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Fri Oct 9, 2009

Much Right in UNESCO's Much-Wronged Sex Ed Report

By Sohaila Abdulali

In the past weeks, there has been international handwringing over UNESCO’s latest report, on the subject of sexuality education and its relationship to HIV. I saw that the people who were most upset were Fox News and the Catholic news services. Fox News screamed, “UN Report Advocates Teaching Masturbation to 5-Year-Olds.” Catholic websites shrieked about abortion propaganda. Just to balance it all out, a fellow UN agency, UNFPA, insisted on dropping its name from the publication as it wasn’t “palatable.”

I Googled the report instantly, hoping for some incendiary material. Unfortunately, “International Guidelines on Sexual Education — An evidence informed approach to effective sex, relationships and HIV/STI education” is thoroughly sensible.

I was hoping to find some provocative quotes, given the heated nature of the backlash. I diligently went through the entire 57-page tome, and couldn’t find a single one. No odes to masturbation, simply a statement that it feels good and it’s safe. Can’t argue with that. No pro-abortion rhetoric, simply information on abortion, safe and unsafe. It’s a great all-around guide for educators and parents.

While the report is thoughtful and intelligent, the response is not. In fact, the response is outrageous and irresponsible.

Outrageous: the idea that teaching young people about sex is taking away their innocence. What does sex have to do with innocence? And if we don’t want to teach our kids about sex, why do these same self-righteous souls promote teaching abstinence? If you teach abstinence, I assume you have to tell the little innocents what they’re abstaining from.

Irresponsible: More than 10 million young people are living with HIV, according to UNAIDS. Research has shown again and again that if you educate people about the risks of unsafe sex and give them access to prevention, they are less likely to contract the virus. If you don’t, they will have sex anyway, and they are much more likely to contract the virus.

According to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, “Each year at least 111 million new cases of curable STIs occur among young people aged between 10 and 24, and up to 4.4 million girls aged 15 to 19 years seek abortions, the majority of which will be unsafe. Ten percent of births worldwide are to teenage mothers, who experience higher rates of maternal mortality than older women.”

When I read this, and consider the high levels of rape and sexual coercion everywhere, I feel enraged at the wimps and twisted moralists who would keep information from children. I hope for my gorgeous waist-high daughter that she will have all the knowledge I can give her to keep her safe, and that she spends her life enjoying the truly innocent pleasures of life — like joyful sex.