Comprehensive sex education (CSE) is a sex education curriculum that provides students with the knowledge to make appropriate and healthy choices in their sexual lives.  As opposed to evidence-based CSE, abstinence-only CSE is taught in countries such as Albania, Estonia, Germany and Finland relaying sex education through a moralistic lens. Abstinence-only CSE instructs adolescents to abstain from premarital sexual intercourse because it is effective in the prevention of unintended pregnancies and contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

Abstinence-only CSE has not been very effective and studies show that it has been largely unsuccessful amongst youth in Nigeria.  In reality, the age of first sexual intercourse has dropped, rather than increased. The average age of sexual debut fell to 15 years, with very few people marrying their first sexual partner.  Adolescence in Nigeria mostly starts from 10 years, with people of that age bracket generally accepting sexual abstinence as effective. However, as young people grow older, attitudes change and it becomes more unpopular.  The Nigerian Association for the Promotion of Adolescent Health and Development found that 80% of patients experiencing abortion complications in hospitals are adolescents, and most of Early pregnancy, STI transmission amongst young people especially are caused by incorrect sexual information and ignorance.  Comprehensive sexual education is needed to properly educate the youth on best sexual practices and contraceptive use.

Clearly, youths of school age are actively involved in sexual activities, and to turn a blind eye from CSE is the parenting equivalent of leaving your house to burn.  No effort should be spared to adequately educate our youth, which is why parents must have sound knowledge of sexual education so that they can serve as effective teachers to their children.  Information is power and ignorance kills. It is important to educate a child early on age-appropriate sex education, which in some contexts begins with abstinence. The parent, who is the teenager's first teacher, owes it to their child to impart the basic principles of safe sex since the child is still receptive and is more likely to adhere to what they are told.  As the child grows into their mid-teens, the parent should be aware that abstinence-only education may not be sufficient. By this age, their teen will probably have peers who are already having sex and thus, introduction and access to contraceptives should happen. It is of no use to be rigid and unapproachable as a parent; as adolescents age, they will have lots of questions to ask about their bodies and won't hesitate to seek answers elsewhere if the people they trusts the most shy away from their responsibility to educate.

In research recently conducted by the staff of Education as a vaccine, a youth-led organisation based in Abuja, I found out that all the young people interviewed had similar answers about the person they turn to when they have a question about their bodies or related inquiries. There were no major differences in the response provided based on their sex or their location.  Respondents mentioned that their parents, older siblings, elders or medical personnel were the people they turned to for advice in relation to body changes and sexual health issues. However, when it came to issues such as relationships or matters of the heart, they rather turned to friends and their older siblings as they are either too shy or cannot speak to their parents about such topics. This is significant because

The teachers and religious leaders have a part to play too, though no major religion supports premarital sex.  The realities of hormonal changes, sexual awakenings and curiosity about one’s own body or the bodies of others are unavoidable.  To protect adolescents from the problems that arise from sexual ignorance, we need a realistic approach. Religious leaders should be proactive in educating the teens under their guidance of the dangers of unsafe sex.  It's also reasonable for them as community leaders to remind the parents of their duty in ensuring their children are brought up right, teaching them to be good teachers as well.

In the education system, teachers also should see CSE as part of their duty; teenagers often look up to them for guidance and answers to questions that they are too shy to ask their parents.  Teachers are, in many ways, a kind of second (or third) parent; close to the teenager and well-placed to observe behavioural patterns and thus, talk to and educate youth on safe sex practices.

Preparing the adolescents of today for a safe sexual life enables them to become knowledgeable parents of tomorrow and reduce sexual health pathologies such as unwanted pregnancy, sexually-transmitted infection and more.

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