SexEd: the Road Down South
The vast majority of my life I’ve spent it inside educational institutions. Whether it was primary school or undergrad, I was still sitting down in a chair for at least six hours straight listening to older people talk to me constantly. I had the blessing of being able to afford a bilingual education throughout my whole life, considering that I am from no other than Buenos Aires, Argentina, the capital of the southernmost country in the world. A country with soaring rates of poverty, an increasing natural increase in population, and worrying amounts of uncontrolled migration. A country which has everything in its power but lacks unity and control.
The educational system in this country has long had its difficulties. Regardless of the political factors that are involved, the secondary school system has been modified and redefined at least five times since I began primary school. And consider I’m only 20 years old.
One of the issues that in the recent years has increasingly been catching my eye is sexual education in high schools. There’s a wide gap, which is widening even faster, between the private and the public education in this country. Buenos Aires is an isolated case of a cosmopolitan city in a country where in many regions there is still a lack of basic necessities like water, electricity, or even paved roads. The educational gap, fostered by the income of those who can afford private education and those who can’t, even becomes apparent when you talk to someone your age.
Asking around, and from own experience, I can tell that SexEd in high schools in at least Buenos Aires has always been poor or non-existent. Given to political issues in the past few months, many programs and SexEd courses for teachers have been cancelled by the city government. I found read those news with a mixture of rage and disappointment. Mostly because these measures are highly important, considering that nowadays teenagers go through these years have little next to no knowledge about certain issues like menstrual health, contraceptive methods, or their own gender.
In a country with concerning levels of poverty, it sounds like these problems are irrelevant or classified, many times, as first-world issues. Considering that poverty is linked to higher birth rates and infant mortality rates, even in developed countries, this should be a topic at the top of everyones’ agendas. Contraceptive methods and family planning could give people the choice of having kids in situations where forming a family is not sustainable, and thus ensuring a better future. It is not a matter of legalizing abortions or going to the furthest extremes; it’s a matter of making certain problems visible. And one of these problems is the lack of information.
I’ve had the luck of finding a job in a high school where I get to talk about environmental and social problems and open debate with students from ages ranging from 13 to 17. Every time sex is part of the subject the engagement of the groups is total. It’s like nobody has been listening to what they wanted to hear. I know there are syllabuses to comply with, bosses to obey, and a system to follow, but where do these topics, that seem so relevant in young adulthood, fit in? How can I still hear kids of 15 years saying that “homosexuality is wrong” when some of their classmates are having doubts about their sexuality? And I’m not speaking for them, I’m speaking for me, because I was there. I felt the stigma. I felt wrong for liking other people that weren’t male. I didn’t know I had a choice, I didn’t even know which methods were available to take care of myself during sex. I wasn’t aware, or I was vaguely aware, of the existence of sexually-transmitted diseases, of AIDS, of the gender and sexuality spectrums… It all came to me during university.
Internet has done a great deal in the past few years by making information free and available, but not everyone is able to find it, or willing to even look for it. Much of it is still only available in English or other languages and that reduces the impact dramatically. It shouldn’t be out for people to look for the information, it should be brought to them. And sometimes the Internet can’t do that.
My biggest fear does not lie with the demographics I work with. I work in a private school, with a bilingual curriculum, in which I have taken part as a student in the past and know that a lot has been done to fix this issue. I have done my part sharing with my students everything I know. My biggest concern is not them, no. They’re… sort of safe, let’s say. I’m more worried about the ones which are not aware that there is such thing as sexual education. The people who don’t know they have a choice to take care of themselves. The ones that still consider that homosexuality should be taken as a joke or an offense, for those that think it’s wrong for someone to be gay. My mind lies with those that are still in the dark.
Considering the situation our country is implicated in, socially, politically, and economically, these issues cannot be silenced. I will do whatever is in my power to go this road down, and do as much as I can along the way. All I know is that my journey has just begun, and this has just served as an introduction. I hope that many can join me along the way and give me the necessary tools to change our situation. I’m only hoping to be the voice of good news.