Image taken from UNICEF Review of Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Thailand (Drawing 5)
NEW YORK, January 19 (C-Fam) The UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNSECO) published a new technical guidance on “Comprehensive Sexuality Education,” over the recent objections of UN member states to this kind of sex education.
The General Assembly seemingly ended the UN debate on comprehensive sexuality education in December, rejecting this controversial term in a resolution on children, following several years of contestation and acrimony.
The UNESCO guidance nevertheless promotes comprehensive sexuality education as a global standard for governments, educators, and sexual and reproductive health advocates, saying it is supported by “related” international agreements.
Specifically, the General Assembly resolution rejected a broad notion of “sexuality” in sex education, understood to refer to social norms that emphasize sexual autonomy, in favor of a narrower health-centered approach. Western donor states reacted saying they would promote comprehensive sexuality education all the same.
The General Assembly also emphasized “appropriate guidance from parents and legal guardians,” which UNESCO’s guidance barely acknowledges even though it has been a staple of UN agreements on sex education for twenty years. The guidance highlights non-consensual UN documents on “sexual orientation and gender identity” instead.
The curriculum objectives of UNESCO will cause controversy and consternation. It recommends helping children as young as five to identify “trusted adults” other than their parents to “help them understand themselves, their feelings and their bodies.”
It proposes teaching children that gender is a social construct from the age of five and teaching them to “appreciate their own gender identity and demonstrate respect for the gender identity of others” from the age of nine. Included in the objectives is telling children about various types of “non-traditional families” and a heavy emphasis on LGBTI rights.
The guidelines downplay abstinence, and objectives include teaching children how to “negotiate” and “be assertive” with a romantic partner and how to “communicate and understand different sexual feelings” and that masturbation is not harmful and must be done in private from the age of nine.
While UNESCO recommends telling children that HIV positive youth have a right “to express sexual feelings and love for others” it also says they “should not be required to disclose their HIV status.” It never discourages pornography use, but only teaching children to “identify” violence and unrealistic pornography. The guidance seems to also take a non-judgmental attitude to “transactional” sex.
UNESCO touts its approach as “evidence-informed” saying that “curriculum-based sexuality education programmes contribute to” delayed sexual debut, fidelity, and increased use of condoms and contraception. But UNESCO’s own reviewers found less than 50% of surveyed programs had that effect. The guidance even admits there is no evidence curriculum based sexuality education protects children from STDs.
A notable change from the 2009 version of the guidance it replaces is the emphasis on making comprehensive sexuality education mandatory in schools.
While the guidance is voluntary for governments, UNESCO support for education programs will likely be conditioned on compliance with the guidance, as Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO, hinted in the forward to the document. Thailand is an example of the type of collaboration UNESCO envisions. A recent review of its sexuality education includes images of graphic drawings of genitalia and ejaculations by school-age children.
The guidance was prepared with inputs from UN agencies and organizations like abortion giant Planned Parenthood, and the international LGBT advocacy group OutRight International.
Stefano Gennarini PhD writes for the Friday Fax, a project of C-FAM.