It’s a real privilege for me to have the chance to give a talk, ‘How can we talk about the taboo and the illegal’, at this year’s IndigNation. http://indignationsg.wordpress.com/
Some topics are more challenging than others to talk about in the classroom setting. Topics like,
1. Homosexuality – How do you de-stigmatise homosexuality, get homosexual students to practise safe sex, when you have the 377A law?
2. Under-aged sex – How do you get under-aged teens to practise safe sex, or seek medical treatment early, when their beloved partners might be jailed?
3. STI/HIV destigmatisation – How do you impress upon teens the severity of these illnesses without scare-mongering, and yet de-stigmatise these conditions at the same time?
4. Condom usage – How do you get teens to practise safe sex without over-stating the effectiveness of condoms, and without “preaching promiscuity”?
5. Trust and abuse — How do you get teens in a monogamous relationship to consistently use condoms, when love and trust are essential for a healthy relationship?
It’s a short 20min talk on this subject of Taboo and Illegal topics, followed by what I hope will be a lively discussion with the audience =)
( Disclaimer: I am giving this talk in my own personal capacity, and will NOT represent the views of any organization / faith. )
23 August Sunday
Triple bill: Kings and condoms 7 pm @ 72-13 (72-13 Md Sultan Road)
Michael Jackson and The Man In The Mirror: In the wake of Micheal Jackson’s passing, Otto Fong reflects on what he – a gay Asian who studied in America – learnt from African Americans before, during and after Jackson’s reign as the King of Pop.
The same ties that bind: A 20-minute video exploration of the various elements that determine a gay person’s acceptance within the family: family love, prejudice, religion, etc.
How can we talk about the taboo and the illegal: Mathia Lee in her talk discusses the challenges she faced as a Comprehensive Sexuality Education instructor, in bringing into the classroom topics like 1. Homosexuality 2. Underaged sex 3. STI/HIV destigmatisation 4. Condom usage 5. Trust and abuse.
In sum, this forum looks the process of acknowledging a gay person in our midst, and dealing with issues of self-acceptance, family acceptance and education.
I think our teacher molested us, over a period of 2 years, more than a decade ago when we were in Sec 3. We were a girls’ school, we didn’t know what to do about it then. Even now, I am not going to name any names, because I don’t want to have to defend myself in court. By naming names, they would have the right to sue me and summon me to court to substantiate my claims. I still don’t really know for sure if this was molest, I’ll just tell our story as it happened, and you be the judge.
We were an all girls’ school. The teacher taught us one of the Pure Science subjects in upper secondary for both years. He was a very engaging and interesting teacher, and so his students often did well because it was so easy to understand and enjoy his lessons.
As part of the practical (laboratory) lessons, we had to look down microscopes and perform dissections on flowers etc. The teacher would walk around the lab to check on us and make sure we were doing things the right way.
When he saw that a girl needed help, or if he needed to point out something about the way she did her experiment, he would stand behind her and stick his arm through the space between her body and her arm in order to guide her through the dissection/microscopy etc (seen the movie Ghost? Remember the pottery session? ). Back then, we sat on those high lab wooden stools, and our arms would be outstretched because they were busy doing the experiment on the table. As he stuck his hand through that very narrow gap, it would conveniently and unfailingly brush against her body.
After a few times of having these accidental brushes against my breasts, I learnt to do my experiments with my arms glued tightly to the sides of my body. Whenever I saw him coming, I’ll make sure I stood or moved aside, so that he had to stand beside me, and not behind me. But sometimes, I was so engrossed in the experiment, I forgot.
Another thing he liked to do was to share seats with students, especially the girls sitting along the middle aisle, and I was one of those girls. Those lab wooden stools were really small, the diameter of my 13-inch laptop. But because we had to lean forward to do the experiment, we often unconsciously sat on the edge of our stool — but the small size meant our butts took up half the stool. The teacher would be walking around, and then he would decide to share the seat with one of the girls sitting that way. The small size of the stool meant lots of body contact. But because everyone was sitting and paying attention, we felt very uncomfortable being the only one standing up.
After a few times of sharing my seat. I learnt to sit on my entire stool seat completely, lean forward and do my experiments with my arms glued to the sides of my body.
Because the lab was so huge, and because he liked doing demonstrations of experiments, he would often ask the entire class of 40 to crowd round the teacher’s bench at the front. After the demo, he would walk through the crowd with his hands outstretched to “push” his way through the crowd.
After a few times of having his hands “push” against my breasts (I don’t know how he can aim so accurately, not just once, but a few times! ) I learnt to fold my arms across my chest and make a lot of room for him the moment he looked like he was finishing with the demo.
The difficulty of reporting him – we were scared and confused
It was these sort of small things. Was it molest?
We talked about it amongst ourselves, even until today, more than 10 years later. We realized that not all, but only a handful of girls experienced this, but often, these girls experienced it repeatedly.
Back then, we spent so much time thinking of what we should/could do. He was a teacher of many many years, very well reputed, and popular amongst many previous batches of students. He was a figure of authority in the education field, and today, he still remains so. We were his last batch of students before he retired. We didn’t know if anyone would believe us at all. We were afraid of what the consequence might be if we were not believed. What if he found out we were trying to do something? We were an elite girls’ school, and we all wanted to move on to elite JCs, we didn’t dare to risk our grades and chances.
We also didn’t know if what he did could be considered molest, even though all of us affected ones were clearly disturbed by his actions. We didn’t want to be seen as ruining his reputation with some unfounded fears. So we continued to discuss what we ought to do.
Then one day, we heard that some girls from another class were going to report him, but that he got wind of it, and he scolded them severely. That confused us further. By the time we graduated, we had not come to a decision about what to do.
Years later, we one day read in the newspapers that he was charged with molesting a girl he was giving private tuition to. He was convicted for one year, a jail term which he served. None of us were surprised. Yet, today, he remains an authoritative figure in the field.
Why am I telling my story?
Because I need to tell you that these things happen in our schools and go unreported. And that it isn’t so simple and straight forward. The Instructors’ guide lists no such thing, but I always addressed sexual abuse in my classes. I wonder if any other educator does so, because I don’t have that chance to now.
Because some systems are so conducive for sexual abuse. Today I read about how thousands of Irish children were sexually abused. When the numbers go to thousands, you start examining the system rather than the criminal alone.
Because sex predators in Singapore can get away with it. Just 3 days ago I read this about Singapore
“HE WAS arrested for performing oral sex on a 6-year-old boy in a library toilet. After Chan Kok Weng, 29, was charged for the offence, he was sent for a psychiatric assessment. And that was when he made an explosive confession – he had been preying on young boys for about 15 years. Chan told Dr Stephen Phang, senior consultant psychiatrist at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), that he had been a sexual predator since he was in Secondary Two. He would seek out primary schoolboys at public places and perform oral sex on them.Chan revealed to Dr Phang: ‘(I) always target young boys, less than 10 years old or 11 years old because it’s the easiest target. Most of them are Chinese… it’s easier to communicate with them’. He also said that he usually targeted ‘primary school boys because it’s easier to get trust from them.’”
While I don’t think it is for us to judge Chan because we don’t have full info, and he may be suffering from psychological issues, what I’ll have issues with is our society and support system here that allows criminal behaviour to go undetected for 15 years.
Because I can no longer talk to teen girls directly. Today I read this “For these reasons stated, we (MOE) will not be able to use AWARE until they have gained the public’s trust for their sexuality programmes.”
And I know how much that CSE class would have benefited me 10 years ago, if I had access to an external third-party who made it comfortable for me to tell my story, and whom I knew would have found a way to help us.
Because AWARE’s platform might not be available for now, but because I believe there are so many important messages that needs to get out to the teens, I have decided I will use my blog as the platform instead.
I will tell you more in my subsequent posts
I have heard so many stories in all these classes. Stories I believe all parents and society should know about. I don’t have the time to write everything tonight, but I do ask that you come back to read, because I will tell you what reality is like in my subsequent blog posts, what advice I give, and you can decide for yourselves what you want to do.
I ask that you don’t Shut Up and Sit Down, but please stand up for what you believe in, and spread the message.
I invite you to give your opinion
I’ll also like your opinion on my story — What we could have done? What can I do now? How can we prevent these things from happening? What should schools do? Teachers do? Parents do? Students do?
And if by fate and chance, you happen to be part of my story too, or have a story to tell, I would be honoured if you shared it with us in the comments, anonymously if you need to be, or privately : email@example.com .
I know the way things sound with homosexuality , anal sex being noramal and all. Frankly, the instructor’s manual was confidential for a reason – you had to go through the training, and understand the values. And I must say the instructor’s manual was written very carelessly and politically insensitively (hence very open to misinterpretation) because we always trusted our trainers to respect its confidential nature — back to the trust that Constance Singham was talking about. The students’ manual says no such thing however, about pre-marital sex, homosexuality or anal sex.
Because of our value system of not imposing our values, we do NOT EVER tell students that homosexuality or anal sex or what have you is MORALLY OK — because in our value system all these are morally neutral. Of course, you don’t discuss the concept of what morally neutral means with kids – it’s not a philosophy class. You simply demonstrate it through your choice of language (elaborated later).
What I would say to the class is this (abbreviated/summarised here): “This is NOT a moral education class. This is a HEALTH education class. 3 kinds of sex is possible –oral , anal, vaginal. All 3 are at risk for STIs, unless you use condoms. Only through vaginal sex can you get pregnant, although heavy petting does result in pregnancy too. There are religions that believe homosexuality is wrong. There are also people who believe homosexuality is OK. Just like there are religions who believe eating meat or other kinds of food is wrong, and there are people who believe in eating everything. What’s important is that we respect each other. That means if you believe in a particular religion, you should be able to hold your beliefs without feeling shame or discriminated. Likewise, if you don’t believe in that religion, you should be able to hold your values without feeling shame or discriminated. Respect also means that while we hold on to our belief system, we do not have to impose on others, and insist that they also practice our religions practices.”
You know what? I’ve NEVER had a problem with teachers (we even did workshops for teachers), or any students, saying this. At 14, they UNDERSTAND the meaning of respect and religious freedom. I’ve a lot of hope in the next generation — 80% of girls I meet believe that homosexuals should be treated and respected just like anyone else, although they are different, but orientation-wise only. Plus I’m sure you recognise that sex ed for homosexuals must start young too, and that you couldn’t impart any knowledge by telling them they are morally wrong?
And BEFORE we even go into all this, we first talk about what it means to respect each other’s choice. What consent is? What’s love? Does changing for a person demonstrate love? Does sacrifice demonstrate love?(Answer: What’s the difference between someone who wants you to change/sacrifice for HIS own benefit, versus someone who wants you to change for YOUR own good? I ask this question, and the students’ answers are always unanimous and mature.) Does sex mean love? Is pain bad? In that context, we talk about the vaginal sex — is it painful the first time? Should it hurt? What signs and symptoms do you watch for before you go to the doctor? (Answer: ANYTHING out of the ordinary. Don’t even ignore a minor, bearable itch!) We talk about anal sex – is it painful? Should it be? What kind of lubricants will /not compromise the quality of the condoms? (Answer: Please don’t ever use baby lotion or hair gel or what have you) If you’re under 14 and pregnant or get an STI, what do you do? (Answer: your health is first priority, NEVER avoid the doctor because you don’t want you beloved boyfriend to go to jail) Does being married protect you from STIs? (Answer: Where STIs are concerned, whether you’re married, or having pre-marital sex, you can still get STIs. Fact is most female HIV patients in Singapore get HIV from their spouses, and most women who have abortions are married)
Where views & values are concern, we leave it open to the girls to air their 101 views so that they realise there’s so much diversity with views and values, it’s disrespectful to impose and insist. With facts, we provide answers in a morally neutral fashion, using morally neutral language, — but we don’t even have to articulate the moral neutrality.
An example of a morally neutral statement: Anal sex carries a higher risk of STIs because the anus skin tends to tear more easily. Condoms are the only means of reducing the risk of STIs, if you choose to engage in sexual activity, provided they are used correctly and 100% of the time.
By informing students of the consequences, and letting them know it’s a choice they make, you empower them and respect them as humans capable of making good choices. Making moral prescriptions – whether positive or negative – both disempowers and disrespects the students.
All these values and preparations is not put in the manual — it’s part of the value system trainers hold to get selected, and is reinforced in the training and in AWARE’s value system. And this is what we focus on in class.
But when you take 3 lines out of a manual, out of the entire class context —- that’s when things get messy and misinterpreted. Like we said at the EGM, the New Exco clearly flouted our confidentiality agreements and intellectual property rights when they made that disclosure. And I’ll even say slander when they put my name and Joo Hymns’ on the website in a derogatory fashion.
Please see latest (7 May o9) post “AWARE’s Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) : Re Homosexuality, anal sex, pre-marital sex“
( Bold highlights made by Mathialee, not MOE)
Reply to Recent Comments and Claims About AWARE’s Sexuality Education Programme in Schools
1We refer to recent claims and comments about AWARE’s sexuality education programme in schools.
2Sexuality education conducted in MOE schools is premised on the importance of the family and respect for the values and beliefs of the different ethnic and religious communities on sexuality issues. The aim is to help students make responsible values-based choices on matters involving sexuality.
3Core programmes are delivered by teachers but schools do collaborate with other agencies in delivering additional modules. However, in doing so, schools must ensure that any programmes run by external agencies are secular and sensitive to the multi-religious make-up of our society. Parents can choose to opt their children out of these programmes.
4Last year, 11 secondary schools engaged AWARE to run workshops for their students. The number of students involved in each school ranged from about 20 to 100, and each workshop lasted 3 hours. The objectives of these workshops were to provide students with accurate information on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)/HIV, to help students understand the consequences of premarital sexual activity, and to equip students with skills such as decision-making and resisting negative peer pressure.
5AWARE also conducted assembly talks, typically of 45-minute duration, for students in a few secondary schools. Some of the areas covered in the talks included body image, self-esteem, eating disorders, teenage pregnancies, sexual harassment and the role of women in today’s context.
6The schools that engaged AWARE found that the content and messages of the sessions conducted were appropriate for their students and adhered to guidelines to respect the values of different religious groups. The schools did not receive any negative feedback from students or parents who attended the workshops and talks.
7In particular, MOE has also not received any complaint from parents or Dr Thio Su Mien, who was reported to have made specific claims about sexuality education in our schools. MOE has contacted Dr Thio Su Mien to seek clarifications and facts to substantiate her claims.
8If parents and members of the public know of specific instances where guidelines have not been adhered to, they should report them directly to MOE to investigate. MOE recognises that sexuality education is sensitive. In conducting these programmes, the views of parents will be respected and values taught should not deviate from the social norms accepted by mainstream society in Singapore.
- Many State-run / funded programmes to decrease STIs and unwanted pregnancies need to follow the ABC (Abstinence, Being faithful, Condom use) policy. This is largely due to pressure from conservative / religious groups, to reflect an ideal.
- Abstinence – How practical is this advice? How long can one abstain? Does it apply to just teens, or 30 , 40 year old singles as well? What if you’re gay and cannot marry? If you never marry, will you never have sex too? Fact is, STI rates are highest for the 20 – 40 yr old age group (Teens make up only 10% of STI cases).
More importantly, this is useless advice for married persons. The implied message is of course NOT that celibacy is the ideal state, not when the government is actively trying to get the birth rate up. The implied message is against Premarital Sex.
The implied message is that, somehow Sex is OK when one is married, that somehow Married Sex a person from all STIs and Unwanted pregnancies. IS THAT TRUE????
- Not really. That’s why the 2nd message is BE FAITHFUL
Telling a person that BEING FAITHFUL protects him/her from STIs and Unwanted Pregnancies is the equivalent of telling a person that BEING HONEST protects him/her from being a victim of theft.
In Singapore, 2/3 of HIV positive females are FAITHFUL wives who got HIV from their husband. In other parts of Asia, 25% of HIV patients are women, and 90% of the women get it from their husbands.
The ‘Be Faithful’ message gives people a false sense of security. Being faithful is a MORAL obligation we have to our partners, but is NOT a protective measure for ourselves.
The Be Faithful message is also unhelpful for preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Just because you are married and faithful does not mean you won’t get accidental pregnancies. Just because you are married and faithful does not mean you can afford to keep all the accidental babies.
10, 000 out of the 14,000 abortions performed in Singapore EACH YEAR are on MARRIED women.
In this day and age, in this country, where contraceptives are so easily and cheaply (Pills from polyclinic at $5 a month!) available, why do 10,000 of our women even put themselves in the position where they have to consider an abortion! Is there something wrong with our EDUCATION? ( think about this : each year, there are 26,000 babies born in singapore, of which 13,000 are female babies. And 14,000 women go through abortions each year)
Why don’t our women know how to prevent pregnancies they don’t want? Why do they risk their health and bodies?
- Condom use : probably the most useful and practical advice
Condoms are the ONLY method of preventing STIs and HIV
Pills are cheap and prevent pregnancies, but cannot prevent STIs
What are some issues with condom use and promotion?
- public backlash against overt promotion . Many schools are afraid to dish out this advice, lest parents accuse them of promoting Sex
- How to use condoms properly? Hardly ever taught. BIGGEST cause of condom failure is user ignorance , ie. People use it wrongly.
- Condom use is ranked last in the ABC message : Implicit message that Good girls (A grade!) don’t have sex. Not so good girls (B grade!) have sex, but at least they are faithful. If you really cannot make it or cannot control yourself as a good girl or even as a Not-so-good-girl, at least, please use a condom.
The result is that no one wants to admit that they fall into the ‘C – grade’. It reinforces the misconception that if you buy condoms, you’re a slut who is asking for sex!
As a result, people put themselves into the position of having sex without a condom . How so? Because they give themselves this excuse : because “we didn’t mean to have sex. We didn’t plan for it. Only sluts and desperate people plan to have sex. Only sluts and desperate people will carry condom. For us, it was a moment of passion. So no chance to get the condom”
- Emergency Contraception / Plan B / Morning-After pill (Go google for more info)
A pill you take within 72 hours of sex to prevent pregnancy. High dose of hormones, not healthy to be used regularly. Use only when your main mode of contraception failed. Available at GPs.
Can prevent you from having to go for an abortion.
Can prevent you from getting pregnant AFTER you have sex.
Does NOT prevent STI, if you kenna already, it cannot help you.
Emergency Contraception is NOT ACTIVELY PROMOTED publically à Is it responsible of sex educators (government, mainstream educators, civil groups, religious groups) not to promote the use of EC because of protests from conservative groups???
6. Vaccinations against HPV
HPV causes 90% of cervical cancer cases, and is an INCURABLE STI. The vaccine costs $700. There are no subsidies for this vaccine.
Reason given: it does not cover all strains of HPV, only 70% of the strains.
Currently, regular PAP smears are the main method of preventing cervical cancer. But this is fire-fighting. Because Pap smears detect ABNORMALITIES , which you need to undergo a surgery to remove. Pap smears detect the cancer AFTER you develop the cancer. Vaccines PREVENT the cancer. However, with or without vaccine, please go for PAP smears (VERY CHEAP) because cervical cancer in the early stage is 90% curable, at late stage it becomes incurable.
I refer to the letters “Abstinence is the safest choice” by Goh Syh Leh and “Demonstration is a point of embarrassment” by Jonathan Loke (Oct 23) (Attached below).
There is a common misconception that unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a problem of teenagers. The fact is that in Singapore, teenagers account for only about 5% of the STI cases and about 10% of the abortion cases. About 2/3 of 12,000 – 14,000 abortions here are performed on married women, and 2/3 of the female HIV patients here are faithful wives who contracted the infection from their husbands. When 10,000 married women find themselves in the position of having to consider an abortion, every year, in a country like Singapore, where the education system is supposedly one of the world’s best, where condoms are easily available at any supermarket, convenience store and pharmacy, where birth control pills are available for a mere $5 for a month’s supply at public clinics, we really have to reconsider our current sex education system.
I felt the need to do something, and so I joined AWARE as a trainer for its Comprehensive Sexuality Education Program, where teenage girls are provided with both the information and skills needed to keep themselves safe from STIs and unwanted pregnancies.
Unlike many programs which focus on the teenage years of girls, AWARE’s program takes a lifelong approach. This makes sense to me, because what we learn in school is meant to see us through our entire lives. English, mathematics, science, health education, moral education – all these are as applicable to us today as they were when we were primary school students. Likewise with sex education, the overwhelming majority of people would have sex at some point in their lives, either when they get married, or before they do. Preaching against premarital sex gives the impression that sex within marriage is somehow safe. Vocal objections in the media to teenage sex, and laws protecting girls below the age of 16, give the impression that sex is safer for older people. Sadly, the fact that the majority of abortion and STI patients are married, and are not teenagers, highlights the importance of equipping people with lifelong skills. The best age to start would be of course, at puberty, where schools provide the best platform and opportunity for giving our adults of tomorrow the information they need.
Taking a lifelong approach, we can see the limitations of the abstinence-only message. The abstinence message is only useful for teenagers. The abstinence message is unhelpful in preventing over 8000 married women from having unwanted pregnancies each year. The abstinence message is unhelpful for the older person who has decided to engage in sex and is looking for ways to practice it safely. Telling people that being faithful would reduce their risk of getting STI infections is unhelpful for the faithful housewife who feels powerless to stand up to her philandering husband, whom she depends on financially. The abstinence and faithfulness messages are good messages, which are beneficial as a public health policy to reduce the total number of STI infections in the entire population, but they may not always be helpful at the individual’s level.
We need to tell people that unwanted pregnancies and STIs do happen to good, faithful, married people, that they happen to people with college degrees and well-paying jobs. We need to tell you that it could happen to you. We all need to know that the only contraceptive method that can protect us effectively is the condom.
I understand that condoms can fail especially when used incorrectly. So I show teenagers how to use it correctly, and I make sure they practice using it correctly before leaving my workshop. I make sure they know that even if they do not go “all the way”, STIs can still spread through oral sex or heavy petting, and pregnancies can still happen even if their boyfriends “pull out” in time. I understand that even with practice, people can still fail to use condoms properly or fail to use it at all. So I introduce teenagers to the Morning-after-pill, which is the second and last chance at preventing an unwanted pregnancy. I understand that we can be pressured into having sex at times, and we can mistake sex for love at times. So I teach teenagers how to negotiate effectively for what they want – whether it is abstinence or sex with condom use. I go through with them what makes a relationship healthy or not, and how to move the relationship towards a healthier direction, or how to get out of it if that cannot be done.
In the course of conducting these workshops for these students, I have met girls under 16 who love their teenage boyfriends so much, that instead of risking their boyfriends going to jail, they risk their health and lives by sticking objects up their birth canal to do a DIY abortion at home. I have met teenage girls so terrified of authority, they will risk their safety going out with strangers met online while keeping their parents in the dark. I have met girls who come under so much peer pressure to have sex, or who are outright blackmailed – with compromising mobile phone videos and photos for example.
We need go beyond the simplistic view that STIs and unwanted pregnancies are the problems of unruly promiscuous teenagers, and take a closer look at what reality is. We will then see that simply telling them to abstain, will not help the ones who truly need help, and will not help the adults that our teenagers would eventually become.