Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Let's talk about sex, baby

Yesterday, The New Paper ran a story about how some NUS orientation camps have become increasingly sexualised. Some of the activities the kids had to do were just plain disturbing. Even when I was in NUS yonks ago, there was a tendency to push activities down the boy-girl route. I remember in the NUSSU camp, a musical chairs game where the boys were the "chairs" and the girls had to sit on their laps. That was as far as it got though and considered mild by today's standards, if the news reports are anything to go by.

But more than the games themselves, which are horrible enough, what's even more appalling to me is that the students who organised these games didn't see what's wrong. In this article, there were students who said some girls just like to complain, accused them of being narrow-minded, or said they could simply sit out, what's the big deal.

It IS a big deal. And it bugs me to see that 21-year-old men who have served NS and considered adults, are unable to see that trivialising rape culture and objectifying women are NOT OK. It reminds me of those frat parties in the US where your alpha males and females will subject noobs to demeaning activities so they can belong to a club. I suspect it's the same here - just a small group of individuals looking to boost their own egos and power by humiliating the freshmen. It's called bullying. Why should someone, who joined an orientation camp to get to know more people and the university, have to choose to sit out of doing a cheer? Just because someone thought it was funny to put in dirty words? By the way, that's not adult. That's extremely juvenile.

Part of the problem I feel, can be attributed to the woefully lacking sex education programme we have in Singapore. Unless you have enlightened parents who tell you what you need to know at home, you're going to learn nothing in school. Or at least, random bits and pieces that you struggle to make sense of yourself, usually in whispers among friends. In sec3, Lesley-Anne had a sex ed session in school. This was the video shown: a girl wanted to sleep with this guy who, unbeknownst to her, previously had unprotected sex with a prostitute. Both of them lie side by side on a bed fully clothed. They go under a pink blanket and emerge 2 seconds later, still fully clothed and not even touching each other. Voila! Two weeks later, they both have HIV and are going to die.

When Lesley-Anne told me about this video, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It's ludicrous beyond belief. What is the message we're sending to the confused kids? "You can have sex in 2 seconds without taking off your clothes!" "Sex leads to death!" "Pink blankets are dangerous!"

Lesley-Anne's teacher tried to make the session more educational by allowing for questions but the students were too afraid to ask much. One girl finally asked "How does it work?" (meaning sex). Unfortunately, the teacher thought she was trolling and didn't answer the question.

So here's the thing: why do we assume that kids know how sex works? Oh sure, most of them know the dictionary definition but how can that even be enough to address the messy and complex issue of sex? For example, the definition for oral sex is "to sexually stimulate orally". For a long time, Lesley-Anne thought that meant talking dirty or kissing. When you think about it, it does sound logical. How would you know what it was if nobody explained it to you?

By the time the students hit JC, the school assumes (wrongly) that the kids would know the mechanics of sex, so once again, sex ed is focused on the dangers of STDS, complete with graphic images meant to make the students wince. In fact, the talk Lesley-Anne attended harped on and on about the dangers of sex, how you can get pregnant, get all kinds of diseases and how even tests for STDs can be false negatives! By the way, it's so ironic that her JC principal at other times tell the students that it's their responsibility in the future to "go and procreate for Singapore".

This skewed form of sex ed means that most kids only have a vague idea about sex and are afraid to ask since the message they've been receiving is that it's dangerous and downright wrong. I feel that in Singapore, MOE is pressured to preach abstinence, either by religious groups or proponents of the "Asian values" camp. Hence, sex ed here is very moralistic and focuses on STDs instead of real information.

I think we've gotten all muddled because we're unable to distinguish between values and fact. Abstinence is a value. It is a choice to be yielded by the individual. It should not influence information-giving. I find it terribly parochial how some people feel national messages and programmes should only provide information in line with their own values. I especially take issue with alarmists who think teaching children about sex is encouraging them to have pre-marital sex. Aiyoh. That's like saying since I advise my daughter not to walk in alleyways after dark, I don't have to teach her how to defend herself. In fact, I shouldn't teach her cos that would make her want to go out walking after dark!

Do parents honestly think that in this age, they can realistically enforce abstinence by withholding information? When kids can't get information from official channels, they turn to unofficial ones - mostly friends (who are equally in the dark) and well, porn. And that's why you have student orientation leaders who think it's fun and perfectly ok to simulate rape and ejaculation, and get girls to lick cream off a boy's bare chest.

Sex is such a multi-faceted issue and the level of ignorance (coupled with the raging hormones) among our youth is simply trouble waiting to happen. Schools have the opportunity to educate students about sex - properly, responsibly and factually...and they're not doing that. We need to teach our kids what sex entails, how it affects them physically, emotionally and mentally, and also very important related concepts such as consent. Not constant fear-mongering.

As parents, it's up to us to cultivate the values we want in our kids. Honestly, if you're afraid that your child will engage in pre-marital sex once she knows more about it, then perhaps it's time to examine why the values weren't that well embedded at home in the first place. On the contrary, good sex ed teaches you how to value your body and yourself, and treating others with respect. That's a good thing and that's what we need for our kids.

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