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An important awkward debate

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“Comprehensive sexuality education programmes seek to change society by changing sexual and gender norms and teaching youth to advocate for their sexual rights."

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I was probably looking a bit too stern so the gentleman handling security at the hardware store barked at me in a stern voice: “Smile while you still have the teeth!”

Startled out of my daydream, I looked up into the face of Griquas’ biggest supporter, Bushy Oliver. The stern way he had spoken to me was in stark contrast to the broad grin on his face. My mood lightened and I relaxed.

“What was it about his generation and teeth?” I wondered.

If something was in short supply it was “so skaars soos hoender tande”. Our only source of income at one time was the tooth fairy. Also, if children hung around too long while adults were speaking we were said to be “counting teeth”. We suspected that when we were tossed out the topic of conversation was about to take on a more adult flavour.

When screening movies at home started becoming popular, things would become awkward when things got steamy on the screen. Some reluctant children would be sent to fetch something in the kitchen. Others were simply told to close their eyes.

We used to be frustrated because we weren’t free to watch those naughty scenes, but were thankful for the gaps between our fingers.

I think the adults, on the one hand, were thankful that they had control over what we watched but they must have been frustrated that they couldn’t watch the steamy scenes themselves because they had to keep checking if we were peeking.

It’s good to know that at least everyone was miserable.

And now, 20 or 30 years on those children are the adults and are sitting with a much bigger problem. ‘Adult’ content is available everywhere. Give a child access to the internet, take the child to the supermarket, sit them down in front of the television and there is a very good chance that they could be exposed to adult or even in some cases explicit material.

These days it’s even possible that children could have more questions than adults can answer maybe because today’s adults, when they were children, were told to leave the room when the ‘good stuff’ was happening on the screen.

Maybe this is one reason why the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) agenda is being promoted so enthusiastically – so that children can have questions answered that their parents would find too awkward to speak about. But this is just the tip of a very complex iceberg. There are so many other factors at play around this issue.

In Unesco’s document on Comprehensive Sexuality Education, they try to explain why this type of education is positive and needs to be handled by schools: “Institutionalization of sexuality education on a sustained basis is a key contributor to social change by influencing social and gender norms, which may ultimately benefit not only population-level public health indicators, but crucially the well-being and development of adolescents.”

At the other end of the debate, the StopCSE movement has a different view: “Comprehensive sexuality education programmes seek to change society by changing sexual and gender norms and teaching youth to advocate for their sexual rights. Most CSE programmes promote acceptance of diverse sexual identities and orientations and have an almost obsessive focus on sexual pleasure, instructing children and youth at the earliest ages on how to obtain sexual pleasure in a variety of ways.”

People are seriously divided on this issue. While some teachers are happy that they will finally be equipped to speak about awkward issues in a structured way, other teachers are horrified at the thought of sharing such explicit content with their pupils, horrified that children from Grade 4 are going to be exposed to what they consider ‘soft-porn’ right in their textbooks.

Where this is going is still undecided right now, but one thing is for sure no parent, whether in favour of Comprehensive Sexuality Education or not, can afford to take a neutral stance on this issue. One way or the other the future of our society may depend on adults’ actions around the CSE debate today.