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Learning about the birds and the bees at 21 February 7, 2010

Posted by laïcité in Education, Singapore.
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Last semester, I took the single most useful course in my entire academic life: a general module about reproductive health. That’s right, a course on sex education. Now, I’d like to think of myself as pretty knowledgeable regarding this topic. After all, I took biology at the A levels, and as an avid supporter of comprehensive sex education and the ill effects of abstinence only sex education on teenagers, I do quite a bit of reading into this subject. But I took the module anyway, partly out of interest, but also partly out of a morbid curiosity for a potentially propagandistic pro-marital-pregnancy, anti-pre-marital-sex message from the government.

If what passes as “sex education” in Singapore schools was anything to go by, I wasn’t too optimistic about the impartiality of the module and the lecturer. I went to my reproductive health class with a healthy dose of skepticism. After all, so called “sex education” in schools is tinged with not-so-subtle disapproval of premarital sex, high praise for the wonders of abstinence, and a general arrogance and judgmentalness of abortion, contraceptives, anal sex and the like, as something “other people do”, maybe we’ll learn a bit about those deviant acts, but not without driving home the point that this is not what decent, normal people like us partake in.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when none of these sentiments arose at all in any of the lectures and tutorials. Everything was so matter-of-fact, just as how it should be. No nonsense about right or wrong, should or should not. No judgmental comments, no moralistic notions of “sin”, no snide remarks about homosexuals or prostitutes or sex before marriage, no government-endorsed pro-family propaganda. Just the unbiased facts. Facts about the physiology of the reproductive systems, facts about the effectiveness of different types of contraceptives, facts about the social demographics and possible socio-cultural reasons of women who undergo abortions, and even gory, explicit head-on videos of babies being born (which, I might add, could be pretty good contraceptive incentives in their own right :O), all the way up to facts about obstetric health, and menopause and andropause. Such an honest approach to sex education was refreshing. I was so used to the concealment of the truth and the mishandling of facts in sex education talks held in my younger years.

It wasn’t that pre-marital sex, homosexuality, anal sex, abortion or prostitution were encouraged, or even condoned. That is the beauty of what “neutrality” is. They were simply treated as acts which some chose to partake in, and others don’t, and here are the medical, scientific and sociological reasons for and consequences of these acts. (It never fails to perplex me why conservatives and traditionalists so reluctant to supply our youths with such information at schools, when they are always free to carry out their moralistic preaching in the private spheres of their homes and places of worship, but I digress.)

I could go on about that reproductive module all day and how empowering it felt to be treated like an adult and not have the facts censored for me. But I won’t, because there’s more to this post than just enthusiastic gushing.

After my initial surprise at how enjoyable and insightful I found the course, I started wondering why this thoroughly useful and honest course was only taught to a small class of university students. They should make such content compulsory for all undergraduates. Hell, they should make it part of every teenager’s and young person’s school syllabus. After all, practically all of us are going to eventually have sex, if we’re not already doing it. All of us are owners of bodies with reproductive systems, and almost all of us will have to familiarize ourselves with that of the opposite sex. Almost everyone would find family planning advice useful, and you’d have to admit that enlightening men (and even women! A surprising number of women don’t even know about what’s going on inside them) about menstrual cycles and pregnancy would do more good than harm. Who doesn’t need to learn the important skills of getting pregnant when you want to, not getting pregnant when you don’t want to, and about maintaining your reproductive health in general?  What better place to learn about these useful life skills but in schools?

What hit me even harder was the irony that of all the people in Singapore, us university undergraduates were the ones with greatest access to such information. At the risk of sounding classist or elitist, I dare say that we are not the demographic group most in need of sex education. It is those from low income families who have the most to lose in the event of an unplanned pregnancy (be it teenage or even within marriage).It is the less educated women who need to learn about contraception in order to be empowered within their relationships or marriages. It is those who may not even get the opportunity to study about human biology who are most susceptible to believe falsehoods perpetuated by those with conservative agendas.  It is the young teens, those with the greatest number of misconceptions about sex (i. E. Peeing after sex will flush out the semen and prevent pregnancy?) who are in most dire need of accurate and non-judgemental sex education.

But instead, what we have in secondary schools and junior colleges are morality-based preaching sessions telling us the evils of sex, which, study after study shows to be ineffective against curbing teenage pregnancy or STD rates.

The fantastically informative and enlightening sex education I received at 21 only highlights the inadequacy of sex education in our formal education system. It is sad that I had to wait 21 years to learn the unbiased facts about something as fundamental to human life as sex and my reproductive health. It is even sadder that the vast majority of Singaporean youths will continue to live in ignorance and be fed with untruths that prevent them from making informed choices about their own bodies.

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1. The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Daily SG: 8 Feb 2010 - February 8, 2010

[…] – Journalism.sg: Ex-NMP Siew Kum Hong upbeat about new media’s role in politics – Laïcité: Learning about the birds and the bees at 21 – TOC: The Reform Party Welcomes the new US ambassador’s comments – Diary of A Singaporean Mind: […]

2. j - February 8, 2010

lol, are you from nus? i’m taking the repro health module this sem! but for me, it’s ‘learning about the birds and the bees at 23’ haha.

laïcité - February 9, 2010

Yea! I hope you’re enjoying the module as much as I did! :)

3. AF - February 9, 2010

There are some very important – indeed vital – points raised in this post.

It is one of the very worst of facts that stupid statements about “the evils of sex” (or anything else for that matter), are not only likely to be totally counterproductive (such illogical attempts to control the young only serve to make “bad” things more attractive), but if by some miracle that strategy IS occasionally successful with some, the result will be that these fools have screwed up the rest of their lives for the sake of idiotic fantasy and dogma.

Meantime, no one has gained any useful or accurate knowledge about the subject from anyone who knows and schoolyard rumour and mythology rule supreme once again.

How pathetic is that?

4. The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Weekly Roundup: Week 07 - February 13, 2010

[…] – Journalism.sg: Ex-NMP Siew Kum Hong upbeat about new media’s role in politics – Laïcité: Learning about the birds and the bees at 21 – TOC: The Reform Party Welcomes the new US ambassador’s comments – Diary of A Singaporean Mind: […]

5. LCC - February 22, 2011

Insights into reproductive health by Prof. Singh?

If so, haa, think I may have been one of your classmates.

laïcité - February 23, 2011

Yes! When did you do the module? Mine was in Sem 1 of 09/10, I think. I wonder if he tells he same jokes every time.

LCC - February 23, 2011

Well, according to the soft copies of the lecture notes that I still have on my PC, I think I took the module during the semester of August-December 2009.

Haa, I suppose some of the jokes he will reuse. Etched most deeply in my mind are his “cockpit” joke and the one about implanting all year 1 female undergraduates, particularly those living in hostels, with one of those multi-year contraceptives. Unfortunately, my memory is already more hazy about the exact lecture contents, haa.

On a more serious note, while I understand why you find Prof. Singh’s morality-free just-the-facts approach of teaching the module, I however think sex education goes beyond providing the facts. An element of morality will still have to be included as part of sex education.

By this, I mean that some form of “moral” boundaries will need to be spelled out in sex education; it cannot be a “free-for-all”, if you get what I mean.

Of course, the tricky question is: where should the lines be drawn? And who should be drawing the lines? As it is, I find the boundaries set by MOE with regards to sex education in local schools too restrictive.

laïcité - February 24, 2011

I think the furthest schools should go with morality education with regards to sex is: Don’t pressure anyone into sex, don’t get pressured into sex. Anything more than that is too grey. If parents and religious leaders really wanted to impose a puritanical view of sex onto their children, then they should be the ones to do it and should not expect schools to reflect such stances

I think it is dangerous to try and prevent a “free-for-all” by imposing our own personal and cultural bias into sexual morality education. For example, I may find the idea of having multiple sex partners at the same time deviant, but who am I to tell youths that such a preference or action is morally wrong, if nobody is getting hurt in the process?

6. LCC - February 24, 2011

Yup, that’s why I say the tricky questions are: “where to draw the lines?” and “who should be drawing the lines?”

“MOE’s philosophy on sexuality education is that it does not encourage nor promote masturbation, abortion and oral and anal sex. Its sexuality education programme does not condone promiscuity and sexual experimentation by teenagers, or promote homosexuality, but promotes abstinence and teaches teenagers how to say no to sex. However, contraception is taught in schools to protect young people against diseases and unwanted pregnancies” (“Govt calls for more transparency in sexuality education”, ST, 30/4/2010)

Looking at the above, it seems to me that MOE decided to err (too much, in my opinion) on the side of caution and draw very restrictive lines when it comes to sexual morality.

7. LCC - March 1, 2011

Think you will be interested in the article below…

“Exploring religion, youth and sexuality”

laïcité - March 2, 2011

Thanks for the link, LCC! I think it raises a very salient point: that youths and teens are not mere sponges that take in everything around them, be it the media or religion or puritanical sex education classes. They do have the ability to think for themselves and decide which of these values will shape their views towards sex and sexuality. The problem with prescriptive sex education is that it assumes that we can impose a moral compass onto teenagers, when it should really be a decision an individual makes for himself.

8. LCC - March 2, 2011

Yup, I agree that ultimately, it is up to the individual to make his or her own choices and bear the consequences of those choices, whatever they may be.

Nevertheless, that never stopped people from trying to provide moral advice to attempt to induce people to make the “correct” choices…


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