Poland: Ban on Sex Education Linked to Soaring Teen Pregnancies

The Roman Catholic Church and its opposition to frank sex education must bear some of the responsibility for the 20,000 births every year to Polish girls below the age of consent, say educators in Poland.

"The Catholic Church has a huge influence in Poland and in schools," said Anka Grzywacz, an educator with the Polish Ponton Group of Sex Educators. "The Catholic Church does not want sex education to be taught and, therefore, schools simply do what the Church wants and just do not teach it."

Last year, sex education was made compulsory in Polish schools. However, critics say the mandate is frequently ignored, or that sex education often consists of material that is irrelevant or overtly religious.

"The fact that sex education in Polish schools is called 'education in family life' and not 'sex education' says a lot," Grzywacz said. "Theoretically sex education is compulsory, but it is not a priority and in reality no one checks to see if schools are providing it. And many schools are not."

In a country where 90 percent of the population identifies itself as Catholic, the influence of the Polish Catholic Church is difficult to overestimate, say sociologists.

"The church has an indirect influence on the whole education system as so many Polish people are members of the church and they co-shape civil society in our country," said Dr. Marek Rymsza, of the Institute for Public Affairs, a Warsaw think-tank.

However, the country's approach to sex education has to bend to address the increasing sexualization of Poland's culture, Grzywacz said.

"From our work we have seen that kids are heavily influenced by a very sexed media in Poland and they think that sex is cool. More and more kids are having sex younger, but unless they are properly educated, this can lead to serious problems with health such as sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancies," Grzywacz said.