By Cong. Mong Palatino, Kabataan Partylist
Sex education was first introduced in Philippine schools in 1972 as part of the government’s population education program. At the time, the Philippines’ birth rates were the highest in Asia. But when the education department tried to update the program module in 2006, the powerful Catholic Church opposed it.
To convince the Church that the new sex education curriculum includes broader topics like sexual rights, responsible parenthood and HIV/AIDS, the program was renamed ‘reproductive health education.’ Then, when the church continued to oppose it, the subject was again renamed the ‘teen wellness program.’ But the Church insists it’s still sex and so it continues to reject it.
Since the executive branch of government is afraid to antagonize the influential Church hierarchy, the teaching of sex and reproductive health in public schools still isn’t enforced. This has disappointed health experts and human rights advocates who want politicians to ignore the medieval arguments of the Church. Public officials, they say, should instead stand up for the rights of young Filipinos who deserve to be informed and be more aware of their bodies and reproductive health rights. This will help reduce cases of unwanted pregnancies, abortion among teenagers, spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and maternal mortality.
Studies also show that implementing sex education in schools allows the youth to have a proper understanding of sexual values, which would help them delay their initiation to sexual relations. Guardians of morality will be happy to know that teachers can actually encourage their students to practice abstinence before marriage.
As the education department continues to fine-tune its sex education curriculum according to the wishes of the conservative Church, Congress is now preparing to tackle the much-discussed Reproductive Health Bill which proposes, among others, the mandatory inclusion of age-appropriate sex education in elementary and high schools. The Church, as expected, is also busy opposing the legislation of this bill.
But the clerics and other critics should not worry too much about the plan to require the teaching of sex in schools. Schools will not teach promiscuity and pornography. Only trained teachers will handle the special course prepared by education and health agencies. Parents will not be denied of their primary and natural right to teach their children since they will be given relevant and scientific materials on reproductive health.
The proposed topics for the sex education curriculum are not new but essential for the promotion of the well-being of the youth. Some of the listed topics in the Reproductive Health Bill include: 1) knowledge and skills in self-protection against discrimination, sexual violence and abuse, and teen pregnancy; 2) physical, social and emotional changes in adolescents; 3) children’s and women’s rights; 4) fertility awareness; 5) responsible relationships; 6) family planning methods; 7) proscription and hazards of abortion; and 8) gender and development.
It’ll take some time before Congress is able to gather enough votes and muster the courage to pass the bill. The new president, while supportive of the right for couples to use contraceptives, continues to echo the Church-backed slogan of responsible parenthood. And while many schools have already integrated sex education into their programs, the majority of students are still deprived of the opportunity to learn about many of the truths and myths of sex.
If the Church will choose to be stubborn and block the passage of Reproductive Health bill, sex education can still succeed by tapping the learning potential of the Internet. An alternative option for curious Filipino teenagers is to go online and seek information from trusted websites. Porn websites may dominate the web but there are useful websites that provide proper education about sex. A good example is sexxie.tv, which was established in Singapore by medical specialists a few months ago. Recently launched in Indonesia and the Philippines, it’s the world’s first interactive website that focuses on sex education and one that parents can (finally) recommend to their children. Aside from offering free services, another good feature of this website is the anonymity it provides to interested readers and visitors.
But even with the utilization of technology, sex education is still most effective if implemented in a traditional school setting. We still need health experts and teachers who can discuss sensitive sex concepts directly to students. Classroom interaction is more persuasive than virtual interaction. And internet penetration has yet to reach the remotest parts of the provinces.
And as for the Philippine government, its policymakers should realize that teaching sex to young Filipinos is not a religious issue that’ll be decided by bishops alone. If the people, especially the youth, want it, the government should be ready to offer it through schools, clinics, community centers—even cyberspace.
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