Youths say: Stop preaching about sex

Straits Times
29 Jan 2007

Youths say: Stop preaching about sex
By Gracia Chiang

When it comes to sex talk, youths are not mincing their words. ‘Don’t preach to us’, ‘not this again’, ‘shut up already’ – are just some expressions of message fatigue in response to campaigns about sex.

At a recent HIV/Aids youth conference organised by the Singapore Management University, founder of Singapore International Youth Council Bernise Ang noted: ‘The abstinence message could be harmful despite its good intentions because it doesn’t reflect reality.’

Jonathan Teo, 15, a Secondary 3 student at a Methodist school, said: ‘You hear it once, then when the next person tells you not to have premarital sex, you can practically repeat everything.’

The message clearly needs updating.

In a survey completed in November by Fei Yue Community Services (FYCS), 1,383 secondary school students indicated they wanted to hear less about abstinence.

Among 16 sexuality education topics, two-thirds ranked ‘Building healthy relationships with the opposite sex’ top. By comparison, ‘Commitment to abstinence from premarital sex’ ranked 12th.

Youths want education to go beyond the physical component of sex and into nurturing strong relationships. This idea of reversing the approach – focusing on what youths can do instead of what youths should not do – is one that is catching on quickly.

The same survey showed that 81.9 per cent of students had not spoken to any adult about intimate issues, with 17.8 per cent saying that they perceive adults to be awkward with the subject of sex.

More likely to address these sentiments are peer-led programmes such as the Youth Advolution For Health (YAH) under the Health Promotion Board.

Now into its second year, the programme uses peer influence to promote a healthy lifestyle, which includes staying away from promiscuous sex.

YAH chairman Celeste Phua, 21, said: ‘Youths tend to be more rebellious towards ‘don’t do this’ messages. We use projects that attract youths, then convey the health message.’

The 130 members, aged 17 to 25, organise events such as the smoke-free and alcohol-free party held two weeks ago at the DXO club.

Mr Helmi Ali, 23, a third-year student at the Nanyang Technological University, said: ‘The most effective ways are informal. It’s more meaningful when friends talk to you than having a poster talk to you.’

The writer is a third-year communication studies student at the Nanyang Technological University.

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