The glaring screen sized you up. You thought it believed your facade of innocence but its stare made you assess twice. The room felt hot. Your shoulders connected with people. Your legs grew closer together. There was barely any space, yet you managed. You latched eyes with a friend and noticed the air of mischief around them. Slowly, inaudibly, your friend mouthed: S-E-X. A surrounding chuckle followed then someone loudly remarked a sexual innuendo.
You may have smiled behind cupped hands. Or maybe have bitten your tongue to prevent grinning. But, surely, despite the rowdy room filled with snickering children and an annoyed teacher situated at the front, the topic of discussion piqued your interest. For within the glowing screen, dark letters matter on sexuality.
The orientation varies from class to class, or family to family but all conversations bear similar characteristics. Despite the differences in countries or people, Asian communities uphold inadequate sexuality education.
Some reasons for inadequate sexuality education
- Taboo – Conversations relevant to human sexuality are treated as confidential and shameful. This has made human sexuality into something ‘unnatural’ which should be kept private. The indignity associated with sexuality makes it difficult to openly speak about views and experiences.
- Objectification – Society has normalised objectifying bodies to the point of sexuality becoming an uncomfortable topic. Society fetishises bodies to the point where girls are dress-coded for wearing comfortable clothes, and boys receive comments on how ‘hot’ they’ll grow up to be. The fear of being deemed as a sexual object affects our mentality toward Sex Ed.
- Religion – Most religious views conflict with sexuality education topics such as abortion, birth controls and contraceptives, along with same-sex marriage. The emphasis on abstinence and the distress of being called a ‘sinner’ hinders proper education.
Some consequences of inadequate sexuality education
- Misunderstanding of Sexuality Education – The lack of sexuality education forms the perception that the subject only tackles sex. Sexuality education expounds on notions such as relationships, sexual diversity, puberty, gender equality, and discrimination against sexuality. Misunderstandings exacerbate the taboo attached to sexuality education.
- More prone to sexually transmitted infections – Inadequate sexuality education prohibits the discussions of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The lack of information about what STIs are and how to prevent STIs place adolescents at high risk of transmitting and receiving them.
- Unhealthy relationships – Sexuality education teaches adolescents about their rights to their bodies. The lack of conversations regarding sex and consent perpetuates unhealthy sexual relationships and sexual abuse. This significantly influences the non-recognition of marital sexual assault.
- Lack of understanding of LGBTQ+ matters – Improper sexuality education neglects discussions about the LGBTQ+ community. The lack of awareness increases discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Comprehensive sexuality education would encourage comprehension and empathy toward LGBTQ+ matters.
Sexuality Education in Asia
A study by UNESCO in 2012 identified the laws and policies in 28 Asian and Pacific countries relevant to sexuality education. The table below includes data on the research:
- 15 out of 28 countries have a full set of laws and policies relating to sexual education. These countries include Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan and others.
- 13 out of 20 countries with a law of policy on HIV specifically references education. These countries include Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan and others.
- Countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, and Sri Lanka have HIV policies that target all levels of education for comprehensive sexuality education.
- Countries such as Bangladesh, Philippines, and Vietnam have population and reproductive health policies that specify the need for sexuality education to be provided from the primary level.
- National Youth Policies in countries such as India emphasises the vitality of sexuality education to reduce STIs and promote sexual and reproductive health.
UNESCO addressed the crucial contribution of the population and reproductive health, youth, and HIV laws and policies to the sexuality education in the countries. However, UNESCO’s study exposes the necessity for further development of sexuality education in education laws or policies. The gaps in legal laws or policies that directly tackle sexuality education must be overcome with constant advocacy effort.
Asia’s Sexuality Education: A Closer Look
Sexual health is stigmatised in India. Adolescents rarely receive the proper education or the proper discussion with their guardians. This results in increased rates of teen pregnancy. The United Nations states that 28.7% of women in India give birth to their first child before the age of 15.
There was a time when the current Indian Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, wanted to ban sex education. Minister Harsh Vardhan believed sexuality education to conflict with traditional Indian values. Around the same time, teachers were threatened with violence not to teach sexuality education. Due to this, many states banned sexuality education. However, since 2018, sexuality education programs have been implemented throughout India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In 2018, about 40% of teenagers aged 17 to 19 were dissatisfied with Japan’s sex education. Sexuality education in Japan consists of bodily developments with fully clothed individuals as visual aids seen in textbooks.
Japan’s approach to sexuality education hasn’t always been like this. In 2003, a special needs school taught sex-ed through dolls and songs, a method which was not specified by the national curriculum. This incident was brought to Japan’s Supreme Court. The court ruled in favour of the school against the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education (BoE). The BoE amended its sexuality education handbook and placed students at a disadvantage due to the restriction of topics.
There are very few articles detailing the state of Turkey’s sexuality education. It is mentioned that sex education is not part of Turkey’s national curriculum. Additionally, sex education is infrequently referred to in school and the university syllabus. Some Turkish universities offer elective sexuality education courses, however, they are very few.
Asians Combating the Taboo
RedTalks (@letsredtalks), co-founded by six friends, is “youth-led & powering to normalise periods, advance sex education, spark conversations, and provide a safe space for all to do so”.
Charmaine Cheong began working with King on RedTalks in 2018. Cheong highlights that sexuality education does not instruct the youth to have sex but rather equips them with facts on consent, anatomy, reproduction, contraception, and sexually transmitted infections.
Sara Tang, a certified sex coach, organises and runs the podcast Better in Bed. In her podcast, she shares her experiences on how being a Singaporean woman impacted her views on sexuality.
Tang believes that the topic of sex is widely thought as taboo in Asian culture. Due to this, individuals are exposed to guilt concerning sexual behaviour. Therefore, expressing one’s self to a significant other, the family and even health care providers is arduous.
Vithika Yadav is the co-founder of Love Matters India. Yadav is a human rights activist who is passionate about gender rights as well as Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). She has also fought against human trafficking and slavery.
Love Matters is the leading digital Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights platform in India. Yadav’s platform offers non-biased information on love, sex and relationships. She aims to narrow the gap between the youth, SRHR organisations, and service providers.
Overall, quality sexuality education is absent in most Asian countries. This stems from how deeply controversial the topic is for our conservative communities. Factors such as shame, objectification, and religious beliefs hamper progress. To combat the issue, we must challenge harmful conservative opinions. Therefore, comprehensive sexuality education should be provided to debunk myths, decrease unintended pregnancies, and decrease sexually transmitted infections. For sexuality education to be effective, it must be taught from a young age through comfortable and engaging methods. Subjects such as sexual diversity, stigmas, discrimination, and relationships should be explored.
As Asia and Asian communities begin to learn more about human sexuality, we begin to foster better relationships with ourselves and the people around us.
Asia needs more, and better, sex education (yahoo.com)
Cover illustrator: Katie Carey
Cover Source: https://www.spectrumnews.org/opinion/viewpoint/adolescents-autism-need-access-better-sex-education/
Edited by Jack Hillis