25 October 2016
Poor sex education has driven kids to internet porn for sexual knowledge. Photo: HKEJ
Poor sex education has driven kids to internet porn for sexual knowledge. Photo: HKEJ

The problem with our sex education is we don’t have any

In recent years I have been teaching a subject called “Sexuality” in a community college, and while spending time in class with my students, mostly aged between 18 and 20, I was dumbfounded to learn how ignorant our teenagers are about even the most basic knowledge about sex.

When it comes to the meaning of “sexuality”, most people would immediately think of sex organs and sexual intercourse. The term, however, has a much broader meaning than that.

It actually refers to any abstract or concrete thing associated with sex including one’s sex drive, sexual intercourse, sense of sexual identity, sexual orientation, one’s general attitude toward sex, “sex” in a social context such as gender roles, gender equality issues, sexual sub-culture, as well as politics from a gender perspective.

Indeed, “sexuality” has a much broader meaning than most people think.

Back in 1997 the Education Bureau published an official document, Guidelines on Sex Education in Schools, in which it laid down a rather detailed and comprehensive framework for a sex education curriculum.

It gave a list of subject matters which schools were advised to touch on when formulating their own sex education curricula such as one’s values on sex, marriage, and gender relations.

Although the 1997 guidelines are far from perfect and have not been updated ever since it was published, at least they give schools an idea of how sex education should be taught and point them in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the guidelines are optional; they have never been enforced nor made mandatory in schools.

As a result, many schools simply either avoid providing any sort of sex education or just touch on the subject very slightly, say, by providing one or two lessons on sex education for the entire school year.

When I was in secondary school, I remember, my teachers imparted very little sexual knowledge during my sex education lessons, such as physical changes boys and girls undergo during their puberty, how a woman gets pregnant and the health risks of abortion.

It’s been over a decade now since I graduated from secondary school, and I have been wanting to know if sex education has improved in our schools over the years.

So I did a little survey on my own and asked my students what they had been taught during their sex education lessons.

Much to my surprise, or more precisely, dismay, sex education in our schools hasn’t improved a bit over the past decade, and our teenagers remain as ignorant as ever about the subject of sexuality.

A female student in my class came to my office the other day and whispered to my ear, asking me if there is any way to get rid of her womb safely.

When I asked her why, she said because she was having multiple sex partners, and even though they all used condoms, she was still worried about getting pregnant, and therefore she wanted to address the problem “once and for all”.

The other intriguing or even jaw-dropping questions about sex raised by my students include how to tell the difference between the female urethral meatus and the vagina, whether it is normal for a girl to suddenly get horny, and how to cure one’s addiction to pornography.

If many of our kids have such an astoundingly poor understanding of sex because schools rarely teach it, where do most of them get their sexual knowledge?

My students said most of them learn about sex either from friends, online discussion forums or simply pornographic websites.

According to a joint study conducted by the Tung Wah Hospital and the Polytechnic University back in 2009, nearly 80 percent of Hongkongers aged between 11 and 17 had at some point tried to obtain sexual knowledge from pornographic websites, and the average age of those coming into contact with internet porn for the first time is 12.

So here is the bottom-line question: Are we going to shoulder the responsibility of teaching our kids proper sexual knowledge in schools, or are we going to leave that undertaking to internet porn?

If the answer to the first question is “yes”, then I have a few suggestions for the government:

1. Set up a task force within the Education Bureau immediately to formulate and implement a more systematic and comprehensive sex education curriculum in our schools.

2. Establish multiple channels to identify popular myths among teenagers about sex and address their needs.

3. Provide comprehensive training for our primary and secondary school teachers on how to educate our kids on sex.

4. Raise public awareness about the importance of enhancing sex education in our schools.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 18.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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