On October 6th, a brave high school student in Singapore penned an open letter to her principal about her sex ed class, in which she asserts, “the workshop and booklet actively serve to promote rape culture in school.”
Agatha Tan’s letter has gone viral, with 4,533 shares on Facebook (as of 10/17), and a slew of supportive articles and posts, such as Jezebel, HuffPo Parents, Business Insider, Singapore, and BuzzFeed to name just a few. Some of Agatha’s key points include:
I learned a simple yet important lesson: that bigotry is very much alive and it was naive of me to think I could be safe from it even in school.
[The workshop presenter from Focus on the Family] sends a dangerous message: that you should always assume that a girl means something else (like “yes”) when really she just means “no”.
The joking attitude here only serves to reinforce rape culture, since the guys now come to mistakenly understand that girls always mean the opposite when they say anything, including “no”.
[Focus on the Family's] portrayal of guys with regards to their raging hormones not only makes them seem pathetic, but again reduces girls to their role as supporters of their male counterparts.
I feel that [Focus on the Family] has used sexuality education as an opportunity to further spread their own conservative, “God-ordained” beliefs rather than to educate students on arguably more important things such as safe sex, sexual identity and shared and equal responsibility.
The quickness and ease with which the facilitator dismissed anyone outside of his limited moral framework was a clear display of bigotry and tells students that acceptance is beyond him.
This Freak Out of Agatha’s, and the ensuing viral Freak Out occurring internationally, highlights the absolute need to realize that bad sex ed IS happening, and thank goodness someone is willing to tell us all about it. How many other bad sex ed stories are there, or worse, how many times bad sex ed has contributed to poor sexual decision-making, shame, and/or boundary violations?
Since we can’t wave a magic wand and get rid of all the bad sex ed, we need to prepare teens to do just what Agatha did- critically examine (aka, tear apart) the sex ed they get. Just because there’s an outside expert, students still need to determine if the content and delivery is on point. I’ll put out a shameless plug for a lesson plan I wrote about examining fear based methods: “Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid!” It’s published in the curriculum Teaching Safer Sex, Volume 2. In addition, SIECUS has some helpful reviews on existing curricula and speakers in their Community Action Kit. So students: listen carefully and think critically about how people talk about sex and sexuality.
And once they realize their sex ed is bad, they can clamor for sex ed that’s GOOD. Sex ed that is not only accurate and age-appropriate, but also inclusive, affirming, and thought-provoking. Facilitators that are open-minded and welcoming, that do not shut students down or cross boundaries.
Props to Agatha Tan. I hope she continues to inform the leaders in her community, and the world, about any BAD sex ed she gets in the future.