Cuban sex education experts have been waging a silent battle to defend the principle that sexuality is a vital part of the personality of all human beings and that its full development is essential for individual, interpersonal, and even social wellbeing.
Sex education in Cuba began almost 50 years ago, when the Cuban Women's Federation (FMC in Spanish) summoned public health specialists to start the first educational programs in family planning and reproductive health. Programs also included actions within the community to eliminate certain negative stereotypes and taboos, and to increase health information and guidance with a comprehensive scientific approach.
According to experts, the education of children and young people on sexual health is one of the most debated issues today in Cuba. There are many opinions as to whether it should start at an early age, and even if it is indeed necessary to prepare this age group in this area of knowledge.
However, experts confi rmed that an adequate training in these subjects can modify young people's behaviour. It could make them delay their first sexual encounter, and, if they are sexually active, they know about using contraceptives, thus achieving a reduction of sexually transmitted diseases and undesired pregnancies.
The progressive evolution of these different actions led to the creation in 1972 of the National Working Group for Sex Education (GNTES in Spanish) as a multidisciplinary and multisectorial body.
This group, made up of professionals from the Ministries of Public Health, Education, the FMC and youth organizations, had the mission to create and implement the policy and the National Sex Education Program to be developed in the country.
From 1989 on, the work performed by GNTES branched out with the creation of similar institutions at the provincial and municipal level. With this turning point, this health institution became known as the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX in Spanish).
With Master of Science Mariela Castro Espín as head of the center and together with the participation of leading specialists, the institution has been praised for its years of dedication to the study, research and education about sexuality, with tangible results for the growth and development of men and women.
Among its main achievements is the setting up of strategies for the improvement and stability of sexual and reproductive health through various programs and services. Examples include the program of responsible parenthood, family planning services and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and AIDS, as well as sex guidance and therapy sessions.
Other programs developed include Crecer en la adolescencia (Growing in Adolescence) and Mi Proyecto de vida (My Life Project). Designed to reduce the number of voluntary abortions in teenagers, these programs are based on the assumption that only a coherent and systematic educational input can contribute to each person's being able to make conscious decisions and build a responsible and secure self-image.
Similarly, CENESEX is in charge of promoting important educational and cultural activities that favour respect for free and responsible sexual orientation and gender identity.
In this area, the Centre has accumulated over two decades of experience working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. Currently, the institution is proposing a law and, through a process of consultation, amendments to the Family Code and Penal Code relating to gender identity and sexual orientation.
The goal is for the current Family Code to include, among other things, the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual persons, according to sources close to the proposal.
If approved, the law would also grant identification to transgender persons, without requiring sex modification surgery, stated Dr. Alberto Roque, CENESEX specialist in Internal Medicine, to Cubaplus.
Meanwhile, the National Commission for Comprehensive Care of Transsexuals has to date attended to more than 120 applications, and nearly a dozen sex change surgeries have been performed since the Ministry of Public Health approved Resolution 126 in 2008, which legalizes the procedure.
Operations continue to be performed, they are free, and they are carried out with the application of medical protocols that take into account criteria of eligibility and suitability, said Dr. Roque, who also chairs the section on sexual diversity of the Cuban Multidisciplinary Society for Sexuality Studies (SOCUMES in Spanish).
According to experts, a significant stage has now been reached in which state institutions are becoming connected with civil society representatives, including groups of lesbians, gays, individuals with HIV and health promoters. This expands the network of people collaborating with the Sexual Education Program.
Researchers believe, however, that there is still a long way to go in this area, such as the implementation of actions that contribute to changing personal interpretations and behaviour in men and women in every moment of their life cycle and in different social and geographical contexts.