First published in The Jakarta Post, February 4, 2005
SEX EDUCATION, RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL VALUES
Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta
This newspaper (Jan. 27) reported an alarming result of a survey concerning premarital sex among youngsters in four big cities -- Jakarta, Surabaya, Medan and Bandung. The research found that 40 percent of 237 sexually active youngsters who responded to the survey lost their virginity at home, 26 percent at a boarding house and 26 percent in a hotel.
Although 80 percent of total respondents (475) agreed that premarital sex was against their religions values, some still had sex.
Some nagging questions might be raised: Will we, as a nation, be able to advance our knowledge, skills and intellectual capacity, while simultaneously preserving our values and being selective in absorbing "foreign" values? What is the role of education here?
Alas! The study unveiled that only 5 percent of respondents learned about sexuality from schools, while others learned from friends and pornographic materials. This fact shows that there is a pressing need to include sex education in school curriculums to minimize the risks of irresponsible sexual activities and to counter the misguided information the students receive from other sources.
Unfortunately, efforts to include sex education at schools seem to have always hit the wall as a conservative way of thinking still lingers in our conscience. Interestingly, not only in our country, Western countries also encountered similar obstacles. Just recently the Sunday Herald (Jan. 23, 2005) reported that in Scotland "the Catholic Church claimed victory in the ongoing row over sexual health education in schools after insisting that head teachers would be able to block family planning workers from entering classrooms".
Even in the U.S., as Denis L. Carlson (1992) elaborates, there are four influential ideologies that have shaped the thinking of sex education: traditionalist, progressive, radical Freudian and libertarian ideologies. The traditionalists strictly separate mind from body; the mind is to preserve the holiness, while the body tends to corrupt. It adheres to traditional Judeo-Christian teachings that curse adultery, sodomy and homosexuality. Progressives claim to be modern, although still refer to traditional ideologies. However, they subscribe to less reproachful and more healing approaches.
Radical Freudian ideology believes that "sexuality had to become less repressed and more egalitarian", in which homosexuality is somewhat understood. Finally, libertarian ideology "rejects a narrow view that understands sexuality primarily in terms of 'normality' and champions for individual sexual rights".
While many would hope that our country would not embrace the last two ideologies, the combination of the first two somehow reflects the competing forces in our thinking of sexuality. Already we can see how religious (mainly derived from the interpretation of Islam) and cultural values (often dubbed budaya timur, or eastern culture) have penetrated into all spheres of our life.
Simultaneously, we can see how "secular" or perhaps "modern" ideology is also competing to influence the way we perceive sexuality, such as the much-debated "safe sex" campaign in the media. Sex education is unfortunately something that is inevitable.
But how do we pursue sex education? Certainly, a scientific explanation of biological aspects of human sexuality and reproduction can serve as an effective foundation, as biology is taught at schools. However, in a country where religiosity has deep roots, this is not enough. An appreciation of religious values should be imparted to make students aware of how great God is in creating this marvelous system of reproduction.
Some argue that sex education should be a single isolated subject; some say inserting sexuality in pertinent subjects could be more profoundly affecting. Some experts argue that the younger the better for students.
At the elementary school level, for example, a simple picture of a pregnant mother might be useful to explain about where "we are all from". At higher levels, issues of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, abortion, teenage pregnancy and single parents can be discussed and the social consequences and wide-ranging perspectives can be explored in a candid manner.
To Muslim students, for example, a basic understanding of the fiqh regarding the relationship between husband and wife and its sexually related issues might also be introduced.
These issues need to be thoroughly debated by educators and scholars of all faiths. Nevertheless, getting a common understanding might be problematic unless all parties "take off their jackets" and faithfully make the interests of our young generation the top priority.
Therefore, the political will of the government is still needed to facilitate the push toward sex education in formal education, as well as the collective will of civil society to urge the media to touch on sexuality in a more educational but religiously sensitive way.
The harder we suppress sexuality, the more eager youngsters are to explore sexuality in their own way. Unless we candidly embrace their curiosity in a pedagogically responsible manner, our youngsters may depart from our values and subscribe to their own "wild" interpretation of sexuality.
(This article was republished by The Star Online on Sunday, February 6, 2005)