I had personally always found it such a cringe, cringe, moment when parents, educators, or older people spoke about sex. One, they make it super awkward. Two, they don’t even say S-E-X. And three, it’s nearly always perpetuating concepts practises that they acquire from the previous generation. An old aunt or teacher may stumble into sex related matters with phrases like ‘aha, benda tu’ or even a simple throat clearing noise to indicate the issue. In Malaysia, these practises have been passed down through the generations amidst terrain of political correctness, religion and tradition to culminate in the version of ‘sex is taboo so we will not talk about it” we all know and experience today. And yes, this too is embedded within and protected by the patriarchy. Patriarchy also tends to subtly exist in the day to day as elements of our traditional systems like having a male head of the family, and normalising male bad behaviour.
It does not, however, stop women from being called ‘sluts’, accused of being promiscuous just because they freely explore their sexuality or just being made to feel violated. Then there are those who catcall and verbally harass girls and women. The side looks given when one needs to purchase condoms from the 7-11 next door, the shame a family experiences upon having a non-virgin, unmarried daughter; all these create such a negative attitude towards sex, and limits the conversation around safe sex practises. Understandably, strong negative attitudes towards any topic would increase risk of people misunderstanding or generally avoiding the issue. When it comes to social norms, people often choose to comply in order to fit in with society. Few would bother venturing out of their comfort zone to be curious enough to learn, let alone grow.
Bear in mind all these actions have consequences, whether you choose to acknowledge them or not. Some may even be privileged enough to never have to experience being on the receiving end. But we cannot ignore something that so pervasively and adversely, affects the rights and freedoms of people in this day and age.
One survey found that over 53% of Malaysian men polled reported learning about contraceptives through the media and porn. Another study reported that only 30% of those polled believed that an explicit “yes” was what constituted consent.
Whilst society is sadly plagued by discomfort on sex and sexualites, their strong influence permeates, and stems from, the lack of proper sex education. Comprehensive sex education (CSE) aims to address not only the physical aspect of a sexual relationship, but also the health, emotional, cognitive and social aspects implicated. These domains are not usually found in ‘self-taught’ methods that people use today. People who learn from porn are not exposed to the dangers of STIs, neither do teenagers who learn from the internet properly understand the concept of ‘consent’. CSE was developed to combat these issues, and educate people regarding sex and relationships in a comprehensive and secure manner, as opposed to learning bits and pieces of unverified information from parts of the internet or your older sibling.
It is a well-known fact that education opens doors to opportunities. At the same time, education also frees you, when you make use of it. This explains why societies with a better literacy rate are able to battle old traditions that are harmful and irrational. To be ignorant or ill-informed about such topics exposes society to the risk of being biased or prejudiced towards something they do not fully understand. In the case of a human need such as sex, with its high prevalence even in a conservative society like Malaysia, it becomes harmful and preventative of the progress of CSE. When people are ignorant, they end up making ill-informed choices that cause more harm than good for themselves and society. The high rates of baby dumping, unwanted pregnancies and date rape is a cry for CSE to be implemented in schools, higher education institutions and workplaces.
In my school days, the only time we learnt about sex was in biology, in the most detached and unemotional way. It was also the time when teenagers being teenagers, are most experimental. More than just a few of my friends were unhappy with their first times, and more than a few of them were ignorant of things like lube, post-bleeding and the emotional experience they would undergo after, coupled with the risk of lack of protection. I have helped a number of people who had to undergo an abortion due to an unplanned pregnancy. I also know many who do not see the importance of getting tested for STIs. It’s with all these experiences that I have had to observe and play a part in, that has made me realise the huge, huge, importance of implementing CSE now. Truly, our youth are in need of it.