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The problem with sex education

Some 10 years ago, I joined a group of high school students to do a “work camp” in Gasan, a small town in the western coast of Marinduque. The young boys repainted the physical structure of the public school and did some repairs. While looking at the work they were doing, I happened to go inside a classroom that was used by third-year high school students. There were piles of books the students would use for their studies, and I browsed through one they used for the subject “Health and Home Economics.” The author of the book devoted a chapter to pregnancy. I don’t recall the name of the author who I think was a woman. She gave wise advice to the young: Getting pregnant is best reserved for marriage, marriage must be prepared for, courtship done at the right time in one’s life, dating and choosing one’s spouse require mature judgment and so forth.

Here we have a case of a school in a small town of a small province of the Philippines giving its students education about love and responsibility years before the Reproductive Health (RH) Law was passed.

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I recalled this experience upon reading Michael Tan’s Feb. 14 column. Tan advocates the application of the RH Law because in his view “right now most schools are totally silent when it comes to issues of sexuality, and teachers are too scared to talk about it.” Tan did not present any statistics to support his claim.

I myself worked as a chaplain for a girls’ school for seven years and a boys’ school for five years; and it was not as if these schools did not teach its students matters about sexual conduct and ethics, not to mention biology. It is also arguable that if a small school in a small town of a small province of the Philippines is educating its young people about love and life, then there could be other schools that are doing the same. It might be true that there are teachers or schools who are silent about the matter. But it is also usually a fallacy to generalize.

The problem, as I perceive it, is that education about human sexuality is “ambivalent”: It can be the bearer of two values, good and bad. The root of this ambivalence is the nature of human sexuality itself; it is at the same time a physical and natural event, and also a personal and spiritual event. And it so happens that the two are united so as to form one reality. If these two components were separated then the so-called “sex education” does not really become education but simply “information.” And as everyone knows, information can be mishandled and can end up with sad and catastrophic consequence. Here we have the negative value of such “education.”

People who know a bit of history know that this is what happened in the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s. Schools started giving their students sex education with the resultant alarming progressions in teenage pregnancies and abortions despite information about how to avoid pregnancies through contraceptives.

What I think will really contribute to the good of young people is education about love, life and responsibility, an education which will not only give them the “facts of life” but also the entire context within which these facts contribute to human fulfillment. And that context is the calling to marriage, true love, chastity and mature responsibility, things those young students in that little town of Gasan were being taught. So we must not just give information about facts but rather move into the sphere of educating the youth in virtues.

Parents indeed have the primary duty of carrying out this education because of its very personal and intimate nature. Schools can collaborate with them in this task.

Fr. Cecilio L. Magsino is a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature currently doing his pastoral work in Metro Manila. He was ordained in 1984. He finished BS Physics at the University of the Philippines Diliman and holds a doctorate degree in philosophy from the

Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome.

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TAGS: Marriage, opinion, pregnancy, sex education
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