Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) was founded on December 28, 1988, to support formal, popular, and community education processes regarding, sexuality, gender identity, health and sexual rights, and related issues.
The specialized institution is attached to the Ministry of Public Health, and since 2006 is an accredited postgraduate study center, attached to the University of Havana’s School of Medical Sciences. It is a member organization of the Cuban United Nations Association, the World Association for Sexual Health, Latin American Federation of Sexology and Sex Education Societies, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, and its regional organization for Latin America and the Caribbean.
CENESEX promotes sex education based on a socialist, emancipatory paradigm. This means recognition of the right to sexuality as an inalienable human right in any society, as MSc Manuel Vázquez Seijido, assistant director of CENESEX, told Granma International.
To ensure respect for this right, and combat prejudice and discrimination, CENESEX makes use of three areas of scientific work: medical assistance related to teaching and research; community work to raise awareness among the population; and legal advice to ensure compliance with what is prescribed in the different legislative codes in this area.
“Our institution is very diverse in terms of the activities undertaken. On the one hand, it dedicates important efforts to scientific research in order to obtain the grounds that support undergraduate and postgraduate training processes. We have diploma and masters programs, and we are working on a PhD program. We also teach several short and training courses, which we offer nationally and internationally. We also undertake various actions at the community level, visualized in the four major events held throughout the year, with a vast social and media impact,” Vázquez explained.
ANNUAL CENESEX EVENTS
At the beginning of the year, the institution organizes the Motherhood and Fatherhood: Equal Rights and Responsibilities event, which extends from February 14 to Father’s Day, in June, thus also including Mother’s Day. As part of the event, special attention is paid to guidelines on raising children in all their diversity, as well as teaching, awareness-raising, and community impact activities, such as fairs and book presentations.
Overlapping with this first event is the Cuban Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which has taken place annually since 2007. The main attraction of the event is the street conga along central Havana avenues, as well as other cultural activities, supported by artists and musicians. The event involves the different Party structures, working in partnership with governmental institutions such as the police; the ministries of Culture and Education; the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation; and several Public Health entities.
The Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia also includes a Gala event, which welcomes an important group of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGTBI) activists, as well as the public, and features performances by numerous artists.
In August and September, CENESEX marks World Sexual Health Day with a series of activities. The international Day is led by the World Association for Sexual Health, and is celebrated every September 4 by each of its member countries, with Cuba organizing events since 2012. The event seeks to draw attention to issues related to sexual health, and this year’s edition was dedicated to girls, boys, youth, and adolescents.
To close the year, efforts focus on activities against gender violence, to mark the United Nations-designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, November 25. Activities focus on the exclusion, discrimination and aggression suffered by women and girls, as well as other groups, manifested in social phenomena such as bullying, common jokes, and expressions of a segregationist nature.
“We use the occasion to draw attention to all the forms of violence against lesbians, transgender women, gay men, trans men, and heterosexual men. This event concludes December 10, International Human Rights Day. Falling within this period is December 1, celebrated globally as World AIDS Day; and on the 5th of this same month, we celebrate International Volunteer Day, linked to the struggle against the epidemic,” Vázquez detailed.
These events feature media campaigns, awareness-raising courses, the presentation of bibliographical materials, specialized magazines, and explanatory brochures on the different issues. Scientific workshops, cultural events and neighborhood, student and workplace activities are also held.
“We also offer science-based care services designed to connect with the main problems and discontent associated with people’s health and sexual rights. In these consultations, we acquire knowledge that allows us to make decisions regarding our educational campaigns, courses, and research. It is a kind of laboratory to explore the different themes of today’s society,” the assistant director added.
HELP AND ADVICE
The institution welcomes those seeking help regarding their sexual health, and support for their sexual rights. The institution’s legal advice team supports all those who feel their rights are violated. At the same time, sexual guidance and therapy is also offered, to seek solutions to problems such as sexual dysfunction.
Psychologist Ana María Cano López is responsible for CENESEX’s care service for children and adolescents subjected to physical or sexual abuse, founded in 2005 with the support of UNICEF.
“Cases are referred to us from the Center for the Protection of Children and Adolescents, located in Havana. There are three centers of this type in the country. One here in the capital, another in Villa Clara, and lastly, in Santiago de Cuba. We work in coordination with the closest one. We don’t receive all cases, just those identified with a need for follow-up for psychological care and based on the characteristics of the patient. We are not the only service of this kind in the country, because there are other places in the city and in several provinces that also attend to these cases,” she explained.
She added that therapies used depend on the individual case of each patient. The majority are child molestation cases, with a greater prevalence among girls. The age range is between 10 and 13 years old. “With the first contact, we compose the clinical history specifying the psycho-sexual characteristics of the child. We work with the father, mother, or legal guardian. Then we follow up with periodic psychological evaluations, until we deem that they no longer require our services. We assess the extent of the psychological damage according to the trauma suffered. Then we work with the child in a therapeutic way in different work sessions,” the therapist added.
Ana María is one of the longest-serving workers in the institution, having dedicated more than 28 years to this task. She began very young, when she was still a university student. She approached the institution with the interest of undertaking training in topics related to sexuality, which offered her the opportunity to study several pathological cases, and she fell in love with the profession.
“This has been my school, I have seen this center grow,” she explained, something also recognized by young sociologist, Delia Rosa Suárez Socarrás, a specialist in CENESEX’s research and teaching department, who works on the social integration of LGTBI people.
“I have developed a number of skills here that I could not have acquired in another scenario. Here, the standards are high. Young people are trusted and therefore we are given a series of responsibilities in order to comprehensively grow and flourish.
“In addition to the commitment of the people who work here, and the issues that we address without distinction, knowing that you can learn skills for your daily life is very important,” Delia explained.
The young woman, who was born with a motor impairment, noted that working with the LGTBI community helps her to overcome her own difficulties. “In the academy, one thinks that it is the professional who provides all the knowledge, and yet, when you face different situations you realize that other people teach you every day. I am moved by the fact that they have suffered discrimination and exclusion in many areas of their lives. I’m talking about within the family, at school, workplaces, in communities, and they accumulate life stories that tend to be sad, and yet have many positive emotions to offer,” she stressed.
This opinion is also shared by Marais del Río Martín, who researches transsexual relationships. Like Delia, she is currently writing her graduate thesis. Both noted that working with these groups and wider society has reinforced their commitment to defend sexual diversity and respect for all sexual rights.