By Sam Allen

When I was a teenager, I had a subscription to Teen Magazine. Flipping through its pages on hair, makeup, and boys, I also encountered articles about sex, STIs and pregnancy prevention. Being a bit of a nerd, I quickly memorised the most common safe sex methods and their efficacies.

Did I take sex ed classes in school? Yes, but the experience was awkward and abstract. By the time I got to college, I felt  I was missing out by not having a boyfriend, and made some emotionally unsafe choices to find one. All of this mayhem was around sex and sexuality.  

As much as we love the good old 90’s, there was a definite lack of education in some areas. Yet the solutions were—right under the surface—waiting to be discovered. 

Why Sex Education Is Important

Good sex ed dispels myths and empowers young people to make their own choices about their bodies. A controlled experiment conducted among Nigerian teenagers showed that sexual education interventions significantly reduced high-risk sexual behaviours. 

Things like sex without a condom or another barrier, anal sex, and other activities can bring negative emotional outcomes. While there is mixed evidence on the link between girls’ empowerment and comprehensive sex ed, young people’s knowledge about their bodies and their choices is, arguably, integral to functioning as an adult in society. 

Overall, sex education, when done right, provides an opportunity for young people to think about not just their bodies, but their roles in society.  According to the International Women’s Health Coalition, it can be a catalyst for social change. When sex ed is botched—it encourages shame, according to another group in the United States. We should understand the dangers of ill-advised ‘abstinence only’ classes before we forcefully deploy them around the world. How do we build good, global sexual education?

Implement Existing Policies

The UNESCO report “Sexuality education in Asia and the Pacific: review of policies and strategies to implement and scale up” researched over 335 national policies and strategic plans in 28 Asian countries, including Cambodia and Vietnam. It found that even in countries where there were extensive policies promoting sex education, only a handful implemented them effectively. 

A quick fix? Start training teachers in sexual health. This is important because it teaches the teachers how to teach it and more crucially it could reveal facts and philosophies to them that challenge and enliven their own lives!  Making enthusiasts out of those who are teaching, and perhaps also paying them to be teachers of communities as well as their students, might help lift up entire groups with knowledge and responsible sexual choices. Indeed, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists asserts that community leaders like gynaecologists—and, arguably, teachers—can play a pivotal role in creating comfort and a healthy curiosity about our bodies.  

Internet Ingenuity: Innovation Is Sexy!

Not everyone has access to sexual healthcare providers.  What most youth, such as 75% of the population of Thailand, have, however, is the internet.  

It seems like a no-brainer, but so many innovations are—and they’re now available to people around the world.  Countries, gynaecologists, artists, and youth(!) could design websites that are just sexy enough to satisfy young peoples’ curiosity and also sound enough to be informative. 

Trained staff for mobile-friendly sites and apps could answer questions through chat boxes on each page. There should be groups for various genders to ask questions, but everyone should get the basic facts so that they are “on the same page” as their peers. In addition to basic sexuality resources, the websites could also focus on local topics that seem to need more education or conversation, such as zina or “illicit marriage” (premarital sex) in Indonesia.

In A Family Way

Not everyone is going to complete K-12 education. Some girls might get married early.  Many Families in the global South need their children to work instead of going to school and finishing their education. But that doesn’t mean that parents and children in these cases do not deserve access to authentic sex education.

If every person learned to be a potential sex educator or conversation partner,  then discussions might happen more frankly and openly. Let’s innovate and use educational radio programs and other edtech solutions that have blossomed in Southeast Asia during COVID-19 to teach basic anatomy lessons, STI and pregnancy information, and role-play scenarios around consent.

Let it be family-friendly so that everyone who tunes into it can be a participant.
Sex isn’t inherently bad or scary—it’s the ideas surrounding it that can deem it sinister and disrespectful.  With community teachers, internet innovations, and family-based content, we can all learn something about sexuality.  Hey, it might even be fun!