Sexuality education will always be an issue in Singapore because of two main factors: One, the fact there exist various moral and religious stakeholders clamouring for ideological legitimacy and supremacy; and two, which is partly overlapped with the first point, the fact that Singaporeans are generally uncomfortable at being open in discussing sex.
There are a host of issues, in no particular order, that I would like to discuss pertaining to sexuality education.
One problem with sex education in Singapore is not sex, but the processes behind education. It is a reality that we need to have information and materials ready to deal with existing and emerging phenomena pertaining to sex, gender and sexuality. But the process of gathering information, materials and creating a syllabus to teach sexuality education is a political and moral process, something that educators and moral/religious stakeholders will readily fail to see and acknowledge.
Rather than asking "why is premarital sex wrong" and "why should abstinence be taught", we should be asking "what is it about these educators and moral/religious stakeholders that make them think this way and want to make Singaporean youth think that way?", "what is it about their predispositions and ideologies that make them ask these questions?", and "what does it say about those who assume a seamless correspondence of sex, gender and sexuality, and their assumed natural cisgenderism, cissexism and heterosexism?"
Well, well, well, these are the questions a feminist will ask. Yes, that includes the enlightened Dr Thio Su Mien, who sees herself as a feminist. Apparently, her brand of feminism excludes and silences other women, and conflates gender and sexuality into sex.
In teaching sexuality education, educators and moral/religious stakeholders become invisible. This is all the more dangerous in a society whose government claims to be multicultural and multireligious, because some views will be passed off as moral universals. The rhetoric put at the frontline is that "sex ed is for the younger generations", in reality drawing attention away from the scrutiny of the ideological motivations for social engineering by respective socio-religious organisations.
We need these socio-religious organisations to be more upfront and accountable. After all, they are constitutionally protected, more so than people without religions, because in Singapore, having a religion means you are more protected than those who don't, and that's true. Be upfront and say, "Abstinence is wrong because our set of beliefs specifically say so, and this is how we interpret it, and we need group compliance to ensure cohesion, to ensure the survival and sustenance of our group. People who don't believe in abstinence pose an ideological threat to our group, but since it is illegal, we cannot use violence to coerce them to subscribing to the same sets of beliefs we adhere to."
It is precisely the sex-negative predispositions and taboo-isation of sex by socio-religious organisations, that drastically cripple sexuality education in Singapore. They are too preoccupied with wanting to win the (moral) ideological war, seen to be integral to the survival of the respective sets of ideologies they adhere to, rather than to actually empower Singaporean youths to be informed on sex, gender, sexuality and body confidence. The "empowerment" of Singaporean youths with regards to sexuality education, for these ideological and political supremacy-seeking groups and individuals, is always couched in the discourse of ideological survival, continuation and dominance, but thickly sugar-coated with secular narratives.
Sex education can be straightforward. For example, teaching about the condom and its usage. "This is a condom. It is one of many devices for contraception. It is used to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. It can break sometimes. It is xx% safe. This is how you use it (show using videos or Mr Woody demonstrations). Some religions, such as A, B, C, frown upon its usage because they do not believe in the use of contraceptives. Any questions?"
Sexuality education invisibilises orgasm too. Invisibilisation is a political and moral process. You see, some ideological groups want to terrorise youths into believing that sex is not for pleasure - again, this is a political process. But these ideological groups craftily align themselves with the nationalist discourse of procreation, and frames sex in terms of production, focusing on sex's productive nature.
As a result, male and female masturbation and orgasms are omitted. Youths are not told about their erogenous areas. I am sure teenagers are mature enough to be told that the cock and snatch-rubbing antics of young children are mechanisms to keep them calm or happy, even though they don't consciously know it, because these are sensitive erogenous zones.
Feminists, definitely not Dr Thio Su Mien, have long pointed out the omission of the female clitoris, specifically its sexual function and role in orgasm, in normal sex education. This is because sex education has been corrupted by the Western influence of Victorian Christian morality. Talk about negative Western values, huh?
Victorian morality assumes asexuality on the part of children and women. Yes, assexual, just like how we once wanted Nanyang Girls High students to have short hair (perhaps to defeminise and desexualise girls by removing the socially ascribed marker of femininity that is long hair). Oh wait, we still do that to most foreign domestic workers!
Seriously, what is the point of being a member of a multicultural and multireligious society, when you have moral/religious organisations that do not want to be part of the team - i.e. have their views on sex and sexuality be presented as one of many other views, neutrally on the same level? They just want dominance, simple as that, which is why they would disagree with a polycentric approach to sex education, which is what I have long been suggesting.
A polycentric approach allows firstly, for sexuality education to be taught objectively. For example, openly teaching "this is what", "this is what it does", "this is xx% effective", "this is how you do it", "this is what you can do to say no". At the same time, the polycentric approach allows for the participation and representation of moral and religious positions, e.g. "this is what religion A thinks about this matter", "this is not encouraged by religion B because...", "religion C believes masturbation is wrong, because..." etc.
Hey, the polycentric approach already breaks its back to accommodate religious positions, but it steers away from moralisation because it provides different views from different ideological stakeholders, each readily accessible. For religious organisations that disagree with this polycentric approach, it will only reveal their maturity as a teamplayer and member in a multireligious Singapore, and how "ready" they are to be part of the picture versus them actually wanting to be in a position of dominance. Well, the government has already put its foot down on secularism, so it is very generous of the polycentric approach to accommodate religious views on sex, no?
Another key issue on sexuality education in Singapore is the assumption that sex, gender and sexuality all correspond. That male, masculinity and loving all things female and feminine is the natural order of things, as with being female, feminine and loving all things male and masculine. It fits penis-into-vagina, I mean hand-in-glove for most people who subscribe to heteronormativity.
Sex is what you are born with, simply put. Chromosomes (XX, XY, and others), balance of hormones (oestrogen and testosterone), gonadal sex (ovaries, testicles or both), anatomical sex (breasts, hair distribution, penis, clitoris, etc.), legal sex (male, female according to the doctor who sexed you at birth), are examples of sex identity.
Gender is not inborn or natural, but something you "perform". To an extent, it is psychological sex - who you think you are. You can be feminine or masculine or anywhere within the imaginary continuum of femininity and masculinity, or beyond it. You wear clothes to signify your membership to a certain gender category, and clothes, just like fashion are contingent on space and time (just look at the 1970s). There are also specific sets of social behaviours to be learned and displayed to indicate your membership to specific gender categories, in respective societies. Learning about gender is important to body confidence, as it allows for teenagers to understand that the idea of beauty and sexiness has a huge cultural dimension, and that we have the choice not to live up to the pressures of conforming to desirable body images.
Sexuality is your emotional and sexual preference, or rather, with whom do you want to fuck. You see, emotional and sexual preference might not be fixed to a specific sex or gender. This is why some heterosexual men prefer women who are slim with long hair (feminine/femme), as opposed to athletic with short hair (tomboyish/relatively butch). But both still constitute "woman".
Sexual identity comprises a host of factors, best covered in the following non-exhaustive set of questions: Who do you want to have sex with? How do you want to have sex? Where do you want to have sex? Who do you want to spend quality time with and how? What are your sexual fantasies? What turns you on?
You will realise that the answers to the few questions above might not correspond. You might want to spend quality time with someone intelligent and articulate like Ho Ching, but you might frivolously fantasise about young strapping male bodyguards. I NEVER SAY ANYTHING AH!!! I NEVER SAY AH!!! ONLY AN EXAMPLE OKAY??!!
So you see, sex, gender and sexuality are far different entities. Sexuality education should be premised on this delineation.
Teenagers should not only be taught the productive aspects of sex, but also the recreational aspects of it, as well as its dangers, OF COURSE. Yes, erect penis enters vagina, coughs out some semen, sperm travels to egg and SHAZZZZAAAMMMM!!! God creates a female foetus that will either stay female or develop a penis. Must be Judaeo-Christian-Islamic-centric, otherwise you don't know how violent monotheistic religions can be, nevermind if they "injure the religious beliefs of others" and who gives a shit about the non-religious Singaporeans any way (since they have once less reason to be protected by the constitution and law).
Sex-negativity stems from the moral agenda to omit sexual pleasure. This is because according to some beliefs, sexual pleasure figures as one pole opposite to religious piety. Yes, very rational, very logic indeed. A bit abstract, but very rational and logical. Yup Yup Yesiree-do!
Hey, there are children all around the world dying, there are Singaporeans who are destitute and ill, there are natural disasters and people aren't helping enough, and there are many old Singaporeans who can't even use their medisave to foot certain bills, BUT IT'S MORE IMPORTANT FOR RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS TO TALK ABOUT SEX AND POLICE IT. What does this say about these organisations and the individuals who vocally promulgate their restrictive views on sex?
They appear to be more (monotheistically) hell-bent on censorship and omitting sexuality education material, and putting moral slants in the way sex education is presented. Why is this so? What does these tell you about these people and organisations? Are their suggestions for "the greater good" just mere apparitions distracting us from "their greater good"?
Sexuality education is just an ideological battlefield. The Ministry of Education probably does not have the testicular fortitude (in the most masculinist sense) to govern or moderate this, because the ruling party is scared of losing votes. Just like you can try asking the government to implement littering and arson laws during the Hungry Ghost month, or implement traffic and parking laws on Friday afternoons on roads near Mosques. The government sees its responsibilities as being the middleman and should shit hit the fan, these vendors will take the fall.
We are in a precarious position with our multireligiosity. Because of modern day politics and our laws, religions cannot go "old school" on one another and use violence. Remember, religion survives and thrives on membership, and people are limited resources. In the spirit of political correctness, as expected in a multireligious setting with numerous levels of state protection, the (monotheistic) belief that other religions are less right, less true and perhaps less moral, is driven underground and manifested in narrative and rhetoric in the public setting.
Sexuality education is one vessel for religion for seize control and ideological dominance. The state probably could not care less, because following the erection of a multireligious society, the secular state has effectively removed religion as a political threat to its power and legitimacy. Religions have to look elsewhere to battle for ideological supremacy, and the domain of sexuality education is one of them.
Rather than let this fester underground, I feel it is important to let religions have their say, openly, rather than have their views disguised as universal views - this is also an obvious strategy to gaining supremacy when you market a body of values as universal and essential. That is why we need to have a polycentric approach to sexuality education. We already have the multireligious infrastructure, so we can definitely discuss openly the various religious views on sex and sexual practices. This way, we will not guilt-trap teenagers into believing what they do is outright universally wrong. We can let them know what is wrong in the eyes of religion and the Singaporean law, and so on. They need the information, not the moralisations passed off as a neutral information.
Speaking of guilt, shouldn't sexuality education be oriented away from making people feel fearful or guilty? That's the job of religious/ideological authorities wherein fear and guilt are used as mechanisms to ensure group conformity. The job of sexuality education, I believe should be about teaching sex and sexuality with the aim of promoting information on sex, gender, sexuality, promoting body confidence, personal responsibility, sexual health and a knowledge of the secular laws of the land.
I am surprised that the Straits Times have revisited the issue of sexuality education with reports by Tan Hui Yee and Eisen Teo. I guess this is the issue they will want to cover for the next 2-3 weeks and probably open discussions on sexual rights and citizenship in Singapore. We will probably see more George Lim Heng Chye's in the press in the following days.