Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is a gender-centered and rights-based approach to sexuality education, implementable through formal and informal means. CSE can be taught to children as young as kindergarten-age and through to secondary school, with age-appropriate content relevant to young people. CSE can also be implemented based on the sensitivity of cultural norms in the community, respecting local beliefs and practices.
Research-based information about human development, reproductive anatomy and sexual health including understanding conception, pregnancy and childbirth, make up components of comprehensive secuality education.
It includes emphasizing the importance of contraception and interventions needed to avoid unintended pregnancies, awareness and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and AIDS.
CSE is also about personal growth, discussing relationships, developing personal and life skills. and dealing with sexual behavior and orientation. It encompasses human rights, gender equality and certain social threats such as discrimination and abuse.
There are many stigmatized myths and taboos surrounding sexuality education. These include:
MYTH : Comprehensive sexuality education promotes sexual behavior among youth
FACT: Research has shown that CSE can help youth delay sexual initiation. Some who are sexually active have been shown to reduce their frequency of sexual engagement,and increase consistency of contraception usage.
MYTH: Parents are not supportive of CSE programmes
FACT: Multiple studies have found that parents generally have a positive response to CSE, and that they believe youth should receive appropriate information relevant to their development. Some parents want these programmes to be part of their school’s curriculum.
MYTH: CSE is irrelevant to the local community
FACT: Proper implementation of comprehensive sexuality education will be inclusive and sensitive to community values. Young people are encouraged to explore their personal values that are aligned with their families and community.
MYTH: Comprehensive sexuality education exposes and encourages youth to get involved in sexual activity
FACT: Content is developed based on sensitive and age-appropriate guidelines which aim to help youth assess risk, and empower them to make informed decisions in such situations. Studies show that onset of sexual activity is actually delayed due to CSE. It also helps adolescents to understand the consequences of unplanned pregnancies and the value of family planning.
MYTH: Abstinence works
FACT: There is no concrete evidence that programmes which emphasise on abstinence before marriage approaches, are effective or even work. In fact, individuals are as likely to engage in sexual activities as those not involved in such programmes. There may be a higher risk of unprotected sexual engagement among individuals as a result of abstinence based education. Such approaches also often end up marginalising sexual minorities and encourage discrimnation.
In Malaysia, sexuality education for young people is considered unsatisfactory. Challenges and hurdles continue to plague effective implementation of sexual reproductive health education, despite decades of pilot testing, curriculum development and NGO engagement.
Educators themselves are forced to confront their own cultural and religious sensitivities, which are formidable obstacles to overcome.
Furthermore, Malaysian society in general strongly believes in an abstinence-only approach emphasising on sexual abstinence. As a result, ignorance of sexual reproductive health is preferred, causing much misunderstanding and confusion. Even the packaging of sanitary pads can become sources of frustrating controversy and unnecessary contention.
The consequences are often tragic, resulting in teenage pregnancies, abandoned babies, child and underage marriages, gender-based violence, and young mothers being stigmatised and discriminated against.
Parents, educators, and policymakers should support the effective implementation of comprehensive sexual education in Malaysian schools.
Jonathan Leong, is an intern at the Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy