Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lifting The Veil On Sex

Deborah Loh


Parents shy away from talking about it. Teachers blush at the mention of the three-letter word. But possibly as early as next year, five million schoolchildren will be encouraged to discuss sexual fantasies, abstaining from pre-marital sex, paedophilia and the sanctity of marriage.

By bringing these topics into the classroom and lifting the veil on these taboo subjects, the Government hopes Malaysians will become more respectful of gender and sexuality. In the long term, it hopes to drive down the number of sex crimes.

The guidelines on national sexual education were unveiled today. However, the details are likely to be made public in February after the Cabinet endorses it. Jointly developed by the Education and Women, Family and Community Development ministries, its main components are:

- Human reproduction, covering puberty, sexual identity and orientation, self-image and emotions;

- Communication and relationships, covering friendship, love, non-acceptable sexual behaviour, and gender roles;

- Marriage and family, which will explain marriage and parenthood as a life-long commitment;

- Personal development, covering values, rights and responsibilities, and anger management;

- Health and sexual behaviour, covering sexuality throughout life, abstinence, masturbation, fantasies, pregnancy, contraceptives, sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV and AIDS; and,

- Culture and society, covering sexuality and the law, sex and the media, sex and society, and religious views on sex.

The topics will be addressed in ways appropriate to different age groups, ranging from pre-school children to adults.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the guidelines would be tabled in Cabinet in the first week of January and distributed to other ministries for their feedback and implementation in their programmes.

Other ministries were being roped in because sexual education was the responsibility of all Malaysians, he said.

"We are faced with various forms of sexual crimes: Internet pornography, incest, pre-marital sex, sexual abuse and harassment, and paedophilia. The guidelines address all these.

"All parties are responsible now that the guidelines are out. All must take sex as a serious issue."

Hishammuddin was speaking after a meeting with Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil today.

After Cabinet approval, the Education Ministry will look at implementing the guidelines in schools. This includes strengthening the sexual education curriculum, which is incorporated into Moral studies, Islamic studies, Health studies, Science and Biology.

The long-term plan is to teach sexual education as a single subject. During the five-year Ninth Malaysia Plan, which begins next year, several schools will be identified where the subject will be taught under a pilot phase.

Shahrizat said as sex remained a delicate subject for discussion, the Government would engage expert help to "articulate sensitively" the guidelines on national sexual education.

Experts in sexual health, sexual psychology, marriage and family life are being tapped to help the Government chart the most effective way to teach young Malaysians about sex.

"We also need to know the right methodology to train the trainers, the people who will be implementing these guidelines," she said.

She said it was not easy to talk straightforwardly about sex as there were many aspects.

"Take for example abstinence. You can?t just tell youths that abstinence is good for them. You have to say it?s ?cool?. And then you have to explain why.

"It?s not enough to tell them to say no to pre-marital sex. You have to address the peer pressure factor."

An Education Ministry official said the guidelines were consistent with norms and values here.

For example, most Malaysians felt sexual abuse was not acceptable and the sanctity of marriage ought to be protected. But what about the uncharted territory of sexual fantasies?

"Now we are exposed to X-rated movies," he said. "We need to explain the impact of masturbation on the body and psychology."

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