Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condoms.
Growing up in Singapore’s education system, this has been the mantra drilled into our young, impressionable minds during our Sexuality Education lessons. The ‘ABC acronym’, which it is commonly referred to, is the significant takeaway from these sessions.
Our students walk away from these sessions with this acronym as the most prominent lesson they have learnt. For what has been conceptualised to educate us about sex and sexuality, is it then really effective?
Seen here is a comment left on a Reddit post detailing a woman’s experience with abortion in Singapore. Clearly, there is much more to be done to effectively instil accurate and empathetic lessons into our society, and one prominent way to do so is through these classes to begin with.
The lessons are also concentrated on our relationships, with an emphasis on those of a romantic nature. This may seem like a win for us to be able to venture into this topic, but it falls short of addressing the important issues underneath the surface. It echoes the age-old ‘words of wisdom’, where relationships serve as mere distractions from our studies and we should not let them overtake our other priorities in life, with the discourse predominantly leaning towards the stance that we should not even be exploring such relationships in the first place.
Perhaps this has been framed in this manner with the best of intentions, as the system urges us to chase our educational pursuits over what is said to be fleeting and unimportant. However, with society becoming more open towards such topics, and with the prominent sense of curiosity instilled into the youth, is this the best way to structure the goals of our sexuality education system?
With an hour a week to sit down with students and impart meaningful advice, let’s not waste this opportunity.
Sex… or Moral Education?
If you are able to recall your sex education classes, chances are that you remember those Civic Education lessons as well. They serve to emphasise the behavioural standards in society – with one prominent example being filial piety, and morals typically attached to family values.
These takeaways are certainly expected of these particular lessons, given the nature and purpose of our Civic Education’s curriculum. Similarly, from what is set forth in the Sexuality Education’s syllabus, one would expect it to shine a light on health and relationships, in a manner that is catered towards today’s youth and the problems that they are facing.
We instead see an overlap between these two courses, with our Sexuality Education class time being overridden with a predominant stance that our behaviour, even to do with sex and relationships, must echo the age-old sentiments of not bringing shame to our family.
There is a whole discussion to have about how sex and sexuality should not be associated with shame and misbehaviour – but quintessentially, why is that the main lesson to be projected? In a space geared to have open conversations, which may actually help the youth work through their current and future experiences, we choose to adopt the approach of not answering the important questions by merely stating that this is not something we should be dealing with in the first place.
This detrimentally shifts the focus away from the students and makes it about society instead.
Are Sex Ed Lessons for Everyone?
Furthermore, the curriculum posits a rather exclusionary stance on students belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. With the lessons depicting and catering to only heteronormative couples, this ostracises the individuals outside of this sphere and removes them from the supposedly safe and open space that these lessons are meant to create.
It is known that Singapore’s law disallows same-sex marriages. However, by entirely excluding LGBTQ+ students from Sexuality Education and failing to address their needs, we are essentially ignoring their problems and, by extension, their entire presence. This definitely will not bode well for these students – are they to return home thinking that their own feelings do not matter as much as their heterosexual and cis peers?
Abstinence Advocacy Actual Sex Education
For the students to actively listen, it’s definitely not to hear the same, old “don’t have sex” tirade. It’s time to shift the focus elsewhere; educating them on how to stay safe.
We cannot simply stop at the Condom reference in the ABC acronym. It is not enough to briefly allude to the mention of safe sex; should we not take this time to properly impart this knowledge to the students? This platform can be utilised to discuss healthy expressions of sex – consent, consent, consent – and its presence in our lives.
There is also a negative stigma associated with the different forms of protection, such as the dose of shame experienced while purchasing condoms or procuring birth control. We, as a society, definitely need to look into overcoming the harmful perceptions revolving around the mere topic of sex, if we are to progress and inculcate a healthy viewpoint of such relations into the youth.
Here’s one simple step to take note of: Be open to discussions. The premise of conducting such classes in the first place is to have a space to talk about these topics, and this should encompass all that one needs to know – and not simply what is one comfortable discussing.
It’s Time for A Change
Keep in mind that these lessons are meant to help everyone in the class. Going back to the point on LGBTQ+ representation, a minimal requirement is to include them in the ongoing conversation. Do not merely use them as a front for the façade of being inclusive – take the time to really address their concerns, and to answer their queries.
Let’s finally deliver what these classes have long been trying to sell to the students – not the promotion of our conservative mindsets, or the advocacy of our typical traditional values, but relevant and engaging help which targets the pain points they experience regarding sex and sexuality.