“SEX is when a man puts his thing into a woman’s thing.” That was the first form of sex education Ezra Lee got from her classmate at eight when she wondered out loud what it was all about.

Lee had caught an episode of Sex And The City the night before and had asked her mother what Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth’s characters were up to in bed.

She had also asked what “sex” meant as the word was often used by the characters in the series. Her question was shot down with a glare and a stern admonition from her mother to never bring up the “S” word ever. But of course Lee did use the word again, the next day, at school.

“My mother told me that only married people talked about sex and that it was none of my business. She seemed angry that I even knew the word. I was not allowed to watch television for a week after that incident,” says the 18-year-old student.

At 15, Lee had her first sexual experience with her boyfriend of same age. They were in his room and had just watched pornography together for the first time. Curiosity got the best of them and they decided to engage in sex, with no protection.

“I never had a proper discussion about sex with an adult. We watched lots of porn and I guess I just followed my instincts on what to do during sex with my boyfriend,” Lee reveals.

Unfortunately, like Lee, there are many young people in Malaysia who are yet to get proper information when it comes to the birds and the bees; and as such are engaging in sexual activity before they are ready for it.

A survey conducted by Universiti Sains Malaysia researchers in Kelantan last year showed that of the 1,034 secondary school students interviewed, only 30% of them knew that just one act of sexual intercourse could cause pregnancy.
Sixty four percent of the students claimed that they received knowledge about sexuality from friends and only 6.5% saw their parents as a source of information.

The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) executive director Sivananthi Thanenthiran believes that young people think that sex is an extremely sensitive topic to discuss with adults, which is why most of them turn to their friends and the Internet for information.

“Even adults may find it difficult to communicate to their own sexual partners about their thoughts and needs when it comes to sex. Hence talking about sex across generations, whether it is teachers and students or parents and children, is going to take some planning and effort,” she says.

In Malaysia, elements of sex education have been included in the secondary school curriculum since 1989, and was later introduced in primary schools in 1994.

Currently, sex education in the local curriculum is known as Pendidikan Kesihatan Reproduktif dan Sosial (PEERS, or Social and Reproductive Health Education).

“I didn’t learn anything about sex from my teachers at all. They just told the boys to stay away from the girls and vice versa,” claims Mohd Hafiz, 19.

Where educators failed, friends and the Internet helped Hafiz to get most, if not all, the knowledge he needed on sex.

Learning materials?

Despite the Malaysian government’s action to restrict the sales and distribution of pornography in this country, young people get easy access to such materials.

If all else fails, they just look for it online. For free.

“I just downloaded movies with XXX (in its titles),” said Brian Uressti, 18.
Uressti is not the first youngster to download pornographic material, and he won’t be the last one either to get information about sex via this medium.

But, as Sivananthi was quick to point out, pornography is probably the worst possible way to learn about sex and relationships.

“Firstly, pornographic materials do not give full, complete and accurate information about many aspects – the consequences of sex such as pregnancy and contracting STIs and the methods to prevent these or how to ascertain if you have contracted an STI for example.

“Secondly, the relationships depicted are not reflective of the full relationship between men and women which includes other aspects such as love and intimacy and this gives the wrong impression of the nature of relationships between them.

“Thirdly, there is a degree of power and control that is exerted by the male over the female in such materials and these notions of power and control can really endanger the relationship,” she said.

It also doesn’t help that some television series and movies now border on soft porn, with full-frontal nudity and sex acts among the characters.

Such uninhibited display of sex in television series or movies may heighten a young person’s curiosity about sex.

“I caught an episode of True Blood the other day and was appalled to see how they depicted sex in that show. The show’s producer didn’t even bother to hide the characters under covers and left nothing to our imaginations,” says Nirmala Devi, 50, a parent to two teenage daughters.

Nirmala says that she is aware that her children are exposed to such scenes with or without her consent.

“It is impossible to restrict them from being in front of a television or computer screen for their whole lives. If they are not watching such TV series under my roof, they would be doing it in their friends’ houses. The least I can do is tell them to come to me if they are thinking about having sex with their boyfriends in the future,” she says.

Support system

Not all parents are open minded when it comes to discussing sex with their adolescent children. While some may brush it off with a laugh, others (like Lee’s mother) react in anger.

“My mother knows (I’m sexually active) and she slapped me in the face when she found out. She was angry at me for a long time,” says Uressti.

Uressti was 14 when he first had consensual sex with his girlfriend. His girlfriend had a pregnancy scare once and Uressti did all he could to prevent the pregnancy from happening by providing her with morning after pills.

The rise of teen pregnancy and baby dumping cases in recent years shows that many young Malaysians are still in the dark when it comes to contraception and safe sex.

The Health Ministry recorded 18,652 births by girls below the age of 19 last year, of whom 4,222 were unmarried. As for the number of babies born without their parent’s names, there were 5,097 cases in 2011 compared to 2,322 from January to August this year.

Selangor topped the list of baby dumping cases with 105, followed by Johor with 83, Sabah with 65 and Sarawak with 34 cases between 2005 and 2010.

“I think young Malaysians have incomplete information about sex, the uses of different methods of contraception and safe sex. It is essential to provide information about all methods of contraception and safe sex to young people.

Because after they get pregnant – there are only two choices for them and both are equally difficult.

“Hence pregnancy prevention, safe sex and negotiation skills are a must for young people as part of their education,” Sivananthi stresses.

Starting young

One of the things Lee wished that she had done when she was younger was pester her mother to tell her more about sex.

“I believe that my mother would have eventually taught me all I needed to know if only I had kept asking her. Because that topic was never broached when I was younger, now I feel extremely shy to ask for her advice when it comes to sex,” she says.

Sivananthi believes that it is important for parents to talk about sex with their children, at least to protect them from untoward incidents.

“I think in today’s world it is essential for us to teach our children, from at least five years old, the difference between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. Children also need to know that other people should not be touching their private parts so that they will not be confused if they are in such a situation with an adult,” says Sivananthi.

She also thinks that two-way communication is the only way young people can get all the necessary information about their sexual needs and how to keep themselves sexually safe.

“In order for a true discussion and dialogue with young people in our society, we really need to build open channels of communication with the younger generation so that we can communicate even about sensitive things such as sex.

“And as adults, although we may have only operated from a reality of telling young people to do something and having it done, this open communication would be something that requires us to put ourselves in a different set of shoes, and really listen to young people’s needs and their lived-realities,” she says.

Note: Some names have been changed.


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