August 13th, 2013

Young minds and bodies: Is ignorance bliss?

by Tan Jian Xiang and Catherine Smith

Sex-EducationSex education in Singapore is currently values-based, with abstinence as the main approach in keeping youth from premarital sexual activity. However, they can get information about sex from the Internet and their friends, without the supervision of parents or schools.

On this 13th anniversary of International Youth Day (Aug 12), let us consider what young people need to know so that they can develop healthy relationships. We suggest that an insistence on values does not justify ignorance.

A 2011 survey sponsored by Bayer Healthcare found that eight in 10 young respondents (100 men and 100 women aged 20 to 35) in Singapore do not use contraception when having sex with a new partner. This was among the highest rates among the nine Asia-Pacific countries surveyed.

Statistics from the Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Control indicate a similar problem: There were 626 cases of infection among teenagers in 2010. There are also some 2,000 teenage pregnancies a year.

These statistics show that ignorance of contraceptive methods can have physical and mental consequences for these youth.

There is possibly a fear that teaching safe sex encourages youngsters to have sex. This assumption has been disproven. A 2007 study mandated by the United States Congress found that abstinence-only curricula did not postpone sexual behaviour.

Safe sex goes beyond STIs and unwanted pregnancies. It includes violence prevention, too. Many imagine rape to be a crime committed by a stranger, but sexual violence is often committed by someone known to the victim.

Failure to teach teenagers about what consent means and their right to withhold consent is likely to lead to a greater incidence of date rape.

The Education Ministry places an onus on parents to educate their children about sex, but it was reported last year that a Health Promotion Board poll, covering 1,169 Singapore households, found that less than half of parents had broached such topics with their teenage children.

To delegate sex education to parents would thus be inadequate.

The reality is that teens are involved in sexual activity. Withholding information about contraception, STIs, date rape and consent will not stop this. A comprehensive sex education programme, though, would enable teens to make better choices and thereby enjoy healthier lives and relationships.

Tan Jian Xiang and Catherine Smith are youth volunteers at AWARE. This article was initially published in Today Voices on 13 August, 2013.

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