Sex Education Needed as Changing Times Accelerate Activity Among Teens

The rate of abortion among teenagers (the age range of 15-19) in Armenia keeps growing, medical professionals say, citing the change of sexual behavior and lack of sexual education as the main reasons.

By official data, out of the 12,000 abortions in 2011 600 were by teenagers, which makes five percent of the teenage population (per 1,000 women ratio), while in 2009 it was 4.6 percent.

Doctors says that in traditional Armenia adolescents now start having sexual intercourse at the age of 14-15, meaning that sexual life starts three years earlier than before, amid lack of respective sexual education and no steps to raise awareness.

“In this era of freedom of information the risks connected to not getting proper sexual education are much higher, because it leads to inadequate perception. Our experience shows a growing tendency of unintended pregnancies among teenage girls,” obstetrician-gynecologist Donara Alagyozyan told ArmeniaNow.

Not only Armenia but the entire region is challenged with this issue. Post-soviet countries are having a hard time overcoming the “no sex” soviet ideology and the habit of keeping silent about it.

Despite the fact that after long resistance and struggle in 2008 the subject of sexual education entered the public school upper grade curricula under “Life Skills” category, containing information on sexual relations and sexually transmittable diseases, the teaching methods and quality are “highly doubtable”.

“Certainly, it was a crucial step forward that the subject got introduced in school curricula and annually seven academic hours are devoted to sexual education, but our monitoring has revealed poor tutoring competence, when many among teachers find it difficult to overcome their own complex of openly speaking on the topic,” United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Armenia Assistant Representative Garik Hayrapetyan told ArmeniaNow.

Maternity rates among teenage girls in Armenia make 28.3 percent, meaning that every year more than 1,000 teens give birth.

Hayrapetyan says “it is not a dangerous index, as it is not too high comparing with other countries, but pregnancy and delivery at that age is fraught with serious consequences – it affects women’s reproductive health, posing a threat to their ability to conceive another child later”.

The need for sexual education was one of the four key topics discussed in Geneva during the United Nations’ “Enabling Choices: Population Priorities for the 21st Century” conference on July 1-2.

Member of the Geneva conference’s High-Level Task Force group on reproductive health issues Anna Nikoghosyan, project manager at Society Without Violence NGO, says the issue of sex education was also included in the final report-agreement of the conference.

“It is very important that the conference registered this demand not as simply ‘sex education’, but with a term ‘comprehensive integrated sexual education’ implying its introduction as a mandatory and comprehensive school program,” she told ArmeniaNow, adding that what is being taught at schools today is far not enough.

“We have a long way to go in terms of education and availability of assistance. Teens are a very vulnerable target group, the situation is terrible, when often the medical personnel lacks either knowledge or proper approach to the issue, which can have life altering consequences when dealing with teenagers,” says Nikoghosyan.

Armenia, nonetheless, is doing better than its neighbors in terms of teenage pregnancy rates.

In Georgia, because of the Muslim ethnic minorities, where early marriages are quite common, 39 percent of teenagers get pregnant, in Azerbaijan that index is 40 percent. Turkey has made tangible progress in this respect cutting the number down to current 29 from the 49 percent of 2001.

“The progress in Turkey is laudable, however more than 90,000 teenage girls get married every year and become mothers, losing their right for education and with no right to control their own reproductive life, and that’s highly disturbing,” Pinar Ilkkaracan, leading Woman for Woman’s Human Rights NGO, told ArmeniaNow.

Hayrapetyan is convinced that many issues, including the dangerous rates of 12 percent secondary infertility, would be possible to resolve through appropriate sexual education.

UNFP is planning to assist introduction of a sexual education discourse at the State Pedagogical Institute or State Institute of Physical Education, meaning that future teachers will be taught the skills of openly speaking on the topic while still in high school/university, rather than being trained later as is the case now.

“This would contribute greatly to training teachers who would teach the subject with high competence, because right now we have the subject in our curricula, and the issue still remains unresolved,” says Hayrapetyan.