Sexual Education: Exposed

While considered a common conversation to have with teenagers in their crucial years, the birds and the bees talk is touted ‘awkward’ by most Singaporeans. Without proper grounding on the matter from home, the only other sliver of sexual education in a teenager’s life comes from school, where they teach you abstinence is the only key and they steer clear of “controversial issues” such as defining your sexuality. In a robust economy whose education system is considered one of the best in the world, something as basic and necessary as sexual education is not adequately integrated, causing more boys to pay for sex, or more than 2,000 teenagers under the age of 19 to fall pregnant annually. In the light of issues like sexual assault and non-consensual sex becoming widespread, it is important to discuss the state of our sexual education and its shortcomings in ingraining ideas about safe sex. So today we’d like to talk about sex ed

 

As declared by the Ministry of Education (MOE), sexual education in Singapore is administered with the idea that, “practicing abstinence before marriage” and “developing mainstream values and attitudes about sexuality” is of utmost importance. It is also openly “premised on the family as the basic unit of society.” While the wording is neutral, they still echo religious sentiments. For instance, the American Christian organization, Focus on the Family, also preaches that the “family unit is the basic building blocks a thriving nation,” which seems to be exactly what the ministry aims at ingraining in young minds through a secular sexual education. While only some imply that premarital sex could be immoral, teenagers cannot be expected to know this through an education that is abstinence-based.  In fact, encouraging this notion can do more harm than good!

For instance, Rice Media spoke to a few secondary 2 students. One of the students claimed that the teacher often described friends who couldn’t make their relationships work because of premarital sex, suggesting that it can never be a good idea. 
 

What this approach neglects is that teenagers will more often than not engage in sexual activities regardless. Because of the age, the hormonal changes they experience, or simple peer pressure, teenagers are vulnerable and inclined to eat the forbidden fruit. But encouraging abstinence without acknowledging the possibility that they might still have premarital sex sets teenagers up for unsafe sex and unhealthy ideas about sexual relationships in their adulthood. For instance, many students believe that oral sex, anal sex, and other such stimulations are ‘not sex’ and that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) will hence not spread through them. 

Another crucial problem with the sexual education offered is that it strays from controversial topics. While it is important to start with providing a bigger, clearer picture of mainstream sex and sexual ideas, it is equally important to educate the youth on queer sexual ideas. For instance, homosexuality is a topic that is still taboo in the classroom, and while many students have friends that are homosexual, the lack of dialogue on the matter promotes the idea that it is wrong or unacceptable. The same applies for bisexuality, transsexuality, and other spectrums of the LGBTQI+. 
 

The current system can improve by leaps and bounds, but a good start would be to acknowledge that abstinence is not a rule, but a choice. By promoting conversations around this, teenagers will be encouraged to talk truthfully and non-judgmentally about sex. When this happens, education can be more focused on assault, contraception, and unsafe sex, preparing teenagers better for the world outside school. The longstanding shame and fear of premarital sex can be deconstructed so that teenagers don’t find themselves in face of sexual abuse, pregnancies or diseases, not knowing how to approach the problem and too afraid to ask for help. 

Another helpful change would be to involve parents more actively in their child’s sexual education. The ministry believes that “sex education should begin at home with parents, continue in schools with teachers, and be supplemented by community efforts” but the current approach doesn’t satisfy either of the three criteria. For instance, the biggest barrier to open sex ed is the “opt out” option most parents get, which allows them to leave their child out of any such dialogue, to begin with. Now, more parents are vocal about how uncomfortable this matter makes them feel too, but leaving children in the dark is not a viable option either. More efforts should instead be put into conducting workshops for parents on how to deal with the changes in their children's’ lives and start such conversations at home so that it becomes a more mainstream and palpable topic that is shrouded by so much interdiction. 
 

So let’s talk about sex. Let’s talk about how we can improve the current sex ed and find ways to teach our kids all the right things so that they are equipped to make the right and safe decisions. Because we might be limited by our conservancy, but we cannot let that prevent our children from having a healthy and secure future.

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