Casablanca – Recently there has been some talk regarding the inclusion of sex education in the Moroccan education system. Morocco must carefully consider what kind of sex education it promotes and should follow a comprehensive sexuality education.
The talk comes as part of the “Covenant on the Rights of the Child in Islam” (CRII) which Morocco has signed. The convention, established in 2005, is pretty vague in language.
However, it clearly stipulates that young Muslims must “receive proper sex education distinguishing between the lawful and unlawful.” So they must learn what is halal, permissible, and what is not. In other words, Morocco is about to embark on a quest to educate about religious morality and sex in the classroom.
Some may cheer for such a “progressive” move toward educating young Moroccans about sex. Calls for sex education started long ago when Morocco signed a 1995 UNESCO convention, a much more comprehensive document. However, this move has risks.
First, let us define the terminology. “Sex education,” as James Ponzetti states in his book “Evidence-based Approaches to Sexuality Education,” has a clear boundary in common discourse. In fact, it has been limited to “instruction on subjects such as sexual anatomy, reproduction, birth control, and disease prevention.”
It is an education that focuses on biology, but it reinforces moral values through teachers’ inability to distance themselves from the subject, passing on their morality to students in class. A more comprehensive term is “sexuality education,” which Ponzetti says “is an inclusive descriptor that recognizes the interaction of historical, social, political, cultural, psychological, legal, ethical, religious, and moral factors.”
What is abstinence-only sex education?
Considering that in Islam as practiced in Morocco, only heterosexual, traditional marriages are allowed. Abstinence from sex before marriage is almost all that this halal sex education is going to be about. It is like saying: “Hey, kids. Don’t have sex until you’re married. Also, all other forms of sexuality are haram, forbidden in Islam, and possibly a mental disorder.”
This form of education as proposed by the CRII is similar to what is commonly called “abstinence-only education.” It explicitly informs students that premarital sex is wrong and unhealthy and should be avoided.
If the goal of sex education is to minimize the risks of immoral and unhealthy sexual behavior, in theory, abstinence-only is the perfect model. It promotes sexual inactivity and teaches abstinence and rejection of sexual advances from both sexes. It scares pupils by referencing the risks of premarital or extramarital sex, such as HIV/AIDS, a long list of other sexually transmitted diseases and infections, unwanted pregnancies, and most importantly, hell for all sinners.
In reality, abstinence-only sex education fails in all of it.
UNESCO has made it clear that there is no evidence abstinence-only actually works. Many report that such education raises more questions than it answers. Students are left to their own means to find these answers. A large portion of them prefers taking the risk. This is largely because it is futile to pretend that young people are not instinctively curious about sex.
Is ‘abstinence-only’ working in Morocco?
As part of the research for the author’s master’s thesis this year, a study found that 40.2% of 366 surveyed Moroccans, aged between 18 and 24, had at least one sexual relationship before marriage. Also, according to a 2014 High Commission for Planning (HCP) report, the average age of marriage among Moroccans is 25.7 for women and 31.3 for men, making it relatively harder to abstain from intercourse until the wedding night.
Abstinence is even more problematic as new media make everything accessible, and young people are exposed to sex-related material more than before.
A successful sex education program should not ignore such developments in society. Instead, UNESCO calls for the implementation of a comprehensive sexuality education program.
This program is defined as “a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to: realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and, understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.”
The first technical guide directed toward teachers and education professionals was published in 2009 and updated in 2018. Both reviewed multiple comprehensive sexuality education programs and found them to be mostly effective. For example, 37% of the programs successfully delayed initiation of sex and 53% of them reduced sexual risk-taking.
Morocco’s only chance at getting ahead of the sex-related social problems that are growing every year is to implement a comprehensive sexuality education program. Neither the threat of prison nor society’s shame is keeping young people from experimenting with their sexuality.
Consequences of risky sex
The Moroccan Insaf Association estimated there were 30,000 new single mothers per year in 2015, a 70% increase since 2009. The number could be as high as 50,000 new single mothers every year by 2020.
The UN program on AIDS reported that there are 22,000 adults living with HIV in Morocco as of 2017. The Moroccan Ministry of Health reported that there were 440,000 new cases of sexually transmitted diseases and infections in 2015.
According to a study by the newspaper Economiste and Moroccan research group Sunergia in 2011, less than 3% of young Moroccans can name a sexually transmitted disease other than AIDS and syphilis.
At the very least, a comprehensive sexuality program would help young Moroccans avoid premature marriages, unplanned pregnancies, abortions, single motherhood, child abandonment, and sexually transmitted diseases.