Surprise! Researchers say teaching kids about sex has "lifetime benefits"

Investing in the reproductive health of 10-14-year-olds can have a huge positive impact on body image and behavior

Published July 18, 2014 2:36PM (EDT)

       (<a href='>iofoto</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)

There are an estimated 1.2 billion adolescents alive in the world today. That's more than there have ever been at any point in human history. Half are between the ages of 10 and 14, which means they're on the threshold of puberty and in need of sexual education. That's not just an opinion -- it's science.

According to a recent study from Georgetown University, 10- to 14-year-old kids (otherwise known as "very young adolescents") are a group that's often overlooked when it comes to teaching healthy sexuality, despite the fact that they're at their prime for developing an understanding of good (and bad) reproductive health behaviors. The report, published in the current issue of Global Public Health, finds that educators, curriculum designers and policymakers tend to pay less attention to teaching very young adolescents, likely because "the long-term benefits and value of investing in them goes unrecognized." (It could also be because of a misguided belief that telling kids about sex will make them more promiscuous, but that's beside the point.)

The researchers focus primarily on very young adolescents in low- and middle-income countries, where the majority of sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal mortality occur. For the most part, sexual education in these countries emphasizes HIV prevention for older teens, but the study finds that simply by teaching younger adolescents about the various aspects of healthy sexuality -- emerging gender identity, body positivity and sexual attraction -- the need for prevention education could go down. Basically, if 10- to 14-year-olds are made aware of the changes their bodies are about to go through and taught that these changes are neither shameful nor strange, they'll be much more likely to maintain healthy reproductive behavior throughout their lives.

“Ten is not too young to help girls and boys understand their bodies and the changes that are occurring," said Rebecka Lundgren, the study's lead author and the director of Georgetown's Institute of Public Health. "We need to reach 10- to 14-year-olds, often through their parents or schools, to teach them about their bodies and support development of a healthy body image and a strong sense of self worth. We also need to hear their voices — the voices of the under-heard and underserved. Ten is not too young.”

It seems pretty obvious that telling kids about their bodies is the best way to get them to feel comfortable in those bodies, and to teach them how to respect themselves as they transform into adults. But it's always good to have a reminder. Ten is not too young.



By Jenny Kutner

MORE FROM Jenny Kutner