SexEd in Sri Lanka: High time it’s implemented

Pro-sex education demonstrators hold signs in opposition to a protest opposing Ontario's new sex education curriculum in front of Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday, February 24, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

A personal story about the importance of sexual education. It is not a panacea but it will contribute to solve a lot of the social problems we struggle with today.

Here is the truth about Sri Lankan youth.

They have sex.

Do they know how to have sex properly? Probably not.

You may ask why that is. That is because the only way they know what to do is by watching illegal porn or reading 50 shades of Gray.

Let me tell you a story.

I lived in the United States between the ages of 8 and 11. When I went to school there, as a 10 year old, I learnt my portion of reproductive health. I learnt how to handle my first period and how boys get erections. I learnt that babies are born when a male who has reached puberty ejaculates within a female. I learnt that if you really want to have sex, it’s best you do it with protection.

I remember the boys were put into one class room and the girls were put into another, to avoid the obvious awkwardness of what we were being taught. I remember the boys were given razors to shave, because alongside all the change that happens to the sexual organs, puberty also meant you began growing hair in various parts of your body. I remember us girls were handed deodorant and sanitary napkins .

I know we whispered back then shyly. We may have even giggled that we knew what was happening to a boy’s body and blushed at the fact that they knew what happened to ours. I remember reading this book about various training bras and push up bras, and I remember how all of us were shy but also so interested to know what was in it.

 When I came back to Sri Lanka, at the age of 11, one thing I realized was, I knew more about sex than the girls in my school did. I understand that maybe someone in grade 6 shouldn’t be an expert in the subject, but in comparison to my peers, I was. I was thought to be the “corrupted” one in the class because I knew the process of having sexual intercourse.

When I was in grade 7, in Sri Lanka, I remember quite distinctly, the “bra” phase. I remember hearing whispers from behind me the day I wore my first bra, because it could be seen through my white uniform. My peers associated me having something to support my pubescent breasts with some sort of sexual advancement. Something so scandalous that it had to be spoken about in hush whispers, when in fact, I would have been perfectly fine answering whatever questions they had if they had asked me.

I also remember, in grade 7, how the lesson on the reproductive system was there in our Science text books. I remember my fellow peers and even myself secretly turning to that lesson and seeing what we could learn. At age 12, all of us girls were in the brink of puberty; hence we were inquisitive and very curious regarding that lesson.

Why so much curiosity? Why so much secrecy?

It’s because in our culture, attaining age is such a huge deal to everyone around the actual person attaining it excluding the individuals themselves. Why isn’t it a big deal for them? Because they have no clue that attaining puberty means if you have sex you can get pregnant and that pregnancy comes with a lot of responsibility.

Sex is such a taboo in our nation that people fail to remember how each and every one of us got here sometimes.

This is a flaw in the education system of Sri Lanka.

 As we’ve all heard from our Aththas, Muththas and our Panaththas; “Education is the biggest tool we have to make the world a better place.” However we see that our Sri Lankan Local Education system in no way does that when it comes to reproductive health.

 The most you learn about the subject would be how the sperm races to the ovum to fertilize the egg and create a zygote. You never really learn how the sperm gets there in the first place.

The problem with this is, the more this is hidden from adolescents, the less they know and the more they do things unprotected. See, what fails to be understood is that, just because a health teacher feels shy and awkward to teach the lesson, leading to it being skipped, doesn’t actually stop adolescent hormones from functioning.

Not once have I heard a teacher in my school say the word condom or birth control. This means that students will not know what they are or why they are important. I may be one of the lucky ones who, due to available resources, know what contraceptives are and why you need to use them, but students who do not have the same resources or opportunities will not know, and that is dangerous.

The thing is, having a bunch of hormonal teenagers who do not know what’s happening to them is far worse than having a bunch of hormonal teenagers who do. When they don’t know what they are feeling it leads to them being vulnerable to predators in society.

Imagine a situation, a girl reads a book and then gets a bit aroused but she does not know what’s happening to her. A man notices nearby that she’s acting a bit funny and tells her that he can help her. She thinks why not and there you have it, she has given consent to the man to do whatever he needs to solve her “problem”. What we have come to do is ban that kind of book from the market rather than solve the core problem; that the girl doesn’t understand what is happening to her mind and body.

We ourselves have created this vulnerable society.

So, the point of this article is that some of us are lucky enough to formally learn about reproductive health but some of us are not. In a country where everyone is from diverse family backgrounds, government schools are the central place to provide every single student with adequate education on the subject of reproductive health. This does not mean, putting it into the syllabus and text books and having awkward teachers skip through that lesson. It means having teachers taught to educate students on one of the most important subjects in present society. Kids aren’t sex crazed. They are just curious to know what this madness is about.

I am in no way advocating teenage sex here. What I’m saying is that a teacher is a better source for sex advice than a cosmopolitan magazine.

Teach  adolescents about sex because hiding the subject doesn’t mean that they won’t act on impulses. Teach them how to have safe sex and how to say No to sex if they don’t want to; the concept of Consent – it will reduce a lot of rape and domestic violence in the future. Teach them the importance of contraceptives to prevent teenage pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Adolescents need to be taught to respect whoever they chose to let caress their naked bodies.  Teach kids it’s better to feel comfortable talking about sex than hiding a way. Teach kids to be open.

I guarantee you, this way; we would stop a lot of the social problems we have to deal with now.

This story and its policy advocacy for government sponsored sexual education for school students stepping into their teens, applies not only to Sri Lanka but the entire Indian Ocean Region. Only Thailand seems to have a comprehensive SexEd program for public schools. Malaysia and Indonesia have taken steps towards it. Biology lessons in advanced level is not going to solve anything. It is in the period of ages 11 to 13 that sexual education must be introduced to students. It helps to counter the problems they get into due to their curiosity and ignorance.

Many societies in the region have come to blame modern ‘Western’ culture for the emergence of rape and harassment as major social issues. But the truth of the matter is the conservatism of these societies is hurting them more than the Western concepts that creep in. 

This article first appeared on http://rahalbw.wix.com/venasak. #venasak is an initiative to bring forward Sri Lanka’s developmental and social issues through the use of their hashtag.

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