Our writer has only one word to describe Singapore’s sex education. Read on for his take on this issue and how gender-equality organisation Aware’s new online resource can help demystify this oh-so-tricky topic.
If you ask me my thoughts on sexuality education in Singapore, I’d say it’s “non-existent”, for the most part. The only sex education I received in secondary school was a video depicting childbirth. My classmates and I weren’t sure what the video was supposed to teach; we were shocked by what was playing on the television. Some of the boys got rowdy and attempted to make the session lighthearted. However, their efforts made it all the more uncomfortable.
On top of that, the teacher facilitating our session didn’t explain anything about the whole situation. “Just watch the video!” she hollered at us. Her face was a pale shade of pink. After the video ended, she resumed her science lesson as if nothing had happened.
That’s not the end of it, dear readers. Later during the same school year, we were required to fill out a form concerning our puberty changes. A male classmate asked the teacher (a different one this time) what “pubic hair” meant. She struggled to answer, though she fared slightly better than the other teacher.
Come on, it can’t be THAT bad, right?
Anything related to sex is (still) considered taboo in Singapore. Thus, adolescents turn to the internet for their sex education. That, or they talk about it with their peers and compare notes. Why are the kids not approaching their parents and talking about it? Well, that’s like guaranteeing yourself a one-way permanent ticket to Awkward City, Nag Town, and maybe even Distrustland.
According to a national survey conducted by independent research agency Blackbox in 2020, only half of the parents polled were comfortable talking to their children about sex education. This is in stark contrast to their belief that parents should be responsible for teaching sex education to their offspring.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education claims that “students will learn about the physical, emotional, social, and ethical dimensions of human sexuality” in school. Sexuality education is conducted from Primary 5 (11 years old) to junior colleges (18 years old). Unfortunately, it seems the takeaway message students derive from the lesson is to abstain from sex. Or, if they are to engage in sexual activities, they’ll get pregnant or contract sexually-transmitted diseases. Fearmongering is the modus operandi when it comes to mainstream sex education.
This is where Aware steps in – and steps up
Gender-equality organisation Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has been involved in sex education for the longest time. In 2009, the group was embroiled in a controversy concerning its sexuality education programme. Specifically, the brouhaha surrounded a 15-minute segment that defined terms such as anal sex and homosexuality. The programme was not offered to schools the following year.
In late July of this year, Aware launched Sex Ed, Declassified, an online portal targeted at those in their late teens and older. The website was developed by staff and volunteers after in-depth conversations with youths who had gone through Singapore’s sex education. Sex, Ed Declassified is also conceptualised to dispel common myths with accurate, science-based information.
What to know about Sex Ed, Declassified
Sex Ed, Declassified shares a curated list of local and international sex education resources. These include relevant websites, videos, podcasts, and more. Aware has determined the list to be trustworthy, inclusive, and non-judgmental.
Visitors can navigate five themed sections: “Big Picture Stuff”, “Bodies & Health”, “Relationships & Sex”, “Gender & Orientation”, and “Singapore Resources”. They can also click on the drop-down menu on the main page, which covers concerns such as consensual sex, coming out, and birth control options. Each option presents a set of resources that addresses those concerns.
What we really like is the listed local resources. The section highlights Singapore-based organisations one can reach out to if you require more information and support. It covers various topics, including Singapore’s laws and policies, sexual orientation, and crisis support. We would love an option in the drop-down menu for parents – “I want to know how to broach the topic with my children”, perhaps?
The site also complements Aware’s existing sexuality education offerings, such as its Birds & Bees workshop series for parents. The offerings are not highlighted on the site, which we find odd. It would be good to have a section promoting the events related to the topic.
The state of sexuality education in Singapore today
Even with the launch of Sex Ed, Declassified, sex education in Singapore still has plenty of room for improvement. Case in point: the Hwa Chong Institution debacle, in which a school counsellor presented inaccurate and homophobic statistics during their sexuality education lesson. There’s even a Reddit Ask Singapore thread asking users how Singapore’s sex education can be improved.
“Until comprehensive sexuality education is provided by Singapore schools, young people looking to understand consent, sexual pleasure, and other topics insufficiently covered in the mainstream syllabus may well use these resources to supplement their learning,” said Kelly Leow, Aware’s senior communications manager.
Even though young people can easily access information on sex education online, parents still have a major stake in discussing and teaching the topic with their children. Is it a tricky topic to navigate? Sure, but if they don’t learn about it from you, they’re still going to find out about it eventually. And that’s a trickier path to navigate.
Relevant events to take note of
Aware is holding two online workshops via Zoom this month! Declassify Sex Ed! is taking place on Wednesday, 7 September, at 5pm. It digs deep into honest real-life experiences with sex education. This event is most suitable for ages 18 and above; attendees younger than 18 are advised to be accompanied by an adult.
The second event, Sexual Assault First Responder Training, is being held on Wednesday, 28 September, at 4pm. This online workshop familiarises participants with trauma reactions and symptoms to better contribute to a survivor’s well-being.
While both events are free, a minimum contribution is welcome.
What are your thoughts on sex education? DM us – we’d love to hear them.