At what age should sex education begin?

During a recent gathering in Bugesera District, a call was made by Imbuto Foundation urging parents to create time to talk to their children about reproductive health before it is too late.

Reports show that the reproductive health dialogue between parents and children is still a big challenge in Rwanda, which has led to the rise in teenage pregnancy.


Why sex education?


Jean Damascene Makuza, the STI care and treatment senior officer at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), says once adolescents understand the importance of self-control and practice it, they will avoid temptation and grow into healthy and responsible citizens.


He says that teenagers are at a vulnerable age and so they get easily carried away by peer pressure, and therefore, are likely to fall into temptation.

“This is why it is important for parents and teachers to sensitise learners on sexual education because they may not know how to behave in some circumstances, like how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs, or even about menstruation,” he says.

Makuza adds that sensitisation is one way to prevent minors from contracting sexually transmitted infections like HIV, syphilis, gonorrhoea, and trichomoniasis among others, which are common among the youth.

According to American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), sex education involves teaching about human sexuality, including intimate relationships, human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexually transmitted infections and reproductive rights and responsibilities.

It added that developmentally appropriate and evidence-based education by paediatricians, schools, professionals and parents is important to help children and adolescents make informed, positive and safe choices about their health. As such, education could prevent and reduce the risks of pregnancy and STDs.

Sylvester Twizerimana, a psychologist and counsellor at Anglican Church of Rwanda in Rubavu District, says that in modern times where minors are exposed to the internet that contains inappropriate information, sensitisation on sex education should be a must for not only parents, but teachers and society as well.

Self-discipline and sexual education

Twizerimana says that self-discipline is a term which means control over one’s desires and impulses. It is very important for a person’s overall health and well-being, especially learners who are in their pubescent age.

He adds that self-discipline involves discipline over mind and body functions. Learners should be taught how to be self-disciplined and as they grow, it’s easier to apply what has been instilled. Teachers and parents should set an example of observing self-discipline in their day-to-day behaviour so that youngsters emulate them.

“When it comes to sexual education, many learners are ignorant about the harmful consequences of lack of self-discipline. They have curiosity and temptation. But many do not know the risks they expose themselves to,” Twizerimana says.

He adds that this is why teachers and parents should shape them; that is, teach them how to be and remain disciplined regardless of the environment they are in. 

Best approach

Samuel Munana, the executive secretary of Rwanda National Union of the Deaf (RNUD), says that there are certain things parents should put in mind when talking to their children about reproductive health, starting with the right age to have the conversation.

He says parents should begin sexual education as early as possible. He explains that two to three years is ideal, given that it’s the age children embrace new environments, whether it is school or elsewhere. Parents should start with the basics, and teach them the names of all body parts and what is appropriate or not, and this should continue as they grow up.

“Adolescence is the period where learners get tempted to smoke, drink alcohol, or have sex, due to peer pressure, or to prove they are daring enough to do so, and so on. But they are unaware of the harmful long term effects of these substances on the body. When they see others around using these substances, they do not consider it bad and want to emulate them,” Munana says.

Therefore, he says, adults need to sensitise them on the repercussions of these things.

He adds that educating learners at a tender age is necessary given the things they could be exposed to on television and other platforms.

“Given that learners spend most of their time at school, teachers have distinct roles to play, but parents have a major role as well. For parents, this is because they are the first people to know the child, thus any assistance on sexual reproduction would help their children,” Munana adds.

Diana Nawatti Nsobya, a counsellor and head teacher at Mother Mary Complex, Kigali, says parents need to provide their children with basic knowledge, and teachers can come in to complement what they have been taught.

Failure to do this, Nawatti says, will lead to learning from their peers or other people who could easily mislead them.

However, she says, sex education is not just about teaching learners about sex and the need to abstain from it at that level; it also involves teaching them gradually about body organs and their functions, which she believes each school does depending on the stage of the learners.

Nawatti furthers says learners should be taught about sexual education given the early exposure young people have to the internet.

“In this time and era, information can no longer be hidden, parents could initiate sex education as soon as the child can read or can understand,” Nawatti says.

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