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.
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.
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.