France’s School Sexuality Education Debate

The vote for a decree in Belgium to generalize emotional and sexual life education in schools has sparked a wave of disinformation in France aimed at stigmatizing this teaching, a part of the programs rarely applied despite the pious wishes of successive ministers.

On social networks, since the start of the school year, parents of traditionalist Catholic or Muslim students, far-right Christian groups like Civitas, and the rapper Rohff have warned: according to them, the French government is preparing to teach , “like in Belgium”, “pedophilia and perversion to our children”.

A wave of disinformation on social networks which is based on an older protest, born from the beginnings of sexuality education within schools, during the AIDS years (80s and 90s), and which is was strengthened with its inclusion in law in 2001.

An opposition criticized by the first federation of parents, the FCPE. For Ghislaine Morvan, one of its managers, sexuality education constitutes “a crucial tool in the fight against sexist and sexual violence and against LGBT-phobia, at the heart of many cases of harassment”.

However, even if French law theoretically provides for three hours of sexuality education per year, in reality “it’s not there,” she laments.

According to an Ifop survey published in early 2023, carried out among a thousand young people aged 15 to 24, 17% said they had never had the slightest lesson on the issue. Among the others, only a third said they had benefited from the three planned annual sessions.

According to the Ministry of Education, however, it is the responsibility of primary school teachers to “make children aware of the necessary respect for their body and others”, above all to prevent sexual violence, particularly within the family.

“Fear of parents’ reaction”

In secondary education, the instructions are more vague: “Teachers, social and health personnel, principal education advisor” can take up the subject, but sexuality education sessions “can be co-facilitated with approved associations”. always according to the ministry.

In charge of these themes at the primary teachers’ union FSU-Snuipp, Sophie Abraham deplores “an insufficient training of staff, educational resources”, and even qualified speakers, even though children are increasingly exposed in addition to pornographic images, via their mobile phone.

And in the private sector, “health prevention and sexuality education are very often not carried out, sometimes for ideological reasons”, admits Valérie Ginet, national secretary of the private education staff union Fep-CFDT .

Schools should above all contribute to the “prevention of violence” and avoid “a hygienist and technical approach to things”, believes Gilles Demarquet, president of the private education parents’ association Apel.

As for public schools, where “the majority of colleagues do not have the tools that allow them to conduct these classroom sessions”, regrets Sophie Abraham, teachers there also fear “the reaction of parents”, according to her.

The outcry against the recent decree published on this subject in Belgium reminds him of “the controversy around the ABCDs of equality” in France, in 2013, a system aimed at combating stereotypes and inequalities between girls and boys which had sparked strong protests. Following rumors assuring that masturbation would be taught in class, or even that transidentity would be set up as a model, the government buried the project.

In June 2023, Pap Ndiaye, then Minister of Education, announced that he would refer the issue to the Higher Program Council. Contacted at the end of September by AFP, the ministry assured that this Council had until “the end of November” to develop “a proposal for a sexuality education program”.

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