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So, you clicked on this article.
What was running through your mind as you read that title? Confusion? Indignation? A childish feeling of exploring something “taboo”?
These are raw, powerful emotions that sex – a perfectly natural human activity – has brought to the forefront of your primate brain. But most of us leave it at that – we don’t stop to question why we don’t feel the same way for other perfectly natural human activities, like eating or breathing.
Sex sells. It sells specifically because it’s such a taboo topic in Singapore and no one has bothered to address that.
Wait, scratch that. Someone has bothered to address that – only you probably haven’t noticed because it was done so poorly.
Out of date, out of place
In the year 2000, sexuality education was first introduced into the curriculum. Over the course of two decades, this programme has been changed one time: in 2012, to incorporate the Growing Years programme.
As much as I’d like to tell you that sexuality education has sluggishly stagnated over the years, truth be told, it’s not just stagnating, it’s actively pushing itself towards irrelevance.
In 2017, the government stopped hiring external vendors to teach sexuality education; in 2019, surveys showed 60% of Singaporean students did not take measures to avoid pregnancy or STDs; in 2020, a panel of ITE students lambasted the system for being inconsistent and lacking depth, requesting its extension past the JC level.
This stagnation can be traced back to the Ministry of Education’s archaic and frankly, inaccurate model of education. Take a gander at their response to the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) guide for sexuality education, which claims, and I quote, “[AWARE’s guide]… could be seen to promote homosexuality and pre-marital sex”, which “contradicted” the MOE framework for sexuality education, said to represent “mainstream ideals”.
Step back from this screen for a second.
Education. Noun. A process of teaching, training, and learning to improve knowledge and develop skills.
Regardless of your identity, your political stance, or whether you prefer cats or dogs, you will probably agree with me on this simple matter: that educators educate. They don’t censor or skip over bits of the text they dislike; imagine failing your physics exam because your teacher had a personal vendetta against Newton! When educators do that, they don’t educate.
Propaganda. Noun. Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, is used to promote a political cause or point of view.
At this point, dear reader, you may or may not be very much inclined to peg me down as “too liberal” or “anti-Singapore”. So let’s move this conversation away from the two of us.
Let’s look at one of the seventy-one sexual assault cases NUS has had to handle over the past five years: Monica Baey. She single-handedly sparked a nationwide debate on sexual harassment and received a Woman of Courage award from AWARE (the organisation MOE was apparently too good for).
“A prosecution, with a possible jail sentence, will likely ruin his entire future.”
This was the spark that became a flame – the SPF’s defence of how Baey’s assaulter got off with a “conditional warning”, a mere slap on the wrist. Off the record, Ms Baey was allegedly told by officers to “just accept the outcome”.
This entire case stinks of institutionalised misogyny, patriarchism and injustice. To be clear, the “institution” I am referring to here is not the SPF, NUS, or MOE.
It is the entirety of this anachronistic country; it is the people around us. It is you, and yes, it is me.
Stuck in the past
The stigma against discussing sex is deeply rooted in every one of us. It is precisely because our society has failed to address pressing concerns about it that so many of these cases are happening again and again.
This topic was recently broached in Parliament as an adjournment motion; MP Raeesah Khan argued for “mandatory”, “relatable” sexuality education, while Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling maintained that the status quo was more than sufficient. Just ten days later, Ms Raeesah referenced said motion in an Instagram post that highlighted two new cases involving the sexual assault of minors, including a “12 [year] old…raped…[by] a man [who] reportedly stayed over in her home”. It seems that there’s a reason behind all this we just can’t seem to agree upon.
I needed to find out that reason as much as you do, so I interviewed a member of the Let’s Talk About Sex (LTAS) group in Tembusu College, Blake (not their real name). LTAS is pretty much self-explanatory – they are an organisation that gathers for sex-related discussions and sharing sessions (Blake tells me a common misconception is that they have orgies – they don’t).
“To understand more about sex, it’s important to base our understandings in real, lived experiences, rather than from media or porn,” Blake says, “porn usually depicts unrealistic and romanticised ideals of how sex should look like…[it perpetuates] misogynistic ideas, like sex is a ‘game’ where men try and ‘get’ sex from women.”
“It low-key implies…sexual assault and coercion is okay.”
“Trans, lesbian, and disabled communities… are either fetishised and/or excluded from what is considered ‘normal’/‘acceptable’ ways of having sex.”
Blake’s message is exactly what we need to hear. When we are all part of the problem, we must work together to find a solution. Obviously, educators should take considerations such as the maturity and age of the students into account. But sexuality education as-is takes these concerns to such an extreme that many turn to pornography as a sexual outlet, instilling unhealthy conceptions of what sex is that perpetuate even more horrific sexual crimes.
It’s a vicious cycle, really, but it could all stop.
It could all stop if we sat down and had a nice long talk about sex.
“Adjournment Motion on Sexuality Education as First Line of Defence against Sexual Violence.” CNA, 6 July 2021, www.channelnewsasia.com/news/parliament/videos/july/adjournment-motion-on-sexuality-education-as-first-line-of-15166082.
Basciano, Serafina-Annemarie. “Survey Shows That Youth in Singapore Lack Knowledge of Sexual Health.” The New Paper, 18 Apr. 2019, www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/survey-shows-youth-singapore-lack-knowledge-sexual-health.
“Education.” Oxford Advanced American Dictionary, www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/american_english/education. Accessed 17 July 2021.
Liviniyah. “Sexuality Education | Infopedia.” Eresources.Nlb.Gov.Sg, 17 May 2019, Eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_2019-05-17_165337.html#:%7E:text=The%20sexuality%20education%20programme%20was%20introduced%20to%20schools%20in%202000.&text=In%20a%20survey%20conducted%20by,be%20consulted%20on%20such%20issues.
Low, Vincent. “Lawyers Puzzled Why AG Didn’t Want to Prosecute NUS Peeping Tom.” The Online Citizen Asia, 23 Apr. 2019, www.theonlinecitizen.com/2019/04/23/lawyers-puzzled-why-ag-didnt-want-to-prosecute-nus-peeping-tom.
Min, Ang Hwee. “Sexuality Education External Vendors Not Used since 2017: MOE.” CNA, 9 Feb. 2021, www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/sexuality-education-external-vendors-not-used-since-2017-moe-11992034.
“MOE Suspends Aware’s Guide for Schools.” Eresources.Nlb.Gov.Sg, 2009, eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/newpaper20090507-188.8.131.52.
“NUS Peeping Tom given Conditional Warning as He Was Assessed to Have ‘High Likelihood of Rehabilitation’: Police.” TODAYonline, 23 Apr. 2019, www.todayonline.com/singapore/nus-peeping-tom-given-conditional-warning-he-was-assessed-have-high-likelihood.
“Propaganda.” Lexico.Com, www.lexico.com/definition/propaganda. Accessed 17 July 2021.
Raeesah, Khan. (@raeesahfaridkhan). “Just today alone, there were two articles…” Instagram, 14 Kul. 2021, https://www.instagram.com/p/CRRSU8klA6c/?utm_medium=copy_link
Teng, Amelia. “71 Sexual Misconduct Cases Handled by NUS over 5 Years.” The Straits Times, 6 Jan. 2021, www.straitstimes.com/singapore/parenting-education/71-sexual-misconduct-cases-handled-by-nus-over-5-years.