YOUR LETTERS

Rethink what we teach teens about sex

Students at Broadrick Secondary are getting ready for a sex education class.
Students at Broadrick Secondary are getting ready for a sex education class. PHOTO: ST FILE

The study highlighted in last Sunday's report ("More teenage boys paying for sex: Study") sheds light on a situation that many of us working in the field of youth sexual health have known for some time: That it is not uncommon for young men in post-secondary education and national service to be pressured by peers to have sexual experiences with female sex workers.

According to the statistics reported, although there was an almost twofold percentage increase in the number of boys visiting sex workers, there has not been a corresponding increase in the number of teens diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) ("Sexuality education 'helps cut infection rate' "; last Sunday).

Hence, we shouldn't isolate sex workers as a "major source of infection", or attribute this trend to vice websites and online pornography.

Instead, as a responsible community, we need to discuss other issues uncovered by the findings: Our society's definition of masculinity in relation to a young man's sexual behaviour with the opposite sex, the adequacy of sexuality and sexual health education for teens, and the effectiveness of these efforts.

We understand that the Health Promotion Board has a range of online resources which help parents engage their children on these issues.

We note the significant absence of appropriate sexuality and sexual health education in mainstream schools. Many of our counselling clients report that, in their experience, such programmes at school are often awkward at best, or inaccurate and judgmental at worst.

Additionally, we are aware that the Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Clinic provides well-utilised, community-focused sexual health screening and treatment services.

Yet, we note the significant absence of appropriate sexuality and sexual health education in mainstream schools. Many of our counselling clients report that, in their experience, such programmes at school are often awkward at best, or inaccurate and judgmental at worst.

In our work with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youngsters, we help raise their awareness of how STIs are transmitted, instead of stigmatising the people they choose to have sex with, including sex workers or casual partners.

Often, a powerful message that stays with them is the sense of ownership about how they choose to have safer sex, rather than with whom.

Perhaps it is time for all of us to reconsider not just why we need to talk about sex with our teens, but also when to do it and how it should be done.

Leow Yangfa

Executive Director

Oogachaga

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 17, 2016, with the headline 'Rethink what we teach teens about sex'. Print Edition | Subscribe