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Dispelling the Myths About Sexuality Education

All girls and boys – and all women and men, for that matter – can benefit from comprehensive knowledge about safe sexual behavior. Yet opposition to sexuality education is loud, persistent, and widespread, often because critics lack an accurate understanding of what it entails.

NEW YORK – Sexuality education empowers people to make informed choices about their own bodies and sexuality – and to stay safe in the process. It is therefore an essential element of a quality education. Yet, far from promoting comprehensive sexuality education, many are fighting to limit it. The consequences – especially for young people – are serious, lasting, and sometimes deadly.

As “Facing the Facts,” a new policy paper by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report, reminds us, each year some 16 million girls aged 15-19 (and two million under 15) give birth – a development that often marks the end of their formal education. Another three million girls aged 15-19 undergo unsafe abortions each year.

These numbers are linked to a lack of education about sex, sexuality, and the human body. For example, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, according to WaterAid, around one-half of girls think that menstruation is a disease. In Afghanistan, 51% of girls know nothing about menstruation before experiencing it themselves. In Malawi, that figure jumps to 82%. If girls – let alone boys – do not know what menstruation is, how can they possibly be expected to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy?

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