Sex education was first introduced in Philippine schools in 1972 as part of the government’s population education program. At the time, the Philippines’ birth rates were the highest in Asia. But when the education department tried to update the program module in 2006, the powerful Catholic Church opposed it.
To convince the church that the new sex education curriculum includes broader topics like sexual rights, responsible parenthood and HIV/AIDS, the program was renamed ‘reproductive health education.’ Then, when the church continued to oppose it, the subject was again renamed the ‘teen wellness program.’ But the church insists it’s still sex and so it continues to reject it.
Since the executive branch of government is afraid to antagonize the influential church hierarchy, the teaching of sex and reproductive health in public schools still isn’t enforced. This has disappointed health experts and human rights advocates who want politicians to ignore the medieval arguments of the church. Public officials, they say, should instead stand up for the rights of young Filipinos who deserve to be informed and be more aware of their bodies and reproductive health rights. This will help reduce cases of unwanted pregnancies, abortion among teenagers and maternal mortality.
As the education department continues to fine tune its sex education curriculum to the wishes of the conservative church, Congress is now preparing to tackle the much-discussed Reproductive Health Bill which proposes, among others, the mandatory inclusion of age-appropriate sex education in elementary and high schools. The church, as expected, is also busy opposing the legislation of this bill.
It’ll take some time before Congress is able to gather enough votes and muster the courage to pass the bill. The new president, while supportive of the right for couples to use contraceptives, continues to echo the church-backed slogan of responsible parenthood. And while many schools have already integrated sex education into their programs, the majority of students is still deprived of the opportunity to learn about many of the truths and myths of sex.
An alternative option for Filipino teenagers is to go online. Porn websites may dominate the web but there are useful websites that provide proper education about sex. A good example is sexxie.tv, which was established in Singapore by medical specialists a few months ago. Recently launched in Indonesia and the Philippines, it’s the world’s first interactive website that focuses on sex education and one that parents can (finally) recommend to their children. Maybe Malaysia, which plans to offer sex education next year in order to stop the phenomenon of baby dumping among its youth, can also tap into the learning potential of the Internet.
And as for the Philippines, its policymakers should realize that teaching sex to young Filipinos is not a religious issue that’ll be decided by bishops alone. If the people, especially the youth, want it, the government should be ready to offer it through schools, clinics, community centers—even cyberspace.