Condoms and ice candy wrappers
The first time I encountered a condom was when I was a school child. That morning, I noticed that the grownups’ cabinet was unlocked, so of course I just had to see what was inside. When the adults caught me rummaging through those little square plastic packets with the rubbery thing inside, they reprimanded me and told me (not quite convincingly) that those were “delicate medicine” for someone’s “runny nose.”
It took me many years to realize what the stuff really was. I was 16, already on my way to college, and flipping through a teen magazine when I saw those plastic packets again in a photo. It was such a revelation, as if a ray of light had broken through the clouds of ignorance in my head, bearing the message: Hyacinth, these are not for runny noses.
It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit that I was clueless for so long, but I have an excuse: Not once in high school did anyone show us students what a condom looks like.
The Philippines’ approach to sex education is conservative, to say the least, and I used to think this was fine. We cover the basics—the human reproductive system, reproduction, pregnancy—but gloss over more sensitive topics such as contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. I thought this was enough—that if we learned the science, we’d learn the implications, too, and that we could keep shying away from topics that made us blush.
But years later, it’s clear that everything they taught us in one chapter of science class was not enough. It was not enough to prevent one in 10 teenage Filipino girls from becoming a mother; not enough to reduce the 29 new cases of HIV daily; not enough to educate the teen fathers who—and this is not a joke—used ice candy wrappers as condoms.
I wish we, as a generation, learned more about safe and responsible sex back when the numbers weren’t as worrisome. That’s tricky to say as a girl who was raised in a devout Catholic family, surrounded by church groups, and looking up at adults who would rather joke with double entendres than sensibly lead The Sex Talk. In an environment where discussing sex is considered both embarrassing and irreligious, the subject remains mystifying terrain for the younger set.
But it doesn’t have to be so. Family and church don’t have to be at odds with sexual education. On the contrary, they should be the primary educators in their respective spheres.
The Department of Education’s impending implementation of comprehensive sexuality education has been met with an outcry from family-oriented and religious groups. Chief of their concerns is that sex ed might encourage young people to engage in sexual activities and ultimately lead to immorality.
Yet this is exactly why family and church have to be on board with sex ed—they should be first to provide the moral and spiritual aspects of this education as they deem needed. We can no longer deny that sex needs to be discussed with young Filipinos in a clear, science-based, and rational way. Institutions such as the DepEd need to provide that. If families and churches fear that it would result in wayward teens, then they could actively complement it with their own provision of guidance and discipline.
I’m not the only one who would like that kind of counsel. In fact, the latest Young Adult Fertility Survey found that teens would like their parents to be their foremost source of sexuality education. And really, wouldn’t that be so much better than just leaving your young daughter to learn about sex from teen magazines?
We have been skirting this subject for so long, and it seems the main barrier that prevents us from tackling it is our own refusal to be level-headed about it. We hide behind sex jokes and euphemisms when we could be mature in our discussions. We never come closer to a better understanding of sex because we are held back by our fears, but it is exactly that understanding that could prevent those fears from materializing.
Until our youth gains comprehensive sexuality education not just from schools but from family and church as well, they’ll have to blindly find their way through this mystifying terrain. May God bless the next adolescent boy who buys a pack of Calypso ice candy wrappers.