Freedom From or Freedom To?

It's time to talk about freedom.

What was your sex education like?

Was your sex education full of warnings about sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy? Schools often teach sex education by emphasizing the potential negative risks that come from having sex. Many resort to using scare tactics to try to keep young people from having sex. This approach doesn’t work. It’s time to talk about freedom.

For Decades

Schools have been teaching sex education through a “Freedom From” lens. This approach emphasizes the negative aspects of sexuality. Perhaps these “Freedom From” themes sound familiar to you.

  • Avoid teen pregnancy.
  • Don’t get sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  • Don’t ruin your reputation.
  • Don’t disappoint your parents.
  • Be careful to avoid heartbreak.
  • Don’t violate personal, family, or religious values.

Notice the focus on negatives in this approach. By citing negative consequences, sending fear-based messages, and using scare tactics, adults have tried to keep young people from having sex. However, this approach is not effective in preventing sexually transmitted infections[1] or teen pregnancy,[2] or in delaying initiation of sexual activity.[3] In fact, for sensation-seeking teens, scare tactics can backfire.[4]

Another problem with this approach is that it can create fear, shame, stigma, and ignorance about sexuality that can impact a person’s health and well-being, including their ability to enjoy sexual relationships in the future.[5],[6] Yes, we need to teach young people about potential negative outcomes, but our focus needs to change.

Time for Change

It is time for a paradigm shift. It is time to teach through a “Freedom To” lens that focuses on the positive aspects of sexuality so young people can prepare for positive relationships and sexual health later in life. It emphasizes the positive reasons to delay sexual activity. Here is how this looks.

  • Enjoy childhood before taking more responsibilities.
  • Focus on personal mental, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual development.
  • Try out a variety of hobbies and interests.
  • Develop healthy relationships with peers and adults.
  • Practice asking and giving or denying consent for borrowing possessions and entering personal body space.
  • Reach goals for completing education.
  • Get the job desired.
  • Learn how to manage money.
  • Decide on the best timing for parenting.

Notice the focus on positives. Some people fear that a “Freedom To” approach will cause young people to run right out and have sex. They are concerned that young people who hear that sex can be pleasurable if it happens under optimal conditions* will want to start having sex right away. In reality, this approach results in delayed onset of sexual activity and more use of strategies to avoid STIs and pregnancy.

“Freedom To” Puberty Education

How does this look for students in grades 4, 5, and 6? Well, this “Freedom To” approach guides students in learning about healthy relationships, practicing consent, using effective communication skills, respecting themselves and their peers, and honoring the diversity of development during puberty. This is the foundation for more in-depth sex education students will receive at higher grades.

So, let’s lay a solid foundation for students to develop into sexually healthy adults. Let’s make the shift in how we teach puberty education. We can support students by providing a “Freedom To” approach that will help students delay sexual activity and reach their goals!

*Optimal conditions include these factors: Sex happens between mutually consenting partners, at an age when people are emotionally and financially prepared for possible consequences, and in circumstances that are consistent with personal values.







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