SEX EDUCATION: BREAKING THE SILENCE
Isn’t it high time to educate our youths on sexuality?
By Carmen and Dr Lim Poh Ann
“Mummy, where do babies come from?”
While most of his friends were playing soccer and computer games, baby-faced Alfie Patten became a dad at 13 upon the arrival of his baby girl this February.
Although alarming statistics of abortions, abandoned babies, teenage parents, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) continue to rankle us, many parents from the Asian region would prefer to dismiss the subject of sex. The topic sounds uncomfortable, embarassing and remains a taboo.
But how long can we keep things under wraps from young inquisitive minds? Aren’t social ills among youths related, in part, to a lack of proper sex education?
Should we tell?
The necessity of sex education has been highly debated. Some opine that people learn about sex naturally, so a formal education is redundant. Some even worry that knowledge on sex will lead to early intercourse and promote contraception abuse among teenagers. But others think adolescents should at least have access to a reproductive health manual to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexual abuse.
It’s not enough
In most parts of Asia, adolescents are taught basic sex knowledge in Science and Biology classes. There is no subject in the school’s curriculum devoted entirely to sex education. Many consider basic lessons on sexual anatomy and reproduction inadequate. Some youths claim they learn more from sources such as blue movies, sex columnists in magazines, pornographic websites and their peers.
“Abstinence-only” or “safer sex” approach?
If we think sex education is necessary, then we need to ask, What should be taught? Which approach should we adopt—“abstinence-only” or “safer sex”? The former advocates postponing sex until marriage whereas the latter encourages the use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and STDs. Critics argue the “safer sex” approach condones premarital sex and promotes promiscuity. On the other hand, some view “abstinence only” as being too repressive.
The Dutch took a comprehensive approach which includes both “abstinence-only” and “safer sex”. Sex education in Netherlands is said to be a model for other countries. It has a low teenage pregnancy rate due to wide use of contraceptives. In the case for Japan and Korea, however, traditional values against premarital sex account for the low teenage pregnancy rate.
Who should tell?
Children is the by-product of sex, so what better place to begin sex education than home. Parents should talk to children about sex early in life—it is easier to continue the conversation as they grow up. Be open and frank. Start to talk about body parts and their functions. Teach children to differentiate between “good touch” and “bad touch”. This helps them to recognise inappropriate sexual behaviour. As children advance towards puberty, explain about sexual development in their bodies. Teach them to make smart choices in sexual intimacy and develop a healthy attitude towards sex. Teach girls that no one has the right to treat their bodies as commodities. Teach boys that sleeping around is not a sign of masculinity. Visiting the library enables parents to tap into resources on sexuality. Keeping in touch with other parents and counsellors can also provide helpful tips.
Apart from home, children spend most of their waking hours in school. However, teaching sex in school is not easy as many teachers grew up in an environment where sex is hardly discussed. For some, school should deal with academic matters whereas sex should be taught at home. But such a narrow view is disappointing. Teachers should, in fact, be responsible for the children’s well-being, including their sexuality. Better resources and training enable teachers to play a more effective role as sex educators. To this end, in October 2000, the Ministry of Education in Singapore launched a multimedia resource package called “The Growing Years Series” to enhance the teaching of sex education, tailored according to appropriate age group. Elements of love and respect, relationships and gender differences were also addressed beside sexuality.
c) Faith community
Concerned faith communities have organised various programmes and workshops to address sex issues among youths. Focus on the Family Malaysia, a Christian non-profit organisation has been conducting a workshop known as. “No Apologies” for youths since 2003. Young people learned that God intended sex to be beautiful within the context of marriage. They are advised to practice safety measures, like “pants on and not condom on”. One may contract STDs even with the use of condoms as they could tear or slip off during sexual contact. Also, the usage of birth control pills is not without side-effects.
The influence of media is undeniable. Youths spend many hours in a day with their electronic “toys” and are exposed to all sorts of titillating images and videos. As such, they must be taught to evaluate what they see and hear. The media can play a effective role by covering sex issues through open dialogues or broadcasting educational programmes.
Youths need to be aware that they are more likely to act out of emotion rather than rational thinking when their hormonally-charged bodies are going through a transitional phase. The consequences of premarital sex must be clearly spelt out. Not only do young parents are without the financial means and emotional maturity to bring up a child, unmarried young mothers will suffer embarassment, having to live with the social stigma.
In addition, she may need to leave school or college as her life now becomes centred on the new arrival. Great emotional turmoil awaits the young mother if the father absconds, refusing to be responsible. If a shotgun marriage ensues, it is not the best way to start off the marriage as the child-rearing responsibilities add to the difficulties of adjusting to one another early in their marriage.
Even if no pregnancy occurs, there is still a serious risk of being afflicted with STDs. So a few stolen moments of pleasure come with a heavy price. Indeed, premarital sex has serious and far-reaching consequences.
Christians believe that following God’s way is still the best. Sex is best kept for marriage (Hebrews 13:4). Because sex is God’s idea, we would do well to follow the instructions of the Maker. No doubt, sexual purity before marriage is tough and even deemed as archaic and repressive, yet the rewards of obedience far outweigh the difficulties to keep oneself pure.
Sex has the potential of granting the greatest joy and fulfillment OR the greatest heartache and sorrow, depending on the choices made. Everyone is given a choice—to either obey or disobey God’s law.
Long ago, young Joseph was tempted by the wife of his master, Potiphar. She seduced him, saying, “Come lie with me,” as he was handsome and well-built. But Joseph resisted and said to her, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” So Joseph ran away from the scene. His main concern was not so much his reputation (what if others came to know of it); rather he saw himself as sinning against God if he yielded to the temptation (Genesis 39).
When children internalise the values of their God-fearing parents, they remain pure before marriage not because they fear being found out ... not because they fear STDs ... not because they want to avoid the burden of a child born out of wedlock. Rather, it’s because, FIRST AND FOREMOST, they fear God as a result of a vital and living relationship with Him. A secure and loving relationship with their parents also helps them walk in purity.
Having assimilated these values, it does not matter where they are, whether away from parents on holidays or studying overseas, children would be more likely to preserve their purity before marriage. When that happens, we are deemed to have succeeded in our task of providing them effective sex education.
1 “What's it all about, Alfie? 13 year-old fathers a child”, by Jeremy Laurance, The Independent, UK based newspaper dated 14 February 2009
2 The Dutch Model-UNESCO Courier, July/August 2000
3 Ketting, E., & Visser, A. P. (1994) Contraception in the Netherlands: The low abortion rate explained: Patient Education and Counseling Vol 23(3) July 1994, 161-171.
4 UNICEF, A League Table of Teenage Births in Rich Nations’, Innocenti Report Card No.3, July 2001.
UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.
5 Singapore 3rd periodic report on United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) , published in November 2004
6 The Star, Metro: Central dated 28 June 2007
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