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Views: Children should be taught sex education from a young age

This article is more than 12 months old

Avoiding topic of sex will do more harm than good in long run

I believe that sex education in Singapore is sorely lacking, both at home and in our schools, and is even actively frowned upon by a large percentage of the population.

However, the reality is avoiding the topic of sex with children is not going to protect them and will almost certainly do more harm than good in the long run.

Parents must understand that they play a vital role in providing their children with accurate, age-appropriate information from the earliest stages - and that doing so will help to ensure they develop safe, healthy and secure views of their body and sexuality.

For parents with infants and toddlers, it may seem like matters of sexual development can be avoided until many years down the line.

In reality, children's sexual development begins in their first years, encompassing their sexual knowledge, beliefs and behaviours, which will serve as a foundation for social bonding and intimacy as young adults.

And contrary to popular belief, there is no single "talk" where everything about sex gets taught to them in one go.

They are naturally curious beings and will be constantly absorbing information both through verbal conversations and observations of behaviour at home and in their schools.

Information about sexuality (like most things) should be layered into daily conversations, and important concepts such as consent, attraction and biological functions can be introduced in different stages.

Being open and non-judgmental about these topics at home will ensure you are seen by your children as a credible and trustworthy source, so they can approach you for advice.

Completely avoiding or being dismissive of sexuality and related discussions will serve only to create barriers of communication and cause them to turn to potentially unsafe sources.

But won't talking about sex make them more curious? Well, probably yes.

But isn't it safer if they are curious and can ask questions with a parent around, who can give them accurate information about sexuality and consent, rather than doing so alone on the Internet or with a friend?

If you initiate the conversation, you can establish yourself as a trustworthy source of information while imparting your values and attitudes about sex.

Studies show the average age that a child encounters pornography online is just 10.

So, like it or not, we need to prepare and empower our children with the knowledge of healthy sexuality and relationships, while educating on the potential negative consequences of certain behaviours.

These might include unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and sexual coercion and violence.

I have seen countless men and women in my clinic who are sexually active - many from a young age - lacking in basic knowledge of safe sexual practices.

When I ask them if they can speak to their parents about these topics, almost all will say that is "never going to happen".

Some relate stories of other doctors who have scolded them for asking about contraception or testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

We can no longer treat such topics as shameful and taboo, preaching abstinence only and hoping that does the trick.

We must empower them with the appropriate knowledge to make safe and responsible decisions, to ensure healthy sexual development and behaviours, and to support positive relationships in the future.

The writer is a resident physician at DTAP @Robertson, a general practice clinic with a special interest in men's and women's sexual health. He is also helping to develop the Blueprint to End HIV Transmission in Singapore, focusing on efforts to improve rates of sexual health testing and education in the community.