Saleh Al-Wanyan, imam of Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahab Mosque, raised the issue in a Friday sermon calling for citizens to be more open about the controversial and taboo subject. He also called on people to put an end to a so-called “culture of shame” by talking about these issues.
Scholars and literate people have long demanded the introduction of sex education into the curriculum. But conservative sections of society have always been vocal in their opposition to the initiative. Their opposition is given credence by their claims that the idea of sex education is alien to Saudi culture. They also claim that this issue violates the privacy of individuals and families.
Al-Wanyan’s call is supported by the Arab League, which too had urged a need for sex education in schools. Hady Al-Yami, lawyer and member of the Arab League’s human rights committee, said ignorance of sex could lead to abuse, as victims do not understand their rights to protect themselves or even complain. “Awareness of human rights should reach all society members, and for this to happen and also for the nationals and residents to understand their rights, there should be proper and clear channels to spread the concept, which should include sex education,” Al-Yami said.
The issue should be studied and reviewed before the introduction of sex education because there could be strong resistance from society, he added. “Saudi society is very sensitive about the issue of sex education because of traditions and customs. Our traditions picture the subject as something shameful, and in turn creates a very closed society,” said Al-Yami. He added that certain channels that could educate in an official capacity, such as the Education Ministry and its ancillary departments, should play a role in imparting this knowledge.
Ahmad Al-Hariri, psychotherapist and criminal psychologist, also stressed the importance of teaching sex to children because it would play an important part in protecting them from sexual abuse. He added that Islam is one of the first religions that introduced logical, objective and scientific sex information through the Qur’an and Sunnah. The lack of sex education, according to Al-Hariri, results in exposing victims to repeated abuse. The culture of shame adds pain to injury, as the victims either have to suffer silently or live in shame if the abuse is made public. “Violence breeds violence. It is not strange that victims of abuse, including sexual abuse, turn into abusers themselves,” said Al-Hariri, adding that most of the information on sex that teenagers receive is from wrong sources.
According to Dr. Maha Al-Munief, executive director of the National Family Safety Program (NFSP) and consultant pediatrician, 40 percent of schoolgirls from the age of 12 said that their knowledge of sex and other information is generally gained from maids and female school janitors. “Sex education is an effective evidence-based program that helps protect children from sexual abuse, molestation and assault,” said Al-Munief. “The NFSP has designed a program on 'body ownership', in which the organization teaches children how the body is owned by them and should not be used or abused or even touched by others in any way uncomfortable to them. “The American Academy for Pediatric Research proved that it is appropriate to teach sex to school children. It also said that to express discomfort is a right taught to young children under five years of age, even if non-sexual parts of the body are touched,” she said. “Yet it is important to impart suitable information according to age category,” said Al-Munief, explaining that some sex education lessons stress on avoiding strangers and this could lead to social phobias.
“Studies show that 70 percent of abuse come from relatives, friends and people known to the child, and therefore it is important to be transparent in offering sex education to young children according to their comprehension and understanding and at the same time build their awareness about all improper actions, even by close relatives,” Al-Munief said. She cited the example of the AIDS awareness campaign that succeeded in reaching children. “When we asked 12-year-old children on the cause of AIDS transmission, they knew that it was mainly through sexual relations,” said Al-Munief. “However, in the five to 12 age group, children have no sex orientation or interest and can be convinced with the simplest information — a plus and a minus at the same time.”
Al-Munief thus stressed the importance of sex education as an effective way to protect children and adolescents, especially if done through right channels. “Medical and psychological experts should be called in to assist in setting up the model for sex education,” she said.