Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is becoming increasingly recognized as an effective way to protect and empower young people, advance gender equality, and reduce unintended pregnancies, HIV transmissions, and gender-based violence. However, not all governments are investing in CSE programs, leaving many adolescents and young people without access to potentially life-saving information. Without information on sexual and reproductive health and gender equality, young people face a heightened risk of contracting HIV or experiencing an unintended pregnancy, which can limit their future prospects and put their lives at risk. Complications during pregnancy and delivery are one of the leading causes of death among adolescents globally.
Unfortunately, there is currently a wave of misinformation about CSE and what it does, causing decision-makers around the world to roll back support for it. When CSE is not widely available to young people, harmful practices and beliefs, including gender-based discrimination, are allowed to flourish. These discriminatory norms can also lead to increased sexual and gender-based violence. When they miss out on receiving CSE, many adolescents also miss their chance to step into adulthood safely and confidently.
CSE can empower young people and adolescents to know their rights, make healthy choices, stay in school, and flourish. It supports and strengthens efforts by parents, families, healthcare providers, and governments to inform and protect young people and benefits not only those who receive it but also the wider society. CSE is a powerful tool that can challenge harmful gender norms, stereotypes, and practices that stand in the way of gender equality. It can help build young people’s understanding of love, respect, consent, care, and integrity, contributing to healthy families and just societies. Importantly, it can provide them with the tools they need to identify abuse and coercion, set boundaries, and know when and how to seek help. When young people learn about gender inequalities, discrimination, and power dynamics, they are five times more likely to act in a way that successfully prevents unintended pregnancy, HIV, and sexually transmitted infections.
Despite all the benefits of CSE, young people’s right to quality sexuality education and information is under attack. Numerous well-funded organizations are working in coordination to spread disinformation about CSE and to pressure governments to roll back their efforts to increase young people’s access to crucial knowledge about their sexual and reproductive health. One of their primary claims is that CSE leads to an early sexual debut among young people. The opposite is true. Evidence shows that young people delay their sexual debut when they have access to CSE, which increases their confidence and provides them with the critical skills, self-esteem, and confidence they need to make informed choices.
In recent years, many governments across the globe passed laws and policies to ensure young people’s access to sexuality education. Today, 85 percent of countries have policies or laws related to sexuality education, and more than four in five countries cover relevant sexuality education content and topics in their national curricula in some form. While advances have been made in all regions of the world, there is an urgent need to scale up our efforts. We must go further and do more to ensure no young person is left behind.
All of the world’s governments have committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for Gender Equality, Education, and Health by 2030. However, at the current rate of progress, it may take close to 300 years to achieve full gender equality. This is unacceptable. All governments must commit to incorporating comprehensive sexuality education in national curricula and invest in quality teacher training to ensure that young people get the education they demand, need, and deserve. At the same time, more must be done to engage adolescents and young people, parents, teachers, community leaders, and politicians to better understand the long-term benefits of CSE.
It is high time we ensured that all young people, everywhere, have access to the information and education they need to live their lives to the fullest, safely and with dignity. CSE builds a clear path to gender equality. So let’s invest in CSE and in the futures of young people.