Sex Education in Brazil: Once a Reference, Now At Risk Of Becoming Taboo
Us, teenagers, are standing at the edge of a pool. We will not be taught how to swim. Instead, we are told not to jump. But we are pushed in anyway. What happens is, we drown.
This is the risk the current situation of sex education in Brazil is imposing on teenagers. Due to the conservative state and religious influence on education and health, sex education is starting to become taboo. The Ministério da Mulher, Família e Direitos Humanos (Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights) is largely to blame for this issue. Once a global reference in regards to sex education, Brazil is now facing the new risk of losing it all to misinformation. This is a huge downgrade in comparison to past achievements, such as during the AIDS epidemic.
Around the late 1980s and early 1990s, the AIDS epidemic was at its peak. AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease caused by HIV which interferes with the body’s imune system, making the patient less prone to fighting infections. Millions of patients died, and because of the lack of knowledge on the new virus, it spread quickly around the world, reaching Brazil in 1980. Luckily, the response of the healthcare systems and government prevented seropositive cases and deaths from escalating.
SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde) was largely responsible for this because of the measures it took to care for the population during the peak of AIDS. These measures included providing remedies to treat the infections patients were contracting due to their low immunities from AIDS in 1988. The remedies’ prices were reduced in order to become more accessible to the population. The treatment procedure was introduced, and a law created in November 1996 allowed free remedy distribution to carriers of AIDS and HIV.
Brazil became a global reference due to its response to the virus epidemic, recognized by the UN (United Nations). This was not solely because of the healthcare system’s treatment, but also because of the anti-AIDS campaigns and from informing the population of prevention methods. This included the distribution of free preservatives, disposable needles, and syringes, as well as promoting the importance of prevention methods, to not contract the disease.
Despite the AIDS disease not being eradicated yet, sex education and healthcare during its peak in the late 20th century protected the Brazilian population. According to the Ministry of Health of Brazil, AIDS detection has dropped 18.7% from 2012 to 2019. This progress sadly might be reversed because of the new policies the government wants to implement in adolescent education.
The Ministério da Mulher, Família e Direitos Humanos (Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights (MMFDH)) is creating a program to prevent teenage pregnancies by promoting abstinence to teenagers; in other words, stimulating teenagers to postpone the beggining of their sex lives. Damares Alves, minister of the MMFDH, disapproves of the current sex education in schools of Brazil, arguing that teaching teenagers about contraceptive methods encourages them to have precocious sexual relations, and “normalizes teenage sex.”
The Ministry of Health of Brazil doesn’t promote the postponement of sex in documents with the guidelines to sex education in schools. Contrary to what Damares Alves has stated, the technical note of the Ministry of Health of Brazil argues that sex education does not encourage teenagers to have sex, instead provides information on how to do it safely. Their prevention of teenage pregnancies comes from informing teenagers of the risks and contraceptive methods based on science.
MMFDH’s campaign on promoting abstinence of sex is similar to Christian movements that promote the same concept, such as the movement: ‘Eu Escolhi Esperar (I Chose to Wait).’ They both argue that contraceptive methods are not 100% efficient, although there are contraceptivesthat have proven to reach 99%, and that complete abstinence of sex is the safest option. MMFDH will not provide information on contraceptive methods, leaving it to the Ministry of Health of Brazil. However, information on Plan B and IUD, both common contraceptive methods, will not be shared in the campaign.
Despite total abstinence of sex preventing the individual teenager to getting pregnant, the movement is a greater risk as a whole. Even if the message does reach Brazilian teenagers to postpone their sex lives, the actual information needed to have sex will not be taught. Teenagers will continue to be misinformed, and the information they do receive will be from the media, which is an even bigger problem.
MMFDH could remove sex education in schools and teach about abstience in sex, but the media will continue to influence teenagers. In fact, it already does. Fake news and problematic stereotypes caused by pornography and lack of information makes this influence a danger. Sex education should go alongside this, so there is awareness on the correct information based on science. If there is no sex education, teenagers will be influenced by media alone, which not only promotes precocious sex because of the exposure to it, but teaches wrong information that could cause dangers such as teenage pregnancies or the spread of STDs and STIs.
It’s a cycle; teenagers are told to abstain from sex, they get informed through media, get inspired by it and begin an unhealthy sex life with the consequences the MMFDH is trying to prevent. Teenagers are not meant to be controlled, and doing so would not only be nearly impossible, but also dangerous. Providing schools with sex education creates autonomy for teenagers, which is important for them to make their own positive decisions.
Governmental campaigns to promote abstinence of sex is largely influenced by Christian groups that defend their opinions through ‘moral’ standpoints. It can be considered unfair that the whole education system and the teenagers of Brazil are affected by religious morals that not everyone agrees with. In general, religion should stop playing its part in the education system.
Unfortunately, teenagers’ right to sex education is in the hands of the government. Due to this, the risk of drowning continues to increase. There is no point in telling teenagers not to jump in the pool, or to keep from having sex if they’ll be pushed in, or be exposed to it either way. If they are not taught how to swim, or how to protect themselves in an active sex life, they will continue to drown.
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