Sex Education in Schools: A Government Priority

On Monday, September 12, the Minister of National Education, Pap Ndiaye, guest of France Info, confirmed that sex education is one of his cabinet’s priorities for this year, while taking stock of class rumours about gender theories.

[Mise à jour du 13 septembre à 13h06] Sex education at school is one of the priority and very sensitive files of the Ministry of National Education before the start of the school year. While Reconquest Party chairman Eric Zemmour denounced on Sunday that there would soon be courses on gender theories in schools, Minister Pap Ndiaye said into France Info’s microphone on Monday 12 September that “sex education has nothing to do with gender theory”. Ultimately, there will be no gender lessons in school curricula, contrary to what the ministry has foreseen in its back-to-school circular. “What we’re going to promote, and it’s about respecting the law, is sex education,” said Pap Ndiaye recently. And rightly so, in France, the 2001 law on sex education in schools, colleges and secondary schools is poorly enforced. “A report from the General Inspectorate shows that there are major differences between schools, classes and territories. Therefore, we need to improve this situation for public health goals, to reduce teenage pregnancies or to combat sexually transmitted diseases. ; and more general objectives related to discrimination, the fight against sexual and gender-based violence, the fight against LGBT phobia, better equality between girls and boys”the minister explained to our colleagues.
In detail, according to a report by the Supreme Council for the Equality of Women and Men, published in 2016, 11.3% of high schools among the 695 surveyed say they did not conduct any sex education action or session during the 2014-2015 school year. A figure that goes up to 4% in colleges and 25% in primary schools. Another study from 2022 conducted by the association All of us also emphasized this reality. According to their data collected from 10,938 people, “respondents who had completed at least 7 years of college and high school received an average of 2.7 sex education sessions during their education“, instead of the mandatory 21.

Sex Education in Schools: What Does the Law of 2001 Say?

Three sessions a year. This is what the 2001 law (confirmed by the circular of February 17, 2003) provides for sex education in schools, colleges and secondary schools. “Through homogeneous age groups, these sessions present an egalitarian view of relationships between women and men. They contribute to learning respect for the human body and raise awareness of sexist or sexual violence and female genital mutilation.” underlines Article L312-16 of the Act.

In reality, it takes a few hours to educate children and teens about romantic relationships, the “first time”, masturbation, the different methods of contraception, putting on a condom, the risks of an STI or the problems of sexism. The more, “that this law is not applied everywhere nowadays while information about sexuality seems essentialIsrael Nisand, former president of the National College of French Gynecologists and Obstetricians (CNGOF), was surprised at a conference on the protection of children and adolescents from pornography in June 2018.

What is the government planning today?

To eliminate these inequalities and make sex education accessible to all, the ministry of Pap Ndiaye is planning for the time being “practical sheets”, written in collaboration with experts, and intended for educators to give them the keys to teaching this topic. “We find that if these courses are poorly applied, it is because the teachers are not sufficiently informed, do not feel comfortable and do not have the right support at their destination to help them. The minister wants to arm teachers so that they can promote equality between girls and boys.” the ministry said. The government also counts on the various resources that are made available to inform teachers and help them find the right pedagogy. This is particularly the case for the sex education portal available on the Éduscol website.

Sex education in school: what do we really learn in these classes?

Sex education classes are planned from primary school to contribute “teaching responsible behavior, with respect for yourself and others”, specify the National Education website. But what do we ultimately learn from it? To know thatcurrently there is no program as such. “Sex education is not a new discipline: it develops through all education, especially life and earth sciences, moral and civic education, history-geography, French, and in the context of school life”details from the Ministry’s website. In practice, “The time spent on sex education is the responsibility of the school teacher. These times are adapted to the possibilities that class or school life offers.“These courses, distilled throughout the school year, generally take the form of debates and are orchestrated by student questions that teachers must respond to in a manner appropriate to their maturity. Indeed,”young children ask themselves many questions, even if the concept of sexuality remains vague“, assures the psychologist Samuel Comblez in his book Your Teens’ Sexuality: Talking About It, It’s Not That Complicated (Solar publishers). The questions of respect for others, perception of one’s own body, connection with others, tenderness, sharing or even boundaries (knowing how to say no…) are discussed. In these lessons we talk about the differences between girls and boys, how their bodies work, what we call love or what is allowed or not… So it is not really about sex education, but speaking moments that invite school children to dialogue, discussion and ask questions about their doubts.

Of the high school to high schoolrather, it is a practical application of the notions that the teenager has previously integrated. The speakers (i.e., these sessions are organized by a team of trained volunteers such as teachers, head education counselors or nurses, etc.) should provide students with objective information, scientific knowledge, promote responsible behavior (prevention, protection of self and others, etc.) and answering public health questions, especially those about STIs, access to contraception or relationships between men and women, desire, sexism, homophobia, different sexual orientations, abortion, pornography or even sexual violence (see the various topics below). It is also an opportunity to think critically and publicize the resources for information, help and support in the institution and beyond (family planning, screening center, etc.). The duration of the sessions and the size of the groups are adapted to each level of education.

© National Education

Why so few hours spent on sex education in France?

Although it is mandatory, sex education is far from a priority in school curricula.

Sex education today amounts to a few hours in the course of the year, while it is not limited to the chapter on reproduction in the course of the natural sciences. There is too little left. Why ? Sex education became mandatory only after the 1998 reform, carried out by Ségolène Royal, then Minister of the Family. Although some teachers were trained on this occasion, not all of them were willing to teach sex education classes. Whatever it may be lack of time or due to lack of knowledge, these courses have since become far from a priority in education. And the race schedule demands, teachers are not always willing to sacrifice class hours to solve problems related to the emotional and sexual life! Moreover, as long as sex education is not recognized as a subject in its own right, but is usually covered superficially in all classes (approach currently focused on biology and reproduction, especially in SVT, or in citizenship learning in moral and civic education, or even in history-geography), it will remain neglected. And many children and adolescents will continue to retain only the biological, health or pathological aspects of sexuality (fighting STDs or HIV, contraception, etc.).

Is France lagging behind other countries? How do we provide sex education to children in our neighbors?

  • The Belgium addresses the sentimental and sexual life from the end of primary school during workshops “Relational, Affective and Sexual Life Education” (EVRAS). Indeed, since the law introduced in 2012 by the Parliament of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, all schools are obliged to integrate into their programs various activities related to feelings, desires, physical changes, virginity, gender identity or even pornography. Contraception is reimbursed from the age of 14.
  • Bee UK, all schools offer sex education classes for children from 4 years old. These courses are of course adapted to their young age. Until the end of primary school, it is about establishing healthy social relationships. In college, the focus is more on romantic relationships, issues related to intimate life, using one’s image on the internet, sexual consent…
  • In Sweden, since 1955 sex education is mandatory! From the age of 7, students can ask questions about prevention, but also about combating stereotypes and discrimination or about sexual pleasure. The Swedish method combines lectures, debates, film watching, discussion exercises and group work. The National Directorate of School Education (Skolverket) has also made state-approved reference materials available to teachers for sex education: the sexual atlas of schools, the Lilla Snoppboken (“the book of the zizi”) or the educational cartoon entitled “Sexe à la Carte”.
  • Last example: Swiss has a very specific sex education program. From the 4th year of primary school (about 7-8 years), school children attend several sex education sessions (parents are also invited to the first one so that they understand what is being discussed). And from the age of 14, they systematically receive four hours of sex education per year, after which an additional two hours can be provided to deepen a particular theme.

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