There is more and more talk about sexual education and safety skills and their importance is seen as playing an important role in preventing sexual violence, but also in increasing the well-being of children and young people. Sexual education refers to the learning of the cognitive, emotional, social, interactive, and physical aspects of sexuality and it begins in early childhood, and it continues throughout youth and adulthood. According to UNESCO recommendations, children and young people need non-judgmental, emotionally tuned, empathetic support for their sexual development, which also considers the needs of both homosexual and transgender young people and taking into account potential harassment and associated risks.
Other international legislative instruments and recommendations also require sexuality education from an early age, such as the European Court of Human Rights (EIT 19.12.17), the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, council of Europe Lanzarote Agreement 2011 and European Ombudsman for Children’s recommendation 2017.
All children and young people have the right to an age-appropriate sexual education.
Children’s curiosity towards their own body and the knowledge about their own body is a natural thing and the healthy development of children must be systematically supported and protected. Sexual education for children is also called body emotion education and it includes answering a child’s questions, valuing one’s own body, respecting other bodies, talking about self-determination, and emotional education.
It is important to give the child with age and with a positive attitude the information about the beauty and dignity of their own body. Naming parts of the body, the rules of touching, and teaching how to work with others give the child the ways to protect themselves and as well as at the same time they learn to understand the boundaries of others.
When we talk about safety skills, we mean those concrete skills that a child learns to use in difficult situations. The child learns to say NO and tell that to the adult. The “swimsuit rule” is often used, meaning the child is taught that no one is allowed to touch the area covering the swimsuit without permission. On this point, we could note and give a little criticism that it is equally important to teach a child that not only a swimsuit area is a private area, but that all contacts require the consent of other people.
Through sexual education and safety skills, the child also learns to defend himself and at the same time other people as well. The child learns to respect their own boundaries and at the same time, they learn to respect other people’s boundaries. These skills are needed in all human and interactional relationships throughout life.
Sexual education in special groups
Many sources have established, that special children and adolescents often receive less sexual education but are over-represented in experiences of sexual violence. People with disabilities continue to face a lot of prejudices and attitudes which is why some still think they do not need sexual education. These are, for example:
- People with disabilities do not need sexual education because they do not have sex, however.
- Sexual education harms the child.
- Sexual education incites non-age-related acts.
- Sexual education raises a sleeping bear.
- Sexual education is only given if the child asks.
- What is the appropriate behaviour for different genders? Are girls or boys treated differently?
- There are no people belonging to sexual or gender minorities with disabilities.
- Sexuality is equal to sex.
- Sex is equal to intercourse.
Shame points and prejudices related to sex and sexuality live deep in societies and cultures. For example, less than 50 years ago, sexual harassment did not exist because it did not have its own concept and people did not bother to talk about it. Furthermore, sexual violence is still perceived as something that is easier to keep silent than to bring it to light. The threshold for talking about it increases if the perpetrator is close or familiar. Unfortunately, according to research data, the younger the child, the more likely the perpetrator of the sexual offence comes from the child’s close circle.
However, it is obvious that the need for sexual education lies with children, young people and people belonging to special groups. If we understand that sexual education is not just sex-related education, but we would make it into a matter increasing the safety of children and young people, we could relate the matter easier. The difference between sex and sexuality is good to understand because it makes it easier to talk about things.
For example, if a child and adolescent never learn to name their body parts from intimate areas as well, it is difficult to articulate potential experiences of sexual violence. Sometimes the provision of sexual education is hampered by the lack of communication tools and their usage. It would therefore be important for those working with children and young people to have competence or opportunity to consult others, so that alternative means of communications can be obtained more. Such are, for example, SelkoSeks communication pictures.
At SelkoSeks, we are happy to help and guide you with questions related to sexuality and sexual education.