The Birds and The Bees … Are Heavy Petting
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In my final year of secondary school, my entire cohort was called to the hall for an “intervention”, after a girl from one of our classes (supposedly) got pregnant. I expected the teachers to explain to us exactly what happened, and precautions to take when engaging in sexual activity or how to experience pleasure responsibly. However, the hour long talk consisted of a teacher clicking through slides, showing us uncensored images of every sexually transmitted infection on the face of the earth. Without a trigger warning for what we were about to witness. This fear tactic was in no way informative or helpful in guiding us away from mistakes. It merely burned the image of vaginal crabs into my brain. 

This account reminds me of that satirical scene in Mean Girls where Coach Carr told students if they have sex, they will die. As hilarious as the movie is, Singapore’s sex education is not too far off. Like a parent dreading the “birds and the bees” talk, our local schools have succeeded in avoiding important issues about sex. Majority of the sex ed lessons that are taught in our schools rely on the idea that abstinence is the key to dealing with your hormonal urges, overtly villianising premarital sex. It’s like the government banning e-scooters from footpaths: it fails to tackle the root of the issue, safety, and instead outlaws the activity completely, frustrating many people in the process. As a young person who has sat through a countless number of sex ed lessons, especially in an all-girls catholic school for 10 years, I can safely say that none of the lessons stuck. Youths tend to deliberately disobey adults when they are told not to do something. MOE is under the illusion that young people, who are actually naturally curious, will listen intently to what they are told to do. In reality, young people have liberty over their own bodies, and with prevailing values of independence and empowerment in today’s world, we have become more inclined than ever to make our own decisions. Because of this, premarital sex is inevitable for many teenagers. Instead of a culture of shame and a terrorising approach, the sex ed syllabus needs to begin teaching teenagers values of mutual trust, respect and responsibility in interpersonal relationships.

We live in a country where abortions are not only legal, but validated for young women who do not wish to carry on with pregnancy. With exponentially advanced science and technology, there are many cures to common sexually transmitted diseases and infections. In this respect, it is no longer logical to scare young people into abstaining, because the consequences of their actions are actually much more minute compared to how teachers describe them to be.  In fact, it is precisely because there is a plethora of methods to ensure sexual safety in today’s world, that schools need to enlighten young people about the proper modus operandi if they ever choose to explore their physicality. 

This “sexual safety” goes beyond protection or contraception. With prevalent issues such as outrage of modesty and non consensual filming in Singapore, sexual consent, moral law, and other values that members of society should uphold need to be openly discussed. We cannot continue presuming students are too young to learn about these taboo topics, because crimes involving sex have regrettably become more pervasive in Singapore, so we need our youths to evolve to police themselves. 

The failure to discuss contemporary issues pertaining to sexuality poses a huge threat to young people, as they are insufficiently equipped to deal with the hormonal feelings most teenagers cannot suppress. Right now, schools are rather vague in teaching students content in sex ed. Secondary school biology classes present black-and-white diagrams of bizzare-looking sex organs, sex ed classes talk about how pornography is bad, but the syllabus fails to truly educate students on their body and sexuality, instead leaving teenagers with more questions. Consequently, impressionable children try to plug these gaps by using unorthodox methods. The vast world of the Internet, or god forbid, Tumblr, makes it extremely easy for young people to search for porn, which may in turn create a corrupt view young people have about sex. 

These effects are seen in the likes of SG Nasi Lemak, which had an appalling 40,000 members in 2019, many of whom spread lewd pictures and videos of young women in compromising positions, objectifying them and hypersexualising them. Or Nicholas Lim, who was the infamous perpetrator of the NUS peeping tom case against Monica Baey. These rogue behaviours do not occur in a vacuum. It is the result of poor education on sexual consent and respect for the sacrosanctity of the body. MOE needs to identify that these are the real problems of 2020, and they aren’t going away anytime soon unless schools lay the first cornerstone and educate young people on the importance of these moral values. This is how you tackle the problem at its roots. 

The tragedy that is Singapore’s sex education syllabus not only fails in protecting the sanctity of sexuality, it also neglects the existence of other sexualities. I’m not saying that the LGBTQ+ lifestyle needs to be discussed openly among students and teachers, but schools should at least acknowledge the existence of these people. It is completely deplorable that in a lesson covering topics such as learning about yourself and your preferences, some people’s lifestyle preferences are blatantly ignored altogether. MOE cannot abandon this community because in the long run, it may come back and bite our society in the ass. The syllabus omits the reality that STIs can still be transmitted between same-sex partners, which young people may not know. These people also have feelings and emotions in their relationships that deserve to be given guidance. Isn’t Singapore’s sex education supposed to ensure ALL our young people’s health and safety? 

What’s more, the lessons we see in our classrooms now barely cover the topics that so desperately need to be addressed, because a veil of shame has been draped over the idea of physical relationships. I once sat through an entire sex ed lesson where my teacher omitted the word “sex” altogether. She also painfully whispered “penis”, as if the word would summon satan himself. It is lamentable that the “holistic” scope of sex education that the MOE prides itself on uses words like “light petting” and “heavy petting” in their curricula. Sometimes, these terms seem so innocuous that students don’t even know they mean sexual acts. The importance of proper education calls for a sense of sobriety, which can only ever be obtained when we stop treating sex ed like a PG-13 topic, and start acknowledging it in all its gravitas. 

These lessons are also sparsely peppered throughout the year, scheduled in a way in which students forget whatever was taught in the last lesson by the time the next lesson comes around. Moreover, the people who host these “Form Teacher Guidance Periods” and “Growing Years” programmes are school teachers who are qualified on the basis of a week-long course. Therein lies a question: Are these teachers truly competent enough to guide open discussions about sexuality and safe sex? Most students, if not all, are uncomfortable with discussing sex with the same teacher who teaches them mathematics. Perhaps it is time to take sex ed more seriously and employ greater means, like professional speakers, to give youths more enriching lessons. 

A serious paradigm shift needs to occur for Singapore. Certainly, I do not expect that this will happen instantaneously, but the adverse effects of our current prehistoric syllabus can be dismantled slowly by educating and empowering each other on the moral values behind sexuality. Maybe by reading this Op-Ed, young people will realise how sparse our education about this crucial topic has been, and begin to push the boundaries of sex ed in Singapore by reading up on issues about sexuality, or actively supporting people’s (responsible) sexual choices instead of condemning them. Hopefully, this trailblazing will ensure future young people will be given a wider scope of learning about sexuality and interpersonal relationships, instead of the colossal joke which was my sexual education experience. 

Reference List: 

Channel News Asia (2019)–Leaked sex tapes and child porn: A look into 13 illicit Telegram chat groups:

The Straits Times (2019)–Monica Baey and Nicholas Lim speak out: 

Ministry of Education (2020)– Sexuality Education: Scope and teaching approach:

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