It was a great surprise to see a “medical students” article published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology by James Jobanputra et al. (Vol 106, September 1999)1, but it is an encouraging sign and we should congratulate Edinburgh medical students for their study on sex education. Research by medical students should not be underestimated. A UN document published in International Youth Year (1985) stated “Young people are increasingly seen as agents of development rather than merely passive recipients of it”.
In this context, I would like to share our similar experience of imparting sex education and HIV/AIDS education in schools and colleges. In 1992 the PACE (Preventing AIDS through Community Education) group was formed involving medical students at the Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences, Bangalore, India. Indian society is a closed one where sex is not discussed but everyone wants to know about it. Sex education is not taught, even in medical schools. In the context of this society based on caste we tried to incorporate sex education in our HIV/AIDS preventive campaign, and found that 100% of recipients were in favour of including sex and AIDS education in the school and college curriculum. More than 95% expressed the need for parental involvement in sex education2, as also found in the English campaign on teenage pregnancy3.
Today adolescents perceive sex as a normal part of their lives, a sign of modernism. Sex education should aim to resist the pressure from partners or peers to have sex. However the evidence suggests that in-school sex education programmes may have a limited impact because they cover only a small proportion of young people. In addition, it is necessary to know whether sex education in India increases or decreases the risk of teenage pregnancy.
The example of sex education in the United States suggests the opposite4. We believe that an effective school-based programme should start in primary school, prior to the onset of sexual activity, where family life education must be top of the school agenda.