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World Population Day: Who's Responsible for Youth Sexuality?
I know a funny little man,
As quiet as a mouse,
Who does the mischief that is done
In everybody’s house!
There’s no one ever sees his face,
And yet we all agree
That every plate we break was cracked
By Mr. Nobody.
The stanza above is from a children’s poem about a house where deeds are done, and important tasks left undone, but nobody is willing to claim responsibility. Whenever the topic of adolescent sexuality arises, I think about this poem.
Statistics clearly show that in many countries adolescent pregnancy is rising. More than one in three young women in the region become pregnant before the age of 20. Young people are also contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, at alarming rates. Yet, too many people refuse to accept this reality.
Who is sexually active then? Mr. Nobody. Who is responsible for providing comprehensive sexuality education? Mr. Nobody. We need to quickly exit this state of denial. The health and well being of our youth are at stake.
Young people have sexual feelings and desires, and ignoring or stigmatizing adolescent sexuality won’t cause it to disappear. Too many young people are confused and unsure of where to turn. They are left to get information from friends, media, and bathroom stall graffiti. Ill-informed teenagers can easily find themselves in situations that they are ill equipped to handle. In far too many cases, bitter life experience is the only teacher young people have.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, there is fear surrounding providing young people with comprehensive sexuality education. Why do so many people assume the mere mention of the word ‘sex’ will drive young people into the next available bed? The misguided belief still exists that an evidence-based conversation about sexual and reproductive health and sexuality will send adolescents on a desperate search for a new conquest.
A sensible examination of the issue reveals the opposite to be true. When young people are given comprehensive and accurate information about sex and sexuality, many are likely to delay their first sexual encounter. Moreover, young people who are already sexually active are more likely to adopt sexually responsible practices, like consistently using contraceptives.
Comprehensive sexuality education helps adolescents to understand that a sexually active lifestyle brings immense responsibilities, and that their choices can have life changing consequences. Caring about the health of and positive outcomes for youth means giving them the tools they need to make healthy decisions. Comprehensive sexuality education is crucial for the dissemination of sound, life-saving information.
Young women and men are struggling with unplanned pregnancies. Teenage girls are dying during childbirth. Adolescents are contracting life-threatening diseases. These young people are not nameless, faceless bodies. They are our sons and daughters, our cousins, our brothers and sisters. They do not belong to Mr. Nobody. They belong to us.