By Carolina Correia dos Santos, Montgomery College, Maryland
“I stand at the center of a world that deserves better sex education in Brazil.”
During my school years in Brazil, the topic of sex education occurred only twice, once in middle school and once in high school. My main takeaways from the fifteen-minute-long class were the following: sex occurs between a man and a woman with penetration; gay sex will likely result in HIV/AIDS; STDs and STIs are likely to occur, so better to restrain from having sex anytime soon; and, finally, the female body does insane things when in labor. Then it was back to human anatomy class. The way sex education is taught in public schools in Brazil is not only uninformative, but it borders on dangerous and homophobic. The way sex education is taught in public schools in Brazil is not only uninformative, but it borders on dangerous and homophobic. I finished high school in 2012, and almost ten years later not much has changed.
Sex education classes should be informative, inclusive, and non-threatening. It is ignorant and irresponsible for schools to teach that “real sex” consists only of male-female relations or that it is defined by penetration. Explaining other forms of intimacy could change not only how teens are careful about diseases and infections, or how they achieve pleasure, but it could also open young people’s eyes to signs of abuse that don’t always occur with penetration. In addition to that, teenagers are at the age of discovery, and at that point, many can be discovering more about their gender identity and sexual orientation. Sex education should include information about male-male/female-female sex, bringing attention to the risks of STDs and STIs in a way that does not propagate homophobia. I, being a lesbian, did not know anything about preventative measures in female-female sex until I was almost out of high school, and that was because I sought that information out; sex education class simply cast me out of the picture. Lastly but equally important, scarring teenage girls with images of women in labor to encourage abstinence is not the way to protect young women from unwanted children. Moreover, in the case of teenage pregnancy, the girl alone should not be expected to take that responsibility. It is the father’s responsibility as well. When a 14-year-old classmate and neighbor of mine found herself pregnant, her entire life stopped – she quit school, never went to college, and raised the child entirely on her own, while the father moved on with his life. The girl went through not only the pains of labor but also the irreversible changes in her body and life all by herself.
To oversimplify this incredibly complicated topic, it is time that Brazilian schools take on a different approach to sex education that recognizes all the issues aforementioned. Teenagers will have sex, or at least many of them will, and that is a natural occurrence of human life. Turning the blind eye to this fact will not change that it will happen. Teenagers should be guided to clinics and counselors that will welcome and aid them rather than just let them figure everything out themselves. Teenagers must be provided with a safe space to learn and ask about sex without feeling shamed; that is how teenagers should be protected.
From the UN video library ~ UN Free & Equal – The Price of Exclusion, December 2015 (3:36)
Video Summary and Quotes: This video brings forward the consequences of exclusion and discrimination of LGBTQ+ people, emphasizing severe consequences, such as homelessness or propensity to suicide, and it also draws attention to the economic impact that exclusion and discrimination bring forth.
“Bullying, isolation, and rejection leave deep scars – gay and lesbian youth are up to 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide compared with their straight peers, while young trans people are almost 10 times more likely to have attempted suicide than the general population.”
This quote highlights the terrible consequences of the discrimination of LGBTQ+ people in society, bringing attention to suicidal thoughts. It is important to note that bullying, isolation, and rejection almost always begin during the fundamental educational years.
“For the individuals in question, these are personal tragedies; for the wider community, they represent an enormous waste of human potential of talent, of creativity, and productivity that weighs heavily on society and on the economy.”
This quote brings forth the perspective of the impact on society and the economy that results from the loss of these lives, lives that had so much to offer but were snubbed of the opportunity to show their potential.
This video, although focused on the discrimination of LGBTQ+ people, links to my project because it can also be seen as an indirect result of the exclusion of this community in sex education classes. As mentioned in my project, the only mentions of LGBTQ+ people in my brief sex education classes were to bring attention to the risks of HIV/AIDS in gay sex and was strongly portrayed as an abnormality. By including LGBTQ+ individuals in sex education classes, children who already identify with the community can feel safe and included, and those who don’t identify can be properly educated about all-inclusive sexual relations.
A Strong Institution Can Help Solve the Problem
Center for Reproductive Rights is an organization made up of lawyers and advocates who seek to accomplish reproductive rights and justice protected by law not only in the United States but around the world. Founded in 1992, the organization is found in five different continents and has played an important role in securing legal victories in over 60 countries.
The organization has partnered with institutions and staff from around the globe and features also a pro bono program. Their website states that their pro bono program is “overseen by a professional pro bono staff, engages firm attorneys in the Center’s groundbreaking work on maternal health, assisted reproduction, access to contraception, and safe and legal abortion.” This feature is especially important given the powerless position that women struggle with when it comes to reproductive rights.
In addition, the organization features a program that aids and supports adolescents. They state that “because of failures to enable and empower adolescents to access comprehensive reproductive health care—including contraception, abortion and maternal health care—one in four adolescents has an unmet need for contraception and seven million adolescents give birth each year. In addition, early pregnancy and childbearing pose unique risks to adolescents’ health and well-being.” Therefore, the aid that they are providing to adolescents around the globe is essential to the protection of teenagers whose lives many times are stopped short due to unexpected pregnancies.