If you haven’t been keeping up with the aftermath of the AWARE saga, MOE has suspended all external groups sex-ed programs, including the controversial AWARE sex guide denoting that homosexuality is ok. You can read more about it after the jump.
My question is, where would our children learn about sex and sexuality if MOE decides to keep any mention of homosexuality out of its sex-ed curriculum?
I haven’t personally seen any entire sex-ed programs of late, and being a 1981 baby, the only formal sex-ed in the Singapore school system that I received in secondary school (up till sec 1) was through my brother’s sec 2 biology book. I think by sec 1, I was thoroughly confused about what sex was. My impression of sex then was that a man and woman kiss and the next morning, she’s pregnant. I learned it from the then SBC dramas. Abortion to me was when a woman rolls down a hill, or is pushed, she falls and then blood drips from her legs. Beyond SBC, my other encounters with sexuality involved pornography, secretly flipping through REALLY quickly a sex education book I guess meant for teens at MPH, and a1969 book I found called “Everything you wanted to know about sex but was afraid to ask” (it has since been made into a movie by Woody Allen).
In the States, in 8th grade at the catholic school St Joseph’s Institution (part of Sacred Heart Prep), the teachers dealt with it by hiring an external vendor that taught us about sex via the wonderful medium of a musical. Yes, a sex-education musical. We giggled our way through sung lines about hormones, sex and “why don’t I have hair there?.
Freshman year (14 years old) at Sacred Heart Prep, sex ed came in the form of gym class. Our gym teacher would show a sex education video to our co-ed class. We giggled our way through videos of swimming boys and girls and their artist-renditioned-gonads, and even a cropped shot of an ejaculation (no penis) – everyone went eww. I think it’s safe to say no one took it seriously. Aside from that rather pointless video, as students of a catholic school, we were taught abstinence was best, but to the faculty’s credit, it was framed along the lines of “don’t have premarital sex because you might not be able to deal with it emotionally” as oppose to “don’t have premarital sex because it’s an abomination.” We didn’t talk about sexuality at all.
In between the 3 or less times which I was part of formal sex-education sessions, I learned about sex and sexuality through porn, broadcast media i.e. TV, friends, and most influential of all, the Internet. Needless to say, the messages I was getting from these informal channels had little overlap in the topics covered in the formal learning spaces. In fact, they were mostly antagonistic, and most of them were not healthy in the long run. But by duration of exposure, these informal channels shaped my vision of sexuality and sex a lot more than those formal sessions. I’m still trying to uproot some of those impressions even now at age 27.
The media is pervasive no matter whether we like it or not. Modern society is a mediated society, and to quote Larry Gross, because of media, society is like a single organism and telecommunications is its nervous system.
So if sex-education guides in Singapore do not neutrally acknowledge the larger social forces already pervasive in society, where will our children go to learn about sex and sexuality? How will they deal with real life decisions healthily if their natural curiosity, and (dare I say) inclinations are not first acknowledged and then addressed neutrally without judgement?
Neutral here becomes key. The first counseling skill that psychologists and therapists are taught when counseling is to not judge his/her patient. He/she has to remain neutral and be a coach to the patient. I think that’s the role the school system needs to play. Present all there is about sex and sexuality that someone may encounter in a modern global society, and coach the students towards being able to have healthy discussions about sex and sexuality. Censoring or denying the existence of any taboo topic would only spark curiosity. They’ll turn to friends, the Internet or other not-so reliable sources of information.
I digress from the main purpose of this entry. I am more interested in the intersection of media and sexuality in Singapore and what are the consequences if MOE decides to not broach the homosexuality topic in their sex-ed courses.
I would hazard a guess that schools and parents already aren’t main sources of sex information but if anyone has any statistics or information about that, I’ll be grateful if you’ll point me in the direction.
In the meantime, here’s The Straits Times article:
May 7, 2009, The Straits Times
By Theresa Tan & Amelia Tan
ALL sexuality education programmes run by external groups in schools – including the controversial one by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) – have been suspended by the Ministry of Education (MOE).
In addition, the ministry will implement a new, tougher vetting process for the selection of such external programmes by schools.
The move comes about a week after some parents told MOE that they were concerned about the content found in an instructor guide for Aware’s programme, which was posted online.
The Aware programme for schools was one of the touchstones of a spat within the organisation, which ended last Saturday with the ousting of a month-old leadership team who had railed against what they called ‘pro-homosexuality’ content in it. MOE conducted an investigation after some parents expressed concern.
On Wednesday, the press secretary to Education Minister Ng Eng Hen, Ms Jennifer Chan, said in a letter to The Straits Times that the basic instructor guide for Aware’s programme did not conform to MOE’s guidelines on sexuality education.
‘In particular, some suggested responses in the instructor guide are explicit and inappropriate, and convey messages which could promote homosexuality or suggest approval of premarital sex,’ she said, without elaborating on the inappropriate responses.
A copy of the guide posted online contained lines such as ‘anal sex can be healthy or neutral if practised with consent and with a condom’, and ‘homosexuality is perfectly normal. Just like heterosexuality, it is simply the way you are’.
However, Ms Chan pointed out that some parts of the guide were positive: It gave accurate information on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, for example.
But, she stressed, the ministry and its schools ‘do not promote alternative lifestyles to our students’.
She added: ‘MOE’s framework for sexuality education reflects mainstream views and values of Singapore society, where the social norm consists of the married heterosexual family unit.