USA Squeamish About UN Guidelines

Looks like the US is once again living up to it’s Puritan
roots. According to a report in the New York Times yesterday, the UN is putting together international sexual education guidelines-offering information about bodies, relationships, and sex-to children as young as 5. Apparently, the American right is still worried that teaching kids how AIDS is transmitted-and
that legal abortion by a medical professional in a clean environment is safe-will turn them into sex-crazed adults.

"The guidelines, scheduled to be released by UNESCO in a new draft next week, would be distributed to education ministries, school systems and teachers around the world to help guide teachers in what to teach young people about their bodies, sex, relationships and sexually transmitted diseases," the New York Times reported. "They would address four different age groups."

Not surprisingly, Fox had a different take. But one criticism in particular seems most ludicrous: "The
U.N. insists the program is ‘age appropriate,’ but critics say it’s exposing kids to sex far too early, and offers up abstract ideas – like ‘transphobia’ – they might not even understand." I’m sorry, what was that? How is transphobia
any different from other abstract ideas that we teach children? Like racism, or sexism? Or math?

Looking over a June draft, it seems that the worst that
could happen is these kids would grow up to be healthy, educated adults in functional relationships. Acutally, I could see how this might be a problem for the GOP.

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  • william-smith

    A story in today’s New York Times made a number of misrepresentations regarding the publication of the International Guidelines on Sexuality Education: An Evidence Informed Approach to Effective Sex, Relationships, and HIV/STI Education by the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO).

    The International Guidelines are an important development in advancing comprehensive sexuality education and HIV/STI-prevention efforts around the globe and UNESCO should be applauded for its leadership on these important issues. 

    The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, SIECUS, has been extensively involved in the development of this document, fully supports it, and would like to help clarify a number of points.


    First, the story vastly overstated the extent of criticism directed at this ground-breaking document, quoting an extreme, right-wing organization as well as an obscure local organization in the state of Maryland in the United States as sources of this disapproval.  The latter organization was formed to address a very local issue and does not represent a significant or noteworthy constituency.  The other is a fully discredited extremist organization whose theories on population are best suited for science-fiction novels, not the pages of the New York Times.


    While giving too much weight to critics, the article also vastly underestimates the support for this important publication among agencies of the United Nations system.  There are on-going discussions and processes working themselves through the UN system.  We have every confidence that at the end of the day, the International Guidelines on Sexuality Education and the implementation of comprehensive sex education will be fully supported by all UN agencies whose mandates guide them to promote adolescent health.  We call upon the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the agency cited in the article, to clarify its support both for efforts to expand comprehensive sex education globally and for these Guidelines as an important step toward that goal.


    Finally, the story erroneously reported that the Guidelines were to be released this week at a meeting in Birmingham, England and suggested that this event was cancelled as a result of criticism.  In fact, no such release was ever planned and UNESCO already released a draft version of the document in June 2009 which is currently circulating in the public realm.  Ongoing input to create a stronger and more effective document is, as always, welcome. The hope is that the document serves as a model for further adaptations to regional and country-level contexts.


    In fact, this week a meeting is being held in Mexico City where technical experts – including numerous representatives from the same agency that the New York Times asserts does not support this effort – met to discuss how these Guidelines can be helpful in advancing comprehensive sex education in Latin America and the Caribbean.


    Sex education works and is supported by every major public health agency around the world.  Efforts to provide comprehensive sexuality education as part of HIV/STI prevention are moving forward around the globe aided by key resources such as UNESCO’s Guidelines.  Manufacturing controversy by misrepresenting the support among the United Nations agencies and by citing fringe American groups fails to reflect the genuine consensus and reality of global movement that is now heading in the right direction.


    For media inquiries, please contact Martha Kempner at or 212-819-9770.


    Other inquiries should be directed to Ariana Childs Graham, Senior International Policy Associate, at or 202-265-2405.