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TALKING SEX: Schools hotbeds of sex


JULIETTE BYNOE-SUTHERLAND

TALKING SEX:  Schools hotbeds of sex

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“WELL I AM REALLY NOT SURE what works for adolescents but if we put realistic pictures of sexually transmitted infections – we are sure to get some parent or teacher complaining that the material was too explicit for school-age children. I would prefer to err on the side of not offending parents until I have researched the evidence on what works with adolescents.”

There I was as usual trying to multitask by waiting to sign documents in the High Court Registry and taking a conference call with the Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA) team.

My conversation was being overheard by a teacher of a secondary school. She said that many students were sexually active and was adamant the students need information to make informed choices.

She felt that exposing them to what sexually transmitted infections look like might wake them to the reality of the reckless choices many were making. I listened but I remember being a teen and getting sex ed on STIs in a classroom in New York City.

We were given all the information but somehow at that age you had a feeling of infallibility. It won’t happen to me, I am too smart to get pregnant or get a disease.

So I pondered if the hard sell on sexually transmitted infections would work. I am one to be guided by empiricism but also from the experiences of teachers and counsellors. So I read and I made a few calls. I learnt the biggest kept secret in Barbados.

Our primary and secondary schools are hotbeds of sex. One teacher said, “They are having more than me . . . . It’s a hotbed of sex in our schools.”

They are doing it on the school campus and off. They are doing it with each other or with older men and women – who are seen waiting outside the school or dropping off. They are having all kinds of sex and they enjoy sharing explicit or provocative pictures of each other as a precursor or consequence to “hooking up” or as a standard part of being in a school “relationship”.

Sexual activity

Yet this reality has to be a well-kept secret because I cannot accept that it would be known that schools are hotbeds of sex and yet our response to sex, relationship and values education be so weak and feeble. As a society, are we happy with this state of affairs?

The BFPA respects the role of parents and of religious perspectives but feel comprehensive sexuality education should be mandatory as it teaches that abstinence and delaying the start of sexual activity is the best method for avoiding sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy.

However, it also teaches about condoms and contraception to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and of infection with sexually transmitted infections including HIV. The reason this has been a no-go area for policymakers is the complex issues it throws up.

Who is going to teach this topic – teachers or trained peers? Where will it fit in an already packed curriculum? At what age do we start discussions on sexuality? What if parents do not want their children exposed to sexuality education?

At BFPA we say go to the evidence. Do we have adequate evidence that a significant number of students are sexually active? Do we have evidence that students are becoming sexual at younger and younger ages, perhaps as early as nine years old? Can abstinence until marriage programmes work alongside or compliment school-based comprehensive sexually education?

On May 23, the BFPA will be holding a 60th anniversary symposium. Do contact us to come share your perspectives and experiences as students, parents, teachers, education officials, faith leaders, advocates. I am optimistic as always that we can find common ground.

Juliette Bynoe-Sutherland is the executive director at the BFPA. The health clinic can be reached at 427-2027 or [email protected]

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