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Laura Hurley

Youth Programme Adviser (Former)

Articles by Laura Hurley

IPPF Myx project in Ghan
24 April 2017

What are young people around the world learning about abortion?

A recent Guttmacher Institute study of 15-17 year olds in Kenya1 shows that, shockingly, only 2% of students interviewed reported receiving fully comprehensive sexuality education. Almost all students (93%) considered sexuality education to be useful in their personal lives, and indeed a quarter of those interviewed were already sexually active. Despite this, the reality is that comprehensive, rights-based education is simply not being provided – with teachers being under-trained and often misinformed, and both teachers and students reporting embarrassment around broaching the subject of sexuality. One topic which is often left out of education programmes altogether, due to this discomfiture and social stigma, is abortion. Where Kenyan teachers did address the subject, “two thirds strongly emphasized that abortion is immoral”. A similar tendency was found in UNESCO’s review of sexuality education programmes in East and Southern Africa2; where the topic of abortion was either neglected, or was taught in ways deemed to be ‘inappropriate’. Information about abortion was often found to be inaccurate and/or judgemental – for example in Uganda, “Value statements (e.g. ‘abortion is murder’ and ‘masturbation is deviant’) are presented as if they are factual rather than religious perspectives.” The lack of practical information on how to avoid unwanted pregnancy, and on how to access safe abortion, along with the shaming of those who seek abortion is particularly worrying in a region where unsafe abortion is rife. Approximately 1.6 million women in Africa are treated annually for complications resulting from unsafe abortion3 – often due to lack of education and information on safe methods. Reports from the UK and Ireland also show that young people are being given false and stigmatising information about abortion – and a student in Canada recently reported a lesson in which an anti-abortion speaker compared abortion to the Holocaust. Noting that abortion is often left out of sexuality education programmes completely, or covered in ways which misinform, confuse or upset young people, IPPF has created a comprehensive resource to help educators tackle the subject Because we know that a lack of information about contraception and abortion negatively affects young people’s health, we think it’s important that even ‘sensitive’ subjects like this are covered openly and accurately. Only then can young people make informed decisions.   Subscribe to IPPF's newsletter!         References: 1 https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/sexuality-education-kenya  2 http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002211/221121e.pdf 3 https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/facts-abortion-africa

A CSE lesson with young people
11 October 2016

Keeping the ‘sex’ in Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Back when I used to deliver sex education workshops in schools, I always made time for anonymous questions at the end of a session. This gave students the chance to write down any questions which weren’t answered in the workshop, and I would try to respond to each one as honestly and accurately as possible. A question I had more than once was some variation on “why do people have sex?” What a great question! And what a difficult question to answer in only a few minutes! There are SO many reasons people have sex – relating to love and intimacy, but also boredom, peer pressure, to earn money or to feel physical pleasure, the list goes on and on! Asking young people themselves to think about the reasons people might have sex (and choose not to have sex) can be a useful way to start discussing important issues like consent and communication, and to engage positively with sexual health and wellbeing. For many of us, sex education was limited to confusing textbook diagrams of ovaries and testes, with the general message that ‘sex’ leads to pregnancy and is generally something to avoid (until you’re married). But this limited picture of sex as a ‘baby-making activity’ doesn’t match up to real life. In fact, most of the sexual acts taking place around the world are not intended to end in pregnancy – first of all, not everybody is having ‘penis in vagina sex’ and many of those who do are using contraceptive methods to try to prevent pregnancy (or would like to, but have an ‘unmet need’). By framing sex only as vaginal intercourse, and by presenting it as something which leads only to unwanted pregnancy and infections, we do young people a disservice. We ignore diversities of pleasure, gender, sexual orientation, and crucially, in an educational environment, we are going to lose young people’s interest and engagement. Young people around the world tell us time and time again that sexuality education is often the one place they can get reliable and accurate information about sex – many do not want to or are not able to speak to parents, and as we know, searching for information about sex online may not always lead to evidence-based and non-stigmatising sources! A recent survey of over 1000 young women in Australia showed that the majority had not learnt anything from their sex education classes that had helped them when dealing with sex and respectful relationships, 90% learnt nothing about LGBT sexuality and relationships and 74% did not learn about pleasure. We clearly still have a way to go to deliver sexuality education which is fit for young people’s needs and realities. Today, IPPF launches two new, exciting publications, one which provides the rationale for ensuring comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) does not neglect positive discussions of sexuality, and the other which provides tips on how to do this in practice. Young people have a right to good quality, relevant education about their sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing. As the World Health Organization makes clear, being ‘sexually healthy’ isn’t just about being free from sexually transmitted infections or other physical dysfunction but also “the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence”. To truly engage young people with issues such as gender and power, relationships, consent and condom use, we can’t ignore sex and sexuality. The ‘sex-positive’ approach put forward in these two guidance documents does not ignore potentially negative aspects of sex, and the very real problems of sexual violence and potential health risks young people face, but rather opens up an honest discussion about what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sexual experiences look like. Young people need the confidence and self-efficacy not just to say no to sexual activity they don’t want, but to say yes to sexual activity they do want, when they are ready. We hope that these resources will spark wider conversations about what ‘sex-positive’ CSE looks like in different contexts, and how CSE can help young people to think critically about gendered norms about sexuality and empower them to engage in happy, healthy relationships and to have fulfilling and consensual sexual experiences.      

IPPF Myx project in Ghan
24 April 2017

What are young people around the world learning about abortion?

A recent Guttmacher Institute study of 15-17 year olds in Kenya1 shows that, shockingly, only 2% of students interviewed reported receiving fully comprehensive sexuality education. Almost all students (93%) considered sexuality education to be useful in their personal lives, and indeed a quarter of those interviewed were already sexually active. Despite this, the reality is that comprehensive, rights-based education is simply not being provided – with teachers being under-trained and often misinformed, and both teachers and students reporting embarrassment around broaching the subject of sexuality. One topic which is often left out of education programmes altogether, due to this discomfiture and social stigma, is abortion. Where Kenyan teachers did address the subject, “two thirds strongly emphasized that abortion is immoral”. A similar tendency was found in UNESCO’s review of sexuality education programmes in East and Southern Africa2; where the topic of abortion was either neglected, or was taught in ways deemed to be ‘inappropriate’. Information about abortion was often found to be inaccurate and/or judgemental – for example in Uganda, “Value statements (e.g. ‘abortion is murder’ and ‘masturbation is deviant’) are presented as if they are factual rather than religious perspectives.” The lack of practical information on how to avoid unwanted pregnancy, and on how to access safe abortion, along with the shaming of those who seek abortion is particularly worrying in a region where unsafe abortion is rife. Approximately 1.6 million women in Africa are treated annually for complications resulting from unsafe abortion3 – often due to lack of education and information on safe methods. Reports from the UK and Ireland also show that young people are being given false and stigmatising information about abortion – and a student in Canada recently reported a lesson in which an anti-abortion speaker compared abortion to the Holocaust. Noting that abortion is often left out of sexuality education programmes completely, or covered in ways which misinform, confuse or upset young people, IPPF has created a comprehensive resource to help educators tackle the subject Because we know that a lack of information about contraception and abortion negatively affects young people’s health, we think it’s important that even ‘sensitive’ subjects like this are covered openly and accurately. Only then can young people make informed decisions.   Subscribe to IPPF's newsletter!         References: 1 https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/sexuality-education-kenya  2 http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002211/221121e.pdf 3 https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/facts-abortion-africa

A CSE lesson with young people
11 October 2016

Keeping the ‘sex’ in Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Back when I used to deliver sex education workshops in schools, I always made time for anonymous questions at the end of a session. This gave students the chance to write down any questions which weren’t answered in the workshop, and I would try to respond to each one as honestly and accurately as possible. A question I had more than once was some variation on “why do people have sex?” What a great question! And what a difficult question to answer in only a few minutes! There are SO many reasons people have sex – relating to love and intimacy, but also boredom, peer pressure, to earn money or to feel physical pleasure, the list goes on and on! Asking young people themselves to think about the reasons people might have sex (and choose not to have sex) can be a useful way to start discussing important issues like consent and communication, and to engage positively with sexual health and wellbeing. For many of us, sex education was limited to confusing textbook diagrams of ovaries and testes, with the general message that ‘sex’ leads to pregnancy and is generally something to avoid (until you’re married). But this limited picture of sex as a ‘baby-making activity’ doesn’t match up to real life. In fact, most of the sexual acts taking place around the world are not intended to end in pregnancy – first of all, not everybody is having ‘penis in vagina sex’ and many of those who do are using contraceptive methods to try to prevent pregnancy (or would like to, but have an ‘unmet need’). By framing sex only as vaginal intercourse, and by presenting it as something which leads only to unwanted pregnancy and infections, we do young people a disservice. We ignore diversities of pleasure, gender, sexual orientation, and crucially, in an educational environment, we are going to lose young people’s interest and engagement. Young people around the world tell us time and time again that sexuality education is often the one place they can get reliable and accurate information about sex – many do not want to or are not able to speak to parents, and as we know, searching for information about sex online may not always lead to evidence-based and non-stigmatising sources! A recent survey of over 1000 young women in Australia showed that the majority had not learnt anything from their sex education classes that had helped them when dealing with sex and respectful relationships, 90% learnt nothing about LGBT sexuality and relationships and 74% did not learn about pleasure. We clearly still have a way to go to deliver sexuality education which is fit for young people’s needs and realities. Today, IPPF launches two new, exciting publications, one which provides the rationale for ensuring comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) does not neglect positive discussions of sexuality, and the other which provides tips on how to do this in practice. Young people have a right to good quality, relevant education about their sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing. As the World Health Organization makes clear, being ‘sexually healthy’ isn’t just about being free from sexually transmitted infections or other physical dysfunction but also “the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence”. To truly engage young people with issues such as gender and power, relationships, consent and condom use, we can’t ignore sex and sexuality. The ‘sex-positive’ approach put forward in these two guidance documents does not ignore potentially negative aspects of sex, and the very real problems of sexual violence and potential health risks young people face, but rather opens up an honest discussion about what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sexual experiences look like. Young people need the confidence and self-efficacy not just to say no to sexual activity they don’t want, but to say yes to sexual activity they do want, when they are ready. We hope that these resources will spark wider conversations about what ‘sex-positive’ CSE looks like in different contexts, and how CSE can help young people to think critically about gendered norms about sexuality and empower them to engage in happy, healthy relationships and to have fulfilling and consensual sexual experiences.