It is bitter irony that HIV/AIDS ushered in the opportunity to wake up sex education and turn it into something debated at the highest levels. It is one of the biggest losses for sex education that we seem to be losing the battle when it comes to sustaining the momentum of safe sex over time.
What constitutes a sex education failure? A failure is when HIV rates are down because of HIV tests, but other STD’s start rising to record levels because after testing, the condoms are being tossed aside. A failure is when young Ugandan girls in the one African country that turned the epidemics around completely, now don’t consider HIV to be their main concern when choosing contraception, but worry mostly about pregnancy.
The tragedy is not only about those who are infected with STD’s because they were powerless, uninformed or unlucky. The tragedy is when the work of teaching safe sex is done, the message is internalized and then the protective behaviour is not maintained because of complacency.
This is not just a bad personal choice, but a real psychological response to a reduction of the motivations to have safe sex, which we all recognize demands ongoing effort and incentive.
Complacency happens with practically all health education behaviours because acting responsibly is not just about having convincing information; its about changing peoples attitudes and maintaining those changes with ever new and inspiring messages. This is true for fighting against smoking, road accidents, drinking and driving, skin protection and many more.
Of course, the understanding that complacency may be as dangerous as primary lack of education, means that sex education budgets need to be bolstered and time needs to be set aside for it. Sex ed is not some course to get over with like trigonometry, it is a life-long process that might just be the most challenging of all fields of education for health. Teaching it demands specialized skills and sensitivity but keeping it real and relevant demands expert creativity and a commitment to battling a relentless tide of pressure to disengage.
We are currently fortunate to be supported in the fight against the safe sex fatigue by a range of players from the private sector. They are stepping into that gap being created by the need to behave in a safe way and the will to do it. Best of all, much of the focus is being placed on young women, empowering them to be agents of change, from the place of independence and gumption. The instruments being provided are not just a wide range of condoms with new functionality but also stylish methods for carrying and accessing condoms.