A recent proposal to introduce a comprehensive sex ed program as part of the government-standard life orientation curriculum has prompted a moral panic with parents, who claim it’s “destructive to children” and promotes “harmful and illicit” behaviour. For those of you keeping count at home, basic biology lessons are now on the no-no list with comics, Dungeons & Dragons, Iron Maiden, and those murder sim video games.
Frustratingly (but, perhaps, also inevitably), local media has mostly responded to the controversy with links to petitions, pearl-clutching quotes from religious orgs like the Family Policy Institute, and misinformation, because in a country with some of the world’s top rates of rape and teen pregnancy, “values” are more important than statistics. So it’s up to a murder sim video game website to be the responsible one.
First, the facts. Starting in grade 4, the new sex ed program will teach kids “in a most age-appropriate and sensitive way, how babies are made”, explains rep Elijah Mhlanga. In subsequent grades, the syllabus also includes subjects like puberty, HIV and other STDs, contraception, and consent.
BUT-BUT-BUT THIS IS THE PARENTS’ JOB!
… screech the same parents who won’t ever tell their kids about sex, or even worse, limit those awkward discussions to the imperatives of abstinence. And okay, in some utopian alt-reality, maybe 13-year olds wouldn’t be banging in the school toilets. But this isn’t a utopian alt-reality – and an evaluation published by the Scientific Electronic Library Online in 2018 reported that 25.7 percent of South Africans have sex before 14, and 61.8 percent of them didn’t use a condom the first time. If managing this kind of thing is the parents’ job, mom and dad have failed. Most of them didn’t even show up. Sorry, you’re fired.
BUT-BUT-BUT THE END OF INNOCENCE!
It’s sex ed or Pornhub. And lol no, your internet block isn’t working.
BUT-BUT-BUT THE GAYS!
South Africa is a secular state, with no mandate to teach sex according to biblical or other dogmatic prescriptions.
BUT-BUT-BUT THE DISMAL COMPETENCY OF TEACHERS IN OUR SCHOOLS!
This is actually a valid criticism, but also a diversion. A 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study showed that 78% of South African grade 4 students can’t even read, which is obviously a disgraceful indictment of the system’s employees and a problem that must be resolved. But it isn’t an excuse to ignore other opportunities for teaching – and girls and boys don’t have to read to realise, perhaps, that uncle or auntie’s “secret game” is a fucking crime. We can fix reading at the same time.
BUT-BUT-BUT SHUT UP KAREN!
People have sex. And it’s more important that people – including your sons and daughters – have sex safely and with respect for each other than pretending this is even possible without sex ed. And Wendy, my high school classmate whose parents told her that she’d get pregnant if she kissed a boy and had to learn about sex from Miss Darlow instead, this is for you.