WAFIQ would like to respond to the letter “Informed Choice is Best” from Syirin Junisya of the Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia (FHRAM) dated July 9, 2019.
We reiterate that we agree with providing education on reproductive biology, sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and how to recognise safe and unsafe touch. What is still a matter of debate and is not acceptable in our culture is the framing of pre-marital sex as a lifestyle choice dictated by purportedly “informed consent” in the Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) syllabus promoted by the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF).
There are three main reasons why these ideas are faulty:
1. The IPPF which promotes CSE have very dubious definitions of consent. Its explanation includes very vague terms such as reversible consent (can be withdrawn at any time), enthusiastic consent, specific consent and freely given consent. How are young people supposed to navigate these ambiguous terms and more importantly, how are young girls supposed to enforce this kind of consent on a sexually stimulated male? The only type of consent which is valid is the consent obtained in the presence of a girl’s father/guardian and two witnesses with the commitment to each other in a stable and loving relationship. Young people need to learn that any other situation is not the norm and should ring alarm bells for a multitude of reasons.
2. Child sexual exploitation has recently been in the news again with the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein in the United States for federal charges of sex trafficking of minors. The details of the case echo harrowingly with the Rotherham child sex exploitation scandal in England not too long ago. In the official inquiry following the latter, it was found that the authorities in Rotherham were complacent toward underage sexual activity because they assumed that young people were making a lifestyle choice. The Rotherham Inquiry pointed out that “children as young as 11 were deemed to be having consensual sexual intercourse when in fact they were being raped and abused by adults.” It was also stated that “comprehensive sex and relationship education” has created in young people the expectation that they will have a series of casual sexual relationships. Within this culture which is still prevalent in the United Kingdom, sexual exploitation has been allowed to go undetected and vulnerable young people have been deprived of protection. In Malaysia there is no shortage of cases of vulnerable children exploited not just by adults but also by other children. Do we seriously think that teaching them about sex as a lifestyle choice, devoid of a moral framework, is doing them a service?
3. Reducing sex to merely a biological function which can be “managed” by contraception and vague definitions of consent completely disregard the profound psychological effects of pre-marital sex, particularly on women. Evidence from psychological research shows that people who engaged in casual sex and the ‘hookup culture’ had lower levels of self-esteem, life-satisfaction and happiness, manifested mainly by depression and anxiety compared to those who did not indulge in this behaviour. The sensation of ‘being used’ is the most common experience of women who engage in casual sex. The physiological reality is that the female body is steeped in oxytocin and oestrogen, hormones that cause a woman to bond with the person she is intimately engaged with. So in addition to the dangers of STIs and violence, sex outside of marriage is also harmful to women in particular, from a mental health perspective which is often grossly underplayed.
FHRAM also quoted the National Survey of Family Growth in the US. The survey was to determine the impact of sexuality education on youth sexual risk-taking behaviour for young people aged 15-19, and found that teens who received CSE were 50% less likely to experience pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education. However, FHRAM did not point out that the failure of abstinence in the US completely disregards the definition of abstinence in our culture which has different basic principles altogether.
Abstinence cannot succeed in a society which normalises free mixing between the genders, events such as “prom nights”, and the proclivities which accompany it. Abstinence in our local context starts from prevention of situations which lead to sexual encounters. This includes preventing vulgarity from entering through the eyes and ears, gender segregation (including in school), prohibition of a male and female being in a room together, and resistance to normalisation of sexual mores as portrayed by the popular Western media and entertainment sources.
Most importantly, we cannot discount the effects of the rampant availability of pornography today at the click of a button. Without moral values and abstinence as the key concepts in sex education, we are left only with superficial key indices of “success” which the CSE curriculum supposedly contributes to, namely delay of initiation of sexual intercourse, decrease in the frequency of sexual intercourse, decrease in the number of sexual partners, reduced risk taking, increased use of condoms and increased use of contraception, all of which hardly address sexual education that is oriented to married love and the virtues required by a stable nuclear family.
We have also taken note of the brief report of the regional study by the Asia Pacific Research and Resource Centre for Women in 2018 mentioned by FHRAM. Going through the report, the statement that CSE is widely accepted by Asian countries due to its relevance is far from correct. The reports were based on 11 countries from South, South East and Central Asia. Pakistan was the only Muslim majority country in the report. This report merely provided an overview of the status of the implementation of CSE within Asia, and identified the gaps in policies. CSE in its current form of using an amoral and relativistic approach, and which includes diversity in sexual orientation as one of the seven basic components, is clearly antithetical to Malaysian society which is guided by religious values.
Once again, we do not object to providing education on reproductive biology, sexually-transmitted infections (STI) and how to recognise safe and unsafe touch. We applaud the efforts made by the Women, Family and Community Development Development to educate children about safe and unsafe touch, LPPKN’s programmes such as Say No To Zina and the work done by Malaysians Against Pornography. What is objectionable is the CSE-IPPF syllabus which frames pre-marital sex as a valid lifestyle choice. We would also like to invite other faith communities in Malaysia to stand in support with us in this matter.
Assoc. Prof Dr Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar
International Women’s Alliance for Family and Quality Education