Sexual education

2020-03-02 12:06
Christy Herselman, founder of The Chat and local author.

Christy Herselman, founder of The Chat and local author.

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It’s something most parents dread — having “The Talk” about the “birds and the bees” with their children.

It’s hardly surprising then that many parents still prefer that their children learn “the facts of life” from their teachers at school.

But parents have cried foul after various reports claiming that the Department of Basic Education has plans to introduce a controversial Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) or “sex education” subject into the Grade 4 to Grade 12 curriculum.

Graphic and explicit pictures are being circulated on different social media platforms purporting to be taken from the department’s new textbooks. One of the images shows adults in bed with graphic details. Others claim the department would distribute condoms with stationery this year.


Many parents expressed outrage regarding the content, calling for it to be scrapped. Even the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, said plans to introduce this subject to Grade 4 pupils was an insult to parents and children.

Speaking at the Battle of Isandlwana commemoration in Nquthu late last month, Zwelithini said this “will sexualise our children by teaching them how to have sex, rather than the consequences and responsibilities of sex”.

Commenting on The Witness Facebook page, Shay Gounden said from what she’s seen in the books posted on social media, “it’s not acceptable”.

“I’m an educator as well in the private sector. No one from the department has enlightened us on this CSE. And furthermore, I will not allow my staff to teach this,” she said.

Melisha Lowe said it was “most definitely our responsibility as parents to teach our kids about it. I just don’t think it’s appropriate to teach 11-year-old kids about wet dreams.”

Prea Naidoo said: “It’s just insane! Yes, teaching your kids to be aware of themselves and their bodies is vital. I don’t mind talks about puberty. But for heaven’s sake why sex education?

“You’re just highlighting an already very aware younger generation. I feel as time is going, more and more opportunities to parent our children are being snatched away from us parents and given to the hands of the government …

“We can’t discipline our kids, we can’t teach our kids age appropriate lessons because now it’s all up to the government. What else would the government like to teach our kids? How to capture the state 101?”


Commenting on the matter, the national Department of Basic Education (DBE) said this was fake news.

In a statement, the department said they were concerned about the impact this had on the debate around the issue of the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) section of the Life Orientation Curriculum, saying it was causing confusion and anxiety among parents.

The department’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, distanced the department from a series of images which were circulating on social media.

“These images are not part of the books produced by the department. Members of the public have been contacting the department about videos with incorrect information that have also been distributed on social media,” said Mhlanga.

“These social media posts have misled the public and created unnecessary anxiety and anger especially among parents. Social media has been an integral part of the fake news campaign against the department regarding the issue of the Comprehensive Sexuality,” he said.

The department accused a “lobby group” of creating misleading social media posts and feeding the public “contaminated information”.

“The purpose of CSE is to address sexual abuse, HIV infections, learner pregnancy, and bullying and peer pressure and help learners stay in school until they complete Grade 12,” said Mhlanga.

The department warned that there is a difference between what is on the Internet and social media and what is contained in the books the department uses. Mhlanga urged those concerned to verify with the department before making decisions based on information published by certain organisations and individuals.

The department added that the CSE was introduced in 2000 within the subjects of life orientation and life skills to ensure that pupils do not get confusing and misleading messages on sex, sexuality, gender and relationships. CSE has thus been part of the South African curriculum for almost 20 years.

They have, however, implemented a “new curriculum” in 2020, said the department. It was a pilot project across five provinces affecting 1 500 schools where “consultation has taken place”.

The department emphasised that CSE is not sex education, does not teach pupils how to have sex, does not sexualise children and does not only focus on only the physical relationships between humans.

Daniela Ellerbeck, an attorney with Freedom of Religion SA, said in July last year they had written to the department demanding it disclose at the beginning of each year the content that would be taught during sex education lessons.

The Family Policy Institute, supported by seven church groups, also called for the scrapping of the CSE programme.


Christy Herselman, the founder of The Chat organisation, a speaker, a researcher and an author, said it was hard for her to comment about the CSE as she hasn’t seen any lesson plans but said from what she understands, the matter was still in the discussion and workshop phases.

She did, however, emphasise the importance of parents having the much-dreaded sex talk with their children whether or not their teachers speak to them about it at school.

“We can’t rely on teachers to do this job for us because as parents we are perfectly positioned in our children’s lives to have ongoing conversations about sexuality.

“We need to create a safe environment in our homes where our children get accurate information about sexuality because there is already so much information on social media and songs.

“It’s our responsibly and privilege to impart ongoing age appropriate information to our children,” she said.

Herselman said schools can supplement what parents tell their children but also raised concerns about the different religious beliefs, different backgrounds and different value systems of each individual child.

“What we teach our children about sexuality at home will differ from family to family, which makes it very difficult for the schools because they will have one viewpoint on sexuality and that might not be the same as every family’s views.

“That’s why it’s important for parents to have open and honest conversations with our children as children are very curious.

“Often as parents we shy away from this topic because our parents didn’t have these conversations with us but because the culture we live in today is a highly sexualised culture, you just have do it.”

She said if parents choose not to talk about sexuality to their children, they will end up getting the information somewhere else, worst case scenario, pornography. She said the average age when a child sees pornography for the first time is 11 years old.

“We can’t allow that to be the sex education class for our children. We want them to have a beautiful healthy version of sexuality before they are exposed to the ugly side of sexuality and as parents that’s our responsibility and not the school’s responsibility.”

She said the question of whether the talk should be done at school or by parents is a debatable issue because some children are not told about these things at home and can benefit greatly from it being addressed at school.

Herselman said the easiest way parents can initiate these conversations with their children is from a young age and in a natural way. “Always refer to their private parts as precious and private. Even from an age of about three years old, start saying ‘your private parts are private, no one is allowed to touch them’. You start having simple conversation and from there move on to more complex topics as they grow old.”

She said research shows that the perfect window to have the more serious talk is ages seven to nine as when children get to teenage years, they become more awkward and are afraid to ask questions openly.

“Some of the fears most parents come to me with is that they don’t want to take away the innocence of their child but what they must understand is that it actually protecting them so that when they are exposed to these things on the Internet, they have the healthy version of the topic.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  sexual education

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