Need to bring sexuality into the open: AWARE

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Need to bring sexuality into the open

Aware's sex education course equips kids with facts, skills to make wise choices

Monday May 28, 2007

Letter from Constance SingamPresident, Association of Women for Research and Education (AWARE)

We would like to respond to Mr Geoffrey Yeoh's concerns in his letter ("Parents be Aware of film's message", May 25) about our support of the film, Spider Lilies, and our comprehensive sexuality education programme.

Thank you, Mr Yeoh, for your support of Aware's goal of gender equality and your understanding and support of the work we do.

Aware welcomes open discussion and debate on issues, such as the one you have raised. We believe more openness leads to a better understanding of important issues and respect for individual choices.

We embrace diversity and individual choices, and are glad Singapore is now more open to discussing diversity. That films such as Spider Lilies and Brokeback Mountain have been or are being screened is a reflection of this more open and, hence, more healthy situation.

Aware's comprehensive sexuality education programme draws on established international programmes. It was developed over the course of a year in consultation with parents, youth social workers, teachers and academics from a range of institutions. As with our other programmes, it has been through a rigorous process of internal and external auditing and pilot testing. We have run the programme at secondary and post-secondary institutions, and received excellent feedback and requests for more sessions.

Young people need relevant information in order to protect their health and rights, and those of others. Research shows that comprehensive sexuality education is effective in providing adolescents with the tools, knowledge, skills, attitude and values to make responsible choices about their sexual health.

Our programme recognises that sexuality is not just about sexual intercourse. In addition to providing accurate information, it encourages students to explore their own values and develop the communication skills and self-respect necessary for positive and healthy living. It aims to replace silence and shame with information and skills.

By bringing sexuality into the open, young people are more likely to make wise, realistic and informed decisions. The programme also equips teens with the skills to resist peer pressure to have sex.

It was developed to complement other programmes and offer opportunities for healthy discussion in society about relationships and human sexuality because of the rising incidence of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), teenage pregnancies and abortions. The latest figures show 678 of those aged between 10 and 19 sought help for STIs in 2005, compared to 256 in 2001. Between 1985 and 2004, 18 teens were diagnosed as HIV-positive.

From 2001 to 2005, Health Ministry figures show an average of 1,500 teen abortions annually. In 2005, nearly all the 1,279 girls were between 15 and 19, and unmarried. Our programme will have a dramatic impact on curbing STIs and unwanted pregnancies.

We recognise Mr Yeoh's concerns are based on newspaper reports of our position and the movie. I would like to assure him that had he attended our comprehensive sexuality education programme, he would have been comforted to learn it has a holistic approach and covers a broad range of human experiences.

We are open to more discussion with Mr Yeoh and invite him and other like-minded readers to meet us. We will be happy to share with him more about the work we do and hope to engage in a constructive dialogue.