Forum: Sex education must teach young people to deal with situations in the real world

I agree with Ms Sneha Sundar Rajan that mandating compulsory body safety programmes for pre-schoolers could be an effective way to curb sexual violence against the most vulnerable in our society - children (Make body safety programmes compulsory for pre-schoolers, May 19).

However, I also fear that sexuality education over a child's life is not enough of a solution to sexual violence.

Students in Singapore currently undergo a handful of brief, discrete sessions at various intervals over the course of their education - after which they are considered sufficiently expert in matters relating to sex.

But imagine the time it takes to master a new skill or language. It takes a similar amount of consistent practice to become fluent and comfortable in the values of consent and respect.

When learning a language, we come to understand how words might have different meanings in different contexts. The same is true for sex education. It takes some expertise and familiarity with sexual dynamics to read a situation, and understand the various non-verbal cues that indicate consent or its absence.

Unesco-recommended comprehensive sexuality education can equip young people to deal with such situations in the real world. Studies have shown that it also leads to improved knowledge on reproductive and sexual health, reduces the rates of sexually transmitted infections, diseases and unintended pregnancies, and stimulates more gender-equal attitudes.

I worry that what little sex education is currently provided to young people here is neither comprehensive nor transferable outside of the classroom.

Sexuality education needs to be a sustained, non-judgmental and open conversation - one that evolves and deepens the older the student gets.

Young children can be taught concepts and values that will eventually translate into topics more appropriate for young adults as they hit their teenage years. For example, consent can be taught through non-sexual situations that still centre on a person's boundaries - for example, whether we should force someone else to hug us.

Even young children deserve the basic building blocks to make responsible and well-informed choices.

By introducing healthy behaviours from an early age, and keeping an open and safe space for children to ask necessary questions, we can empower a generation of enlightened, respectful and upstanding Singaporeans.

Rene Caroline Tan