The foundation for life and love: new UNESCO campaign on comprehensive sexuality education

24 September 2018

Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) lays the foundation for life and love. Yet, too few children and young people have the knowledge and skills they need to make a healthy transition to adulthood.

UNESCO talked to families around the world about sexuality education for the Foundation for Life and Love campaign, and now invites people to reflect on what it means to them.  Is CSE about love and relationships? Is it about growing up and staying healthy? Is it about empowerment and equality?

The campaign

The UNESCO campaign highlights inter-generational stories from families in Thailand, Ghana, Chile and the United Kingdom. Featuring these voices in videos and a travelling exhibition, the campaign shows why it is so important for young people to learn about health, relationships, gender, sex and sexuality.

This month, UNESCO introduces the Iamcham family from Bangkok, Thailand, who discuss the perception of CSE in Thailand as an ‘embarrassing subject’, particularly among older generations. “In this day and age, it’s not something to be embarrassed about, it’s something we should learn about because we’re in this society together,” says 14-year-old Mai Phakkhaphon Iamcham. “There’s no harm to it, and it would make us understand things better.”

The sentiments were echoed by Dr Jiraoporn Arunakul, who notes in the video that CSE not only plays an important role in preventing unintended pregnancies and STDs, but is “related to how you are going to have a good relationship, how you are going to learn how to communicate what you want and what you don’t want”.

The Foundation for Life and Love exhibition featured at a stakeholder dialogue on CSE in Bangkok, Thailand this month, and will go on to be exhibited at a series of regional and global health and education events in 2018 and 2019.

UNESCO will release videos from Ghana, Chile, the United Kingdom, and a global compilation, in the coming months.

Why comprehensive sexuality education?

Young people face numerous sexual and reproductive health issues; from puberty and access to contraception to early pregnancy, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV and AIDS. These challenges are exacerbated by the influence of information and communication technologies on young people, with online content relating to sexual activity readily available and instances of cyberbullying increasing.

CSE plays a pivotal role in helping young people navigate these challenges. The evidence, as documented in UNESCO’s fully revised International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, shows that sexuality education, in or out of schools, does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behavior, or STI/HIV infection rates. The Guidance shows that abstinence-only programmes are not effective in delaying sexual initiation, reducing the frequency of sex or reducing the number of sexual partners.

“Despite the clear and compelling evidence, the urgent need for comprehensive sexuality education is not being met. Until resistance to CSE programmes is addressed, it will remain unavailable in many countries throughout the world,” said Joanna Herat, UNESCO senior programme specialist.

“UNESCO’s Foundation for Life and Love campaign reveals the truth about CSE; that it’s not just about sex, but promotes learning about relationships, gender, puberty, and sexual and reproductive health, in a manner that is positive and centered on the best interest of the young person.”