Does sex education in childhood harm people into adulthood? A psychologist weighs in on sex ed at schools

Psychoanalyst and founder of Therapy Route, Enzo Sinisi.
Psychoanalyst and founder of Therapy Route, Enzo Sinisi.

Thousands of parents and teachers have expressed their disapproval of the updated CSE curriculum lesson plans.

They feel the new content is"graphically explicit" and that sexuality education shouldn't be trusted to teachers. They are concerned that exposure to concepts of sex and related issues will harm the children, and possibly lead to long term damage. 

The Facebook group #LeaveOurKidsAlone currently has over 104 000 members, and is growing at a steady rate. The group hopes to force the Department of Basic Education to completely remove sex ed from the school curriculum. 

On the other side of the debate are parents and professionals who say that sex ed is a crucial and necessary part of a child's education. The job shouldn't be left to parents alone, and that a good understanding of sex and related issues can protect children from predators and abuse. 

See for yourself: The Comprehensive Sexuality Education curriculum is here

Does sex education in childhood harm people into adulthood?

We asked father of two, psychoanalyst and founder of Therapy Route ,Enzo Sinisi, this weighty question, and his answer is a resounding no.

"Appropriate sex education in childhood equips children with the knowledge they need to navigate sexuality in ways that protects them from risk, helps them to appreciate the meaning of their own sexuality, and enlightens them to the consequences and responsibilities that this involves," he told Parent24. 

"Concerned parents do their best to protect their children from being exposed to things they aren't ready for, and explicit sex is one such example," Sinisi said. "These parents appreciate that exposing children to things that stir feelings they won't understand or appreciate the consequences of, could cause harm." 

Incorrect assumptions 

"I believe this is one of the reason that some parents feel concern when they hear that schools will be rolling out sex education to younger children,"he explains.

"The assumption many have is that children are completely free from sexual curiosity or interest, that this is something that comes from the outside, that it is corrupting, and that it can be controlled and avoided."

This is incorrect, Sinisi told us. "Human beings are sexually interested from the start. Of course children’s sexuality is vastly different from adults, and they need to be protected from adult (and adolescent) sexuality."

"But they also need to be pre-equipped to effectively navigate experiences that they will confront so that they can make wise choices and understand what’s happening in the moment. This is to protect them from harm," he explained. 

Younger children copy older children

He reminds us that, for example, younger children copy older children.

"When younger children see others kissing, they may do the same with their peers," he says, and while it may be that nothing comes of this, it can also be that the child lands up with consequences they didn't anticipate, such as more feelings or upsetting someone.

Also, being taught about secrets and good and bad touching can help children know when to talk if inappropriate things that are occurring. he adds. 

Don't try this at work

The world has changed considerably. The online world brings a host of challenges that parents are often unaware of, he warns, citing chatterbox and as examples.

Today, it's not unusual for surprisingly young children to be confronted by pornography, he said.

"A Google image search for a term like "pretty boobies" - something young boys do - will often produce explicit pornographic scenes, without even leaving the search engine. Don't try this at work," he warns. 

Constant parental guidance 

You can prevent this by setting Google to hide explicit content, but remember: children teach each other how to undo these settings.

Constant parental guidance is required to help children understand what they are seeing and how to manage it, Sinisi advises. 

"Unfortunately, economic and other pressures make it difficult for parents to be always available, meaning that children are often cared for by adolescents," he told us. "Adolescents, frequently carry a “what’s the big deal” attitude to sexuality and are likely to expose younger children to information in inappropriate ways."

Also read: Q&A with Dr Eve: Local sex expert answers our questions about the new CSE lesson plans

Sex education, when delivered thoughtfully and informatively, equips children to manage their sexuality and shields them against the false information they hear from their young friends, Sinisi concludes. 

Properly prepared children are less likely to act without thinking as they have been given the privilege of having a chance to think beforehand, or be taken advantage of. 

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