Sex, lies and tough talk
My column for today in the Op-Ed section of Manila Standard Today is Sex, lies and tough talk.
SEX has been very much in the news in the last two weeks, thanks to three national controversies: the introduction of a module on sex education for high school students beginning this school year, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board’s latest protestations regarding the alleged sexual content of some television shows, and of course, the ongoing trial of four US servicemen accused of raping a Filipina at Subic.
It has been more than a century since this country got out of the metaphorical convent, but judging from the furious reactions of some quarters on the issue of sex education, Padre Damaso is alive and kicking, and well, still pontificating. Someone even threatened (such tough talk!) to bring education department officer in charge Fe Hidalgo to court if she allowed the modules to be implemented. The opponents of the sex education modules (led by the powerful bishops) are either suffering from a severe case of denial or have been living under a rock the last 10 years.
Quite frankly, I don’t get what the fuss is all about.
It is easy to fall into this trap of thinking that kids are asexual beings. But the recent controversy over the Pinoy Big Brother Teen Edition episode involving a discussion about sex and sexual needs among certain male teen housemates (which caught the ire of the MTRCB) illustrates just how sexually curious, if not sexually active, today’s generation of adolescents are. I know because I teach and I am part of this NGO that works with adolescents. I will not go into the specifics because this column has only so much space. But let’s cut the crap and admit that many of us were sexually curious and aware if not sexually active when we were their age too. That hasn’t created monsters out of us, has it?
The fact is, no matter how many petitions we write to God, we cannot delay puberty age until everyone is 25. No matter what we do to shield kids from the world out there, the undeniable biological fact is that kids have ears and eyes and other anatomical parts. More importantly, although we often fail to recognize it, they also have brains. They read, listen and talk—and they are getting information from everywhere and everyone except from authority figures such as their parents and teachers who are in a better position to explain the facts correctly and situate the information in a more responsible context.
So although the proposed modules are a welcome development, they are actually a little too late since the target audience, high school students, already have access to sexual information from their peers, from the media, from the Internet—from everywhere and everyone. And there is that great possibility that the information they get is not only grossly incorrect but perhaps harmful. The list of myths about sex going around and around range from the hilarious to the ludicrous (e.g., growing hair on one’s palms, having dandruff, or even getting pregnant through kissing).
One of the alleged wrinkles in the proposed modules is the mention of condoms as protection against sexually transmitted diseases. The gibberish is that talking about how condoms prevent STDs will encourage kids to run to the nearest drug store, buy a pack or two and try them out just for the sheer fun of it. Duh. These people are obviously unaware of the social stigma attached to buying condoms (I am an adult, but I still can’t look at the salesclerk straight in the eye on the few occasions I had to buy one), the alarming decline in condom usage and the even more alarming rise in the incidence of STDs today.
But the gibberish becomes farcical because a condom figured heavily in the news a few days ago courtesy of the controversial rape trial. That bit was extensively discussed on television, newspapers and on radio and there is no way that high school students could have missed that one, particularly since pictures of the objects in question were also made available. So it is okay to discuss condoms and discuss the lurid details of how it was used and how it affects a rape case, but not in the context of responsible sexual behaviors among adolescents?
But let’s get the facts clear. The proposed modules do not actually talk about sex per se (oh no, none of those naughty hush-hush fun stuff we talked about during scouting when we were in high school). And the modules are not independent subjects. They are integrated into the basic classes like biology and civics. The modules are about responsible behavior, sexually transmitted diseases, reproductive health, etc. So it is not as if teachers in public schools will gather students around in a circle and begin a free-flowing no-holds barred conversation about sex. There is a specific context for the discussions about sex and these modules went through rigorous paralysis by analysis processes.
Accurate, correct and complete information is the key to prevention of teenage pregnancies, STDs, and many other social problems that affect adolescents in this country. If we want adolescents to behave responsibly, we have to treat them that way. But very often, it is our own discomfort and our own inadequacies that get in the way of our ability to do the unpleasant but necessary. This discomfort gives sex education malice, which need not be there.
It is a shame that many adults would prefer that information vital to keeping kids healthy and safe be kept out of their reach. This kind of shortsightedness is something that we will pay dearly for in the very near future.