Comprehensive Sexuality Education

 

What is comprehensive sexuality education (CSE)?

Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to: realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and, understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.

 CSE is education delivered in formal and non-formal settings that is:

  1. Scientifically accurate: the content of CSE is based on facts and evidence related to SRH, sexuality and behaviours.
  2. Incremental: CSE is a continuing educational process that starts at an early age, and where new information builds upon previous learning, using a spiral-curriculum approach.
  3. Age- and developmentally-appropriate: the content of CSE is responsive to the changing needs and capabilities of the child and the young person as they grow. Based on the age and development of learners, CSE addresses developmentally relevant topics when it is most timely for their health and well-being. It accommodates developmental diversity; adapts content when cognitive and emotional development is delayed; and is presented when the internalization of SRH and relationship-related messages is most likely.
  4. Curriculum based: CSE is included within a written curriculum that guides educators’ efforts to support students’ learning. The curriculum includes key teaching objectives, the development of learning objectives, the presentation of concepts, and the delivery of clear key messages in a structured way. It can be delivered in either in-school or out of-school settings.
  5. Comprehensive: CSE provides opportunities to acquire comprehensive, accurate, evidence-informed and age appropriate information on sexuality. It addresses sexual and reproductive health issues, including, but not limited to: sexual and reproductive anatomy and physiology; puberty and menstruation; reproduction, modern contraception, pregnancy and childbirth; and STIs, including HIV and AIDS. CSE covers the full range of topics that are important for all learners to know, including those that may be challenging in some social and cultural contexts. It supports learners’ empowerment by improving their analytical, communication and other life skills for health and well-being in relation to: sexuality, human rights, a healthy and respectful family life and interpersonal relationships, personal and shared values, cultural and social norms, gender equality, non-discrimination, sexual behaviour, violence and gender-based violence (GBV), consent and bodily integrity, sexual abuse and harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). ‘Comprehensive’ also refers to the breadth and depth of topics and to content that is consistently delivered to learners over time, throughout their education, rather than a one-off lesson or intervention.
  6. Based on a human rights approach: CSE builds on and promotes an understanding of universal human rights – including the rights of children and young people and the rights of all persons to health, education, information equality and non-discrimination. Using a human rights based approach within CSE also involves raising awareness among young people, encouraging them to recognize their own rights, acknowledge and respect the rights of others, and advocate for those whose rights are violated. Providing young people with equal access to CSE respects their right to the highest attainable standard of health, including safe, responsible and respectful sexual choices free of coercion and violence, as well as their right to access the information that young people need for effective self-care.
  7. Based on gender equality: CSE addresses the different ways that gender norms can influence inequality and how these inequalities can affect the overall health and well-being of children and young people, while also impacting efforts to prevent issues such as HIV, STIs, early and unintended pregnancies, and gender-based violence. CSE contributes to gender equality by building awareness of the centrality and diversity of gender in people’s lives; examining gender norms shaped by cultural, social and biological differences and similarities; and by encouraging the creation of respectful and equitable relationships based on empathy and understanding. The integration of a gender perspective throughout CSE curricula is integral to the effectiveness of CSE programmes.
  8. Culturally relevant and context appropriate: CSE fosters respect and responsibility within relationships, supporting learners as they examine, understand and challenge the ways in which cultural structures, norms and behaviours affect people’s choices and relationships within a specific setting.
  9. Transformative: CSE contributes to the formation of a fair and compassionate society by empowering individuals and communities, promoting critical thinking skills and strengthening young people’s citizenship. It provides learners with opportunities to explore and nurture positive values and attitudes towards SRH, and to develop self-esteem and respect for human rights and gender equality. Additionally, CSE empowers young people to take responsibility for their own decisions and behaviours, and the ways in which they may affect others. It builds the skills and attitudes that enable young people to treat others with respect, acceptance, tolerance and empathy, regardless of their ethnicity, race, social, economic or immigration status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics.
  10. Able to develop life skills needed to support healthy choices: this includes the ability to reflect and make informed decisions, communicate and negotiate effectively and demonstrate assertiveness. These skills can help children and young people form respectful and healthy relationships with family members, peers, friends and romantic or sexual partners.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) aims to equip children and young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will enable them to develop a positive view of their sexuality and make informed choices about their sexual lives. It is based on gender equality and covers a broad range of issues relating to the physical and biological aspects of sexuality as well as the emotional and social aspects. It provides young people with age-appropriate, culturally relevant and scientifically accurate information. CSE is strongly linked with empowerment and the right based approach, putting children and young people at the centre of education.

CSE improves knowledge and understanding of adolescents and youths that prevent them from contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and HPV. It is also designed with the intention of reducing teenage and unwanted pregnancies, as well as lowering rates of domestic and sexual violence, thus contributing to a healthier society, both physically and mentally. There is clear evidence that CSE has a positive impact on sexual and reproductive health, especially towards reducing STIs, HIV and unintended pregnancy (UNESCO 2015).

CSE is often defined by its very opposition to abstinence-only education. CSE advocates argue that promoting abstinence without accompanied information regarding safe sex practices is a disregard of reality, and is ultimately putting the adolescents and youths at risk. However, CSE does not hasten sexual activity but bring about a positive impact on safer sexual behavior: delayed sexual initiation, use of condoms and contraceptives. It ultimately promotes sexual abstinence as the safest sexual choice for young people and improves their autonomy, confidence, and better communication in relationships.

CSE covers a broad range of issues relating to the physical, biological, emotional and social aspects of sexuality. This approach recognizes and accepts all people as sexual beings and is concerned with more than just the prevention of disease or pregnancy. CSE programs should be adapted to the age and stage of development of the target group.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education must help young people to:

  • Acquire accurate information on sexual and reproductive rights, information to dispel myths, and references to resources and services.
  • Develop life skills including critical thinking, communication and negotiation, self-development and decision-making; sense of self; confidence; assertiveness; ability to take responsibility; ability to ask questions and seek help; and empathy.

Nurture positive attitudes and values, including open-mindedness, respect for self and others, positive self-worth/esteem, comfort, nonjudgmental attitude, sense of responsibility, and positive attitude toward their sexual and reproductive health.

 

Essential Components of Comprehensive Sexuality Education:

 

 

 

 

Gender: This component includes difference between gender and sex; exploring gender roles and attributes; understanding perceptions of masculinity and femininity within the family and across the life cycle; society’s changing norms and values; manifestations and consequences of gender bias, stereotypes and inequality (including self-stigmatization).

 

 

Sexual and reproductive health and HIV: This component includes sexuality and the life cycle (i.e., puberty, menopause, stigma, sexual problems); anatomy; reproductive process; how to use condoms and other forms of contraception; pregnancy options and information; understanding HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), what they are and how to prevent them; living with HIV; virginity; sexual response; social expectations; self-esteem and empowerment; respect for the body; myths and stereotypes.

 

 

 

 

 

Sexual rights and sexual citizenship: This component includes knowledge of international human rights and national policies, laws and structures that relate to people’s sexuality; rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health; social, cultural and ethical barriers to exercising rights related to sexual and reproductive health; understanding that sexuality and culture are diverse and dynamic; available services and resources and how to access them; participation; practices and norms; diversity of sexual identities; advocacy; choice; protection; negotiation skills; consent and the right to have sex only when you are ready; the right to freely express and explore one’s sexuality in a safe, healthy and pleasurable way.

 

Pleasure: This component includes understanding that sex should be enjoyable and consensual; understanding that sex is much more than just sexual intercourse; sexuality as a healthy and normal part of everybody’s life; the biology and emotions behind the human sexual response; gender and pleasure; masturbation; love, lust and relationships; interpersonal communication; the diversity of sexuality; the first sexual experience; consent; alcohol, drugs and the implications of their use; addressing stigma associated with pleasure.

 

 

 

 

 

Violence: This component includes exploring the various types of violence toward men and women and how they manifest, particularly gender-based violence; nonconsensual sex and understanding what is unacceptable; rights and laws; support options available and seeking help; community norms and myths regarding power and gender; prevention, including personal safety plans; self-defense techniques; understanding the dynamics of victims and abusers; appropriate referral mechanisms for survivors.

 

 

Diversity: This component includes recognizing and understanding the range of diversity in our lives (e.g., faith, culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, ability/disability, HIV status and sexual orientation); a positive view of diversity; recognizing discrimination, its damaging effects and being able to manage it; developing a belief in equality; needs & equity;           supporting young people to move beyond just tolerance.

 

 

 

 

Relationships: This component includes different types of relationships (family, friends, sexual, romantic etc.); that relationships are constantly changing; emotions; intimacy (emotional and physical); rights and responsibilities; power dynamics; recognizing healthy and unhealthy or coercive relationships; communication, trust and honesty in relationships; love and sex are not the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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