Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sex please? Abstinence first.

Like many other countries, levels of teen sex is on the rise in Singapore and STIs and teenage pregnancies keep rearing their ugly heads. So what to do? In today’s society, with children across the developed world sexualized at an increasingly young age it’s a tough call and can feel like a losing battle. For many, the answer usually boils down to sex education delivered in school. 

A few days ago, Yahoo News reported that there would be a new focus on sexual abstinence as part of the Sexuality Education Programme taught in Singapore to Secondary 3, first-year junior college and centralised institute students. As yet, no details of the programme have been confirmed so quite how much emphasis on sexual abstinence there will be is yet to be seen. 

However,  as someone who has only lived here for a couple of years it was interesting to read the views of Singaporean blogger Kirsten Han here who outlined from her own experience of sex education in high school how she thought there was already enough emphasis on sexual abstinence. 

According to the Yahoo News article it looks like it will be a form of Abstinence Plus sexuality education. Now if you are wondering what Abstinence Plus is and what this all means, here's a run down courtesy of my friend and human sexuality expert Georgina Vass and I....

So what exactly is abstinence plus
Abstinence plus is a program whereby abstinence is mentioned as the best way to prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancies, and may even be proactively encouraged as the preferred choice but is taught in addition to contraceptives, negotiation and relationship building skills, and all the other usual suspects.

Abstinence plus - so what is all the fuss about?
Some people argue that it is possible to combine the main elements of both comprehensive and abstinence based sex education in one approach to the same end - helping young people avoid STIs and unintended pregnancies.

However other people believe that it is overly optimistic to think it is possible to build a truly unified approach because of the fact that there are very profound values and attitudes at the route of the different approaches, which are likely to still exist once the two approaches are combined. That being said it has been shown in one study to be the most effective in decreasing teenage pregnancy. More on this report here.

Critics of the abstinence plus or abstinence only education point at the fact that the period of waiting until marriage has now dramatically increased (the average age of first marriage in Singapore is now hovering around 27 and 29 for women and men respectively), and that therefore saving sex for after marriage is now a much more difficult, unrealistic and some say even unreasonable task than it was several years ago. Then others are wondering one other thing and this is...where does talk of abstinence today leave LGBTQ youth and teens?

And the upshot...
While abstinence may be the only 100% sure way to not contract STIs or have unplanned pregnancies, care needs to be taken to ensure that the role of the educator is not to place their personal values on students, but to present them with all the necessary facts and information in a relevant-to-all way to ensure youth are well informed and equipped to make the right decisions for themselves.

Georgina Vass has recently moved from New York to Singapore and has a Masters of Education in Human Sexuality from Widener University.  She has interned at the Sexuality Information and Education Council to the United States, volunteered at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and worked for the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy in New York City.


Kuen said...

Just raise the age of statutory rape to 21 and you'll have instant abstinence without going through all the troubles :D

Ms Demeanour said...

But surely that would open a very different can of worms??

Dawn said...

Great post.

Argh! Education policy fail. ;_; I doubt teaching students about protected sex (vis-a-vis abstinence) is offensive to Singaporeans under the age of 35... Certainly students would appreciate knowing where to go to get what and how to use em-- shouldn't contraceptives be free or subsidized to students, in discreet ways so as not to offend those who would be offended (teachers, parents)?

As Kirsten Han pointed out, there's already too much abstinence in our woeful secondary school sex ed. Repercussions to generations of that: friends my age (25) who aren't even clear where to buy oral contraceptives. Great embarrassment buying condoms at 7-11.

Maybe as a counteractive measure, parents here need to be educated on kids and sex ed. Clearly the school system trails ever further into irrelevance...! :P