By Austin Kaluba -
IN many cultures, sex has always been a touchy subject with its discussion being considered taboo.
Thus the recent pronouncement by the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) that sex education should be taught to children in schools needs analysis from traditionalists, Christians and moralists.
As an organisation that was born abroad in England, YWCA should consider local views on any cultural subject it intends to implement, especially on culturally-sensitive issues like sex education.
Proponents of sex education to children should understand that even in Europe, sex instruction was for many years traditionally left to a child’s parents, and often this was put off until just before a child’s marriage.
Like in Africa, despite early in-roads of school-based sex education in most European countries, most of the information on sexual matters was obtained informally.
The information came from friends and societal interaction, especially during the period following puberty when curiosity of sexual matters was the most acute.
Until the 1960s’ sexual revolution, most European countries considered sex discussion as taboo not to talk of teaching it to children.
Later as part of each country’s efforts to reduce such pregnancies, programmes of sex education were instituted, initially over strong opposition from parents and religious groups.
Even then, sex education is still taboo in many European societies. A recent study of 2,000 Brits revealed that more than 60 per cent of parents find it difficult to talk to their children about sensitive subjects like sex.
Half of those interviewed said they simply found it awkward or embarrassing to talk about sex, while another 54 per cent were worried about how it would make their children feel.
In the United States, sex education remains a controversial issue, especially with regard to the age at which children should start receiving such education.
Caution is usually taken on the amount of detail that should be revealed, including topics dealing with human sexual behaviour like safe sex practices, masturbation, premarital sex and sexual ethics.
In African countries like Zambia, sex education was largely obtained informally from friends, books and elderly relatives.
However, the outbreak of AIDS has given a new sense of urgency to sex education. In many African countries where AIDS is at epidemic levels, sex education is seen by most scientists as a vital public health strategy.
So far not many people or organisations are against sex education.
What many are against is wholesome sex education, especially to school-going children.
Some opponents of sex education in Catholic schools worldwide believe sex education programmes are doing more harm to the young than good.
Opponents of sex education contend that children are not mentally and emotionally ready for this type of instruction, and believe that exposing the young to sex education may foster the students with the preoccupation of sex.
The most-cited reason why sex education should not be taught to children is the fear of them experimenting what they will learn about this mysterious and highly addictive act.
This has been worsened by the influx of other destructive source of sex education like the Internet which is rife with pornographic sites.
No matter what advocates of sex education say, the disadvantages of teaching children about sex greatly outweigh the few advantages.
Traditional norms regarding sex education should be respected since they are profounder than what we are trying to replace them.
All tribes in Zambia traditionally teach sex education, cautiously taking into considerations when to teach it, how much information to impart at different ages and even who should teach this subject.
Traditionally, the Tongas of Southern Province initiated their daughter at puberty but did not teach her much sex education and expected her to learn by observation.
Among the Nsengas of Eastern Province, a girl who came of age was instructed in sex education by her grandmother or other elderly women.
This was usually done secretly.
These customs relating to sex education have survived modernity and are widely practised in urban areas among all tribes in Zambia.
One thing that is clear is that teaching sex education remains secretive and is greatly supported by Ecclesiastical teachings that frown upon wrong teaching of sex.
What institutions like the YWCA should realise is that sex education has globally become a hot topic in recent years with so-called progressive interventions being pitted against conservative norms regarding the subject.
Until the mid-1950s, sex education in European schools was limited to the study of biological reproduction in mammals.
Since a comprehensive sex education encompasses far more than a scientific discussion of sperm-meets-egg, it was left to parents and churches to fill in the rest.
To the chagrin of traditionalists, today, sex education curricula are a little more explicit than what could be found in the classrooms of the 50s.
Due to the intrinsic complexities of human sexuality, the physical aspects cannot be separated from moral responsibility, especially in Africa where the latter is still upheld.
The churches have been strangely silent on the subject as society grapples on the strange bedfellows that tradition, modernity and Christianity are in addressing such issues.
Nowhere is sexuality restricted to marriage as the Bible states that it is a gift from God and should be viewed as such.
God created sex for two purposes: Procreation and unity between husband and wife (Genesis 1:28; Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:7–8; 1 Corinthians 7:1–5). Any other use of sex is sin (1 Corinthians 6:9, 18; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Thus teaching children about sexual relationships apart from morality is like teaching a child to drive a car without explaining the traffic laws.
Unfortunately, the moral barometer of our day is far from God’s divine standard.
Often, the only “rules” accompanying school sex education being championed by institutions like the YWCA are that sex should not be forced on an unwilling participant and that sexually-active people should use birth control.
Most modern sex education instruction presents perversion, fornication, homosexuality, and living together before marriage as “normal” expressions of sexuality. All of this is contrary to Scripture (1 Corinthians 6:9; Leviticus 20:15–16).
Having pointed out these considerations, we implore the YWCA or anyone championing sex education to approach the subject from several angles, among them, traditional norms, Biblical teachings and morality.
There should also be consideration to assess what worked before in view of the new interventions that seem to be sown on rocky ground.