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Monday, June 19, 2006

sex education in the philippines: a postmortem

The introduction of sex education in the general curriculum of public schools has been halted due to the strong objections by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines . The Filipino Bishops have objected that the introduction of sex education into the public schools would encourage teenagers to try premarital sex rather than remain abstinent, and emphasized that sex education is the parents’ responsibility, not the government’s. On top of that, the sex education program instructs youth in the use of artificial contraceptives and condoms, which violate the Church’s solemn teachings on human sexuality.
While it is true that the country is adhering to strict moral laws, research shows that this course of action has lead to some serious consequences. Data from The Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey conducted in 1994 showed that 2.5 million (18%) youth aged 15-24 have engaged in premarital sex (PMS); out of this 2.5 million, 74% or 1.8 million did not use any form of contraceptive. The YAFS 3 conducted in 2002 showed that the number of youths aged 15-27 who have engaged in PMS grew to 23%, or 4.9 million; of this number, 70% or about 3.43 million did NOT use any form of contraceptive (WHO 37-39). Data clearly shows two things: the number of youths having PMS has increased by a significant percentage, and from 1994 to 2002, more do not use contraceptives in their sexual experiences.
The second aspect to be observed is youth’s homosexual activities. According to the WHO Report, the 1994 YAFS data showed that 6.9% of the respondents engaged in gay sexual activity. In the 2002 YAFS, 11% (87% of them men) of sexually active young people had sex with someone of the same gender (WHO 92). This shows a marked increase in the number of youth engaging in homosexual activities.
Finally, the third aspect to be observed is change in sexual behavior and attitudes. Parañaque Science High School and ARH teacher Rowena Reyes, and Department of Education’s Rosalie Masilang both agree that today’s youth is definitely more liberal than before. Reyes mentioned that today’s youth is brutally frank. In a personal interview, Masilang commented on the effect of youth’s increased curiosity has brought on them:
Not only have adolescents become more liberal in general, but they have also gained more openness and tolerance regarding the increasing figures on PMS and its consequences (including premarital pregnancy), as well as acceptance of homosexuals. Moreover, the SPPR 02 stated that there is an increasing approval rate for women engaging in PMS among the youth (POPCOM 22). While these changes may not necessarily be negative in nature, this change in behavior and attitude is a common reason for youth’s increasing involvement in not only premarital, but risky sex practices that lead to the prevalence of more youth related sex problems.
In studying these changes in the youth, an interesting observation was made. Contraceptive use, homosexual behavior, and change in sexual behavior and attitudes are all topics that are generally covered by population education (or sex education as it is known worldwide). If these topics were taught effectively, then the changes of youth over time would be monitored and guided. Contraceptive education would give students information that could save them from having to face problems like unwanted pregnancies, and even lessen the risk in homosexual activity, should they choose to engage in it. However, as was earlier mentioned, contraceptives are not currently being taught in public schools nationwide. Therefore, there is already a large hole in the current state of population education. A huge chunk of information is being left out in its implementation. Lack of information on this area cannot prove to be good for youth today. In fact, it can only be bad news for the youth if they are not being taught contraceptives. It eliminates the presence of choice: not all of them will know that there are preventive measures to unwanted consequences of sex, even as times change and grow to include more sexually open ideas and lifestyles. These changes that the youths undergo over time may not necessarily be negative. However, they may indirectly be the cause for many youths experiencing sex related problems today.
One problem is the alarming number of youth who are either unaware or misinformed about STDs, especially HIV/AIDS. According to SPPR 02’s data from the 1994 and 2002 YAFS, even though 95% of the respondents had heard of AIDS, 12% from 1994 believed that AIDS was curable. What is alarming is that in 2002, this number more than doubled to 28% (POPCOM 28). The WHO Report stated that 60% of the respondents also think that there is no chance for contraction of HIV/AIDS, and 12% of them could NOT identify even a single correct mode of transmission for HIV/AIDS. Only 65% were able to identify at least one correct STD—given that many of the youth are sexually active, 65% is a paltry number (WHO 50).
There has also been a decrease in the average age of first sex. Based on the 2002 YAFS, 1.2% of sexually active adolescents have engaged in PMS before they turned 13. However, by the time they turn 18, the probability that males would have had sex increased drastically to 28% for males, and 12% for females (UPPI 2005). Figures regarding increase in percentage of youth engaging in premarital sex were presented earlier. It must also be known that out of the 4.9 million who have engaged in premarital sex, an overwhelming number (94%) said that this was NOT something they wanted to happen at the time and that they were unprepared for the consequences. However, SPPR 02 researchers report that once one has engaged in PMS, there is greater likelihood that it will happen again with either the same partner or a different one.
Another youth related sex problem is the increase in the number of youth engaging in risky sex. In SPPR 02, risky sex is defined as sex wherein one or both parties are physically and psychologically immature and are unprepared for possible consequences. The earlier the sex, the riskier it is (POPCOM 28, 29). According to a research paper done by UPPI survey authorities, sexual risk taking among the Filipino youth increased from 23% in 1994 to 27.1% in 2002 (UPPI 12). Around 34% of the sexually active youth have more than one sex partner, which is indicative of risky behavior. Furthermore, 60% of 78% of sexually active male adolescents who admitted to never using condoms reported that they have had commercial sex (WHO 43). Also, 2002 YAFS reported that those adolescent boys who reported same sex encounters with other boys “seemed to hold the belief that safe sex practice is not relevant in their case” (UPPI 2002). In light of all this risky behavior, youth are now more exposed to STDs and consequences than ever.
Youth sex related problems do no stop there. Studies show that youth are also misinformed about contraception. From the 1994 YAFS data as presented in the WHO report, “27% of Filipino adolescents think that the pill is taken orally either before or after sexual intercourse and 17% think that tubule ligation is an objected inserted into the female before intercourse”. Also, only 4% of the respondents were actually deemed knowledgeable about family planning (WHO 48, 47).
One major obstacle to Population Education is the protest of the CBCP. According to one of the spokespeople, Dr. Angelita Aguirre, they are protesting the following specific content found in the Lesson Guides in ARH: the lack of emphasis on marriage before any sex act, the integration of POPED in the different subjects other than biology, the encouragement of non-penetrative sex acts such as oral sex, and the specific statement that “experimentation is a normal part of adolescent development”. (Department of Education 56) Another CBCP spokesperson, Atty. Jo Imbong, also protested against a paragraph that stated that sex can be a source of pleasure as well as reproduction. Because of the controversy sparked against this new module, it was pulled out on June 19, 2006, and its return to implementation is currently pending.
Addressing this obstacle is a sensitive issue because Filipinos are predominantly Catholic and may side with the CBCP when it comes to these matters. However, it must be noted that effective POPED implementation, as discussed earlier, definitely requires contraceptive education. POPED is incomplete without it since it is a key factor in preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs. It must also be noted that while marriage before any sex act is ideal, facts and figures from the 2002 YAFS show that it is highly unrealistic. Not mentioning it in any lesson guide would not make the problem disappear. Also, non-integration of POPED concepts into the curriculum would prevent the topic from being seen away from the clinical point of view that it would be viewed from if it were only taught in Biology. In addition, saying that experimentation is an abnormal part of adolescent development would be false, since it is a well publicized fact that sexual experimentation is common in adolescent years. Biologically, most teenagers are already sexually mature, which is why sexual experimentation is not unheard of during adolescent years. Finally, it is not realistic to contest the fact that sex can be a source of pleasure. Students must not be taught that sex is unpleasant; they should be taught responsibility in handling that pleasure. Trying to keep facts from being given out to students does not stop students’ curiosity and youth’s impulsiveness— but the most important aspect of that is for them to learn it in an environment without imagined malice. It must also be noted that while the CBCP is against the current implementation of population education, other Catholic organizations, particularly the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) support POPED. The goal of POPED is not to condone contraceptive use, but to make this information available to the students so that they will know enough to make intelligent, mature decisions. While the Church is against contraception, information about this should still be made available since students have a right to information and the Church has no legal control over government policy.
A second obstacle is the lack of support from influential sectors affecting the students. One such example is Manila Mayor Lito Atienza’s adamant protest against teaching POPED, saying that the he would do his best to stop it because the curriculum is unacceptable, adding that it must be taught at home and not in school. Also, according to the WHO Report, local government officials “refuse to acknowledge that ARH problems exist” and that some parents disapprove of their children’s participation in population education activities. It was also mentioned that Sangguniang Kabataan projects tend to focus on sports development and not on ARH (WHO 98).
A third obstacle is the budget problem. The Department of Education’s Rosalie Masilang remarked that while POPED should ideally be a prime focus project for the government, the lack of funding and its dependence on outside funding from the United Nations Population Fund weakens its momentum. The most pertinent way to address this problem is to bring more attention to the POPED problems that the country is facing, and to recognize the magnitude of these problems so that they may merit more funds for the use of the population education project.
The fourth obstacle is comprised of the three strongest arguments against population education. First is the argument that current methods of POPED support safe sex lessons, and do not dwell on abstinence only principles. It must again be noted that while abstinence is an ideal principle, recent facts and figures show that more of the Filipino youth are engaging in PMS; policies today must be geared toward addressing this problem instead of pretending that all teenagers prefer to abstain from sex. Abstinence must be presented to adolescents side by side with contraceptive education. To abstain from sex and to engage are safe sex are two different choices, both of which must be explained and made available to the students.
The second argument is that population education promotes promiscuity among curious adolescents. The fact is, numerous studies present the fact that POPED is highly effective when properly implemented. Public school teacher Rowena Reyes remarked that after the expected shyness at the beginning of population education lessons, the students were very willing to learn once the lesson plan was presented without malice. The key is to implement POPED the correct way—straightforward, without innuendos or discomfort—so that the students may learn positively from the lesson instead of using what information they have received to further widen their sexual experience.
The third argument says that POPED should be taught at home, with the parents. It must be noted, however, that the 2002 YAFS data reported that youth are uncomfortable with speaking to their parents about sex and are more comfortable with their friends (UPPI 2002). Also, it must be anticipated that not all parents will be well equipped with the correct information to impart to their children. Parents do play an important role in educating their children. However, unlike the parents, schoolteachers under the POPED program receive training from the Department of Education. The information that they are teaching is more certain to be accurate and uniform. Thus, while it is difficult to ensure that parents are teaching their children the right way, it is more plausible to monitor what the teachers are teaching in schools. Schools must be there to fill in any information that the parents have missed and to correct any wrong information that the students were given at home.
While the number of youth engaging in risky behavior increases, the quality of population education steadily decreases. There is a need for adjustment in population education -much of it is incorrect, incomplete, or insufficiently distributed, and not just the simple question over its implementation. The frightening numbers presented reinforce the fact that the government cannot afford to remove population education. In the end, it becomes apparent that sex education does something rather extraordinary for children. It informs them. It prepares them. It helps them. So if following the Catholic Church’s wishes is worth the thousands of young Filipinos finding themselves in situations like teenage pregnancy, homosexual behavior, or suffering from an STD due to a lack of proper education, then the Philippine government should very well continue keeping sex education out of the school curriculum. However, this paper points to clear stand. Educate, of course. No question. Educate.


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