Sex education for children and teens is a critical factor in creating a healthy and positive sexual culture, in reducing depression in adolescents, in developing consensual and enjoyable sexual relationships, in reducing violence and in creating openness to sexual diversity, as many studies carried out in Israel and abroad have proven. In Israel, however, sex education is not mandatory; the decision is left to the schools. Religious and Haredi schools, unsurprisingly, prefer to avoid the subject, and if it is taught it is done using scare tactics and focusing on negative aspects of sex.
Nor is the situation encouraging in the secular public schools, which account for 40 percent of schools in Israel. “Sex education in Israel is in deep chaos,” according to an article published in Haaretz Hebrew edition Friday (Shirley Gal, “Everything you wanted to know about sex and they didn’t dare tell you”). Students, teachers and principals described disorganization and lessons that were usually embarrassing for both teachers and students, not adapted for the age and level of knowledge of the children and lacking all influence on critical issues such as sexual development, sexual harassment, consent and sex that is healthy and pleasurable.
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It doesn’t have to be that way. The Netherlands, for example, illustrates the link between sex education and health and enjoyment from sex. Dutch teens are No. 1 in the world in the use of contraceptives. Most report having positive first sexual experiences. The effects of meaningful sex education persist into adulthood, with 64 percent of Dutch men and women saying they feel confident in asserting their needs and desires in bed and are open to discussing sex, according to one study.
All of this is made possible by a policy of “comprehensive sex education,” in which age-appropriate education for sexuality is compulsory in all schools, beginning at age four. “Sexual development is a normal and natural process, and children and teenagers have a right to receive frank, trustworthy information on the subject,” the Dutch ministry of education wrote in a memo on the topic.
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The bad situation in Israel stems from the fact that the Education Ministry has not yet recognized the enormous importance of thorough and high-quality sex education, and its heads too often capitulate to the conservative forces in the country. Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, who has a doctorate in education and considerable experience in schools, has surely seen with her own eyes how in Israel, the most critical years in the lives of adolescents are being filled with pornography, violence, depression and ignorance in fundamental subjects that are so critical to their well-being. We can only hope that she will pick up the gauntlet and usher in a change in this important area as well.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.