Guest blog: Make Contraceptives More Accessible
By Min, AWARE Intern
The views expressed in this post are the writer’s own personal opinions.
28 May was the International Day of Action for Women’s Health. Being a young woman, I have many questions about women and health in Singapore. Are women allowed to make informed decisions about their bodies, lives and sexuality? Do they have access to sexual and reproductive rights and the related health services?
I remember in primary and secondary school, sex education was all about teaching us the benefits of abstinence. We were warned that although condoms and other contraceptives can prevent unwanted pregnancy, they are not one hundred per cent reliable. We were also warned about the risk of getting Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).
The overall picture of sex painted was very negative – they did not tell us about the possible joys and benefits of sex. I grew to treat sex with disdain. Even after getting over that perception, I realise that despite all the preaching about practicing safe sex, contraceptives were not readily available to us anyway.
While the age of legal consent in Singapore is 16, obtaining contraceptives may not be that easy at that age. When I was 17, I went to a convenience shop to buy condoms as part of a dare. The lady at the cashier stared at me with wide, bulging eyes and asked for my IC, before telling me that I had to be 18 and above to buy condoms.
I later found out that there was no such age limit in the law. But the incident did show how difficult it is to obtain contraceptives as a teenager, due to the nature of our conservative culture. You have to face shame, embarrassment, hesitation and the fear of getting judged. It takes a lot of courage in order to obtain contraceptives, no matter what age you are. This difficulty increases the risk of young people taking part in unsafe sexual activities.
Aside from condoms, my sex education classes gave me no clue of how to obtain any other forms of contraception. How can women responsibly take care of our own health if we are not given enough information?
I believe more can be done to increase access to sexual and reproductive health services, as well as improve perceptions towards it. As prevention is better than cure, easy access to contraceptives is the first step to preventing unwanted pregnancy. Easy access does not just mean dealing with the physical barriers, but also the cultural ones.