Recently I read an article about a teenage girl who was convicted for abortion after she was raped by her teen brother. On the same day, in one of the WhatsApp group chats I belong to, a friend told her story of meeting teen boys who contracted HIV through unconsented same-sex intercourse. Meanwhile, even in my neighborhood I see teen couples who got married because of pregnancy.
All of these, to me, is evidence of what is crucially needed by our children: a proper sex education that addresses all the contemporary needs and problems that they face.
Sex education has been part of the current curriculum (K-13) used in Indonesia’s education system, but its content is still sorely lacking, particularly when it comes down to details. In 2016 the Director of Elementary and High School Education Department in the Education Ministry Hamid Muhammad told CNN Indonesia that because sex education is given at school, there is no need for further sex education outside of what is laid out in the curriculum.
I received my first sex education in middle school, ironically, in my Religion subject, in this case Catholicism. One of the topics in that subject was related to sex education. While teaching the topic, our teacher looked uncomfortable, still, I admired her determination to speak clearly about the subject. We did not learn much on that day, except how a baby is conceived and that sex before marriage is a sin.
The next sex education I received was in a biology class also in middle school. It was pretty similar to what we had learned in the Catholic religion class, except the teacher was willing to dedicate more time to answering our questions related to sex. As the internet was not so widespread yet at the time, books and magazines were our only sources. We brought women’s magazines and asked “weird” questions to our teacher, who would calmly respond to them.
He admitted that he could not answer some of our questions, but we did not mind. To this day he is still one of my favorite teachers for his effort in giving sex education. There were more similar sex education material in my biology class in high school and moral philosophy class in university.
But in all the sex education that I received, sex was treated as a separate science, a subject in which we learn about human’s reproductive system. If not science, then sex was connected to religion. Rarely did we discuss other aspects of sex, such as the fact that it is part of building healthy relationship, that it can be a way of relaxing, and that unsafe sex can destroy your life. There was also very little – even no – discussion on the process before sex happens. We jumped into sperm meets egg and, voila, there comes a baby.
We never talked about feelings, nor were we given warning signs of sexual predators. We were never taught how to differentiate human’s touches to know signs of sexual violence, though we, girls, were repeatedly reminded to take care of ourselves and not to “invite” people to do something bad to us.
I have been harassed in three different occasions in public transportation. I remember how helpless, angry and embarrassed I felt at the time. Looking back, I would’ve been more empowered had I received a proper sex education that taught me what consent is and how to defend myself when being harassed.
To celebrate the National Children’s Day that falls on July 23 every year, I think it’s time we start thinking about giving proper sex education to our young generation to reduce or even eliminate cases of sexual violence against them. The world is moving faster than we have ever imagined and our children deserve to receive a substantial answer other than “because it is a sin.”
Antonina Suryantari is a language instructor who loves to write. Writing is her way to reflect, learn, and show gratitude.