To Fight AIDS: Comprehensive Sex Ed for Ten Year-Olds?


Some in the UN believe that comprehensive sexuality education is the main intervention needed to prevent new HIV infections – even for adolescents as young as 10 years old.

“It is time to seize the opportunities to promote sexuality education and comprehensive knowledge of HIV and other health matters among very young adolescents before they become sexually active,” explains a new UN report on HIV/AIDS. “This is the window in which to intervene, before most youth become sexually active and before gender roles and norms that have negative consequences for later sexual and reproductive health becomes well established.”

The report recommends comprehensive sexuality education as the primary strategy to prevent HIV/AIDS for adolescents aged 10 – 24.  There is a lack of evidence that such programs have a significant positive effect on youth’s sexual behavior or on HIV prevention.  A 2009 UNESCO report, one of the few existing assessments of such programs, did not find that comprehensive sexuality education programs significantly reduce sexual risk-taking.  UNESCO did not assess the programs’ effect on HIV/AIDS prevention.   

Critics question why UNICEF, UNAIDS, and the WHO chose to focus primarily on comprehensive sexuality education, a method of HIV prevention that is largely untested, when proven alternatives, such as behavioral modification, exist to stop the spread of HIV.  Some international observers see this move as part of a larger agenda to promote comprehensive sexuality education among youth.   

Jane Adolphe, Associate Professor at Ave Maria School of Law, suggests that the promotion of comprehensive sexuality education is a form of sexualization of children.  “There is a growing awareness of the sexualization of children in the media, music videos, advertising, and fashion industries, and one might argue that Comprehensive Sexuality Education is another example of this tragic phenomenon,” Adolphe told the Friday Fax.  “Children are targeted through the vehicle of Comprehensive Sexuality Education where they are gradually introduced to the ideology of sexual freedom.”  

Commenting on how promotion of comprehensive sexuality education intersects with efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, Adolphe explained “those promoting the ideology of sexual freedom, inclusive of its risky and dangerous behavior, advance risk reduction (e.g. condom use) not risk elimination (e.g. abstinence and fidelity) as the solution to HIV/AIDS, even in areas of Africa where condom use has been proven to be ineffective.”  And any opposition to such a narrow vision is stifled when people are stigmatized as so-called homophobics or religious fanatics.”

Ideology has in fact supplanted evidence in guiding AIDS interventions at the UN in recent years.  Dr. Edward Green, former director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at Harvard School of Health, wrote in a 2009 Lancet article that UNAIDS had switched from urging that AIDS prevention be “evidence based” to “evidence informed.” Green writes, “This seems to acknowledge departure from evidence-based planning and programming. It seems to say, we will do things our way, and we need only be informed by the evidence that supports what we are doing, and we can ignore the rest…in truth, this agency [UNAIDS] has become primarily an advocacy and not a science-led organization.”


About Author

  • My earliest memory of “sex ed” is of 5th grade, when my very embarrassed science teacher, Mr. Hanson, was trying to explain about “boners” to a group of us boys. The joke was, we all knew what a boner was, we were just trying to see how embarrassed we could make Mr. Hanson.

    Allowing sex ed to be handled by anyone other than fathers and mothers is a recipe for disaster. Nobody but parents has the place to teach these things to kids. Sexual education in schools is an experiment that needs to be terminated immediately. It arrogates the rights of parents to teachers who do not have the bonds of parental authority and love, and requires that they teach the most intimate truths of all to our children.

  • Tarheel

    I agree with you PrarieHawk. Responsible parenting requires that sex education be taught at home. But we have several generations of parents now that were never properly educated when it came to sex. I can remember my father trying to teach me about it and he was very uncomfortable with. This was in 1962. I grew up on a farm and felt he had to explain to me at the time what the farm animals were doing.

    So now the big question is how do we correct generations of poor sexual education?

  • florin

    There is only one way to prevent HIV – chastity. I spoke to teens at a local Basilica on the topic of chastity as the foundation for building character and they responded beautifully and with gratitude. Sex for many is just a casual thing – for heterosexuals and for homosexuals. It’s hard for homosexuals because they can never marry so we have to keep them in our prayers. I believe young people who have a tendencey towards homosexuality can be helped – parents need to be made aware because HIV is much more prominent in the homosexual community. Can the Church help? There are some programs in a few parishes but the issue is so large that it’s difficult. The Church does make it clear that homosexual sex is immoral-as well as sex outside marriage- but stresses the fact that the person is beloved. However there are some Catholic Parishes who want to have Masses to celebrate ‘Gay Pride’ week or month…and if a Pastor refuses then the Gay community goes after them asking: “What does your refusal say to the gay, lesbian,transgender,bisexual community?” What is says is that homosexuality is a disorder and that sex outside marriage in wrong…would the Church be asked to celebrate: “Cohabiting without marriage pride week?” Young people today can have the sense that anything goes as long as you’re okay with it…everything is relative. No, everything is not relative and everything – everything – has consequences. But the foundation is laid in the home – and schools and churches can only build on that foundation if it is solid. The best tool is a happy, loving marriage.