Department of Health Secretary Ubial has called for the Department of Education to distribute condoms in public schools in order to try to combat the Philippines’ rising incidence of HIV infection, as well as try to curb the high rates of teen pregnancy.
Not surprisingly, this has been a very divisive issue. People who are against this move feel that giving out condoms in school is condoning sex, and telling kids that it’s ok for them to engage in sexual activity as long as they’re safe. Someone on social media summed this feeling up by saying, “NO! It’s like telling the youth that fornication is ok as long as you keep safe by using condom! What values are we teaching the youth?” Some say that sex is only for married couples so young people absolutely should not be given condoms. Others against the move also said sex education should happen at home.
People who support this move point to the problems of HIV and teen pregnancy in the Philippines and see this as one way that young people can protect themselves against HIV and unplanned pregnancy.
In order to rationally assess the situation, a major fact needs to be acknowledged.
Filipino youth are having sex.
• One in 10 young Filipino women age 15 to 19 is already a mother or pregnant with her first child.
• Teenage pregnancy rates across the world have declined in the past two decades except in the Philippines. The Philippines topped the regional list of Asian countries that continued to have the greatest number of teenage pregnancies.
• About 5% of the grade 9 and 10 students that Roots of Health taught last year said they were already sexually active. This number is likely higher as some individuals do not respond honestly to this question for fear of others seeing their answers.
So when people say that they are against the distribution of condoms in schools because they’re afraid this will make young people engage in sex, they are completely ignoring the fact that millions of teenagers are already having sex. Should we wait for them to become pregnant before we start counseling them on how to prevent pregnancy?
To all those who are against this because they feel it presents the wrong morals, please answer this question: What should we do about all the teens that are already sexually active?
Some people say Sex Ed should start at home. I absolutely 100% agree. But I also know from speaking with hundreds of clients who are themselves parents that many (if not most!) Filipino parents are very uncomfortable with the idea of discussing sex with their kids. They think it is bastos or vulgar. The “sex talk” for Filipino teens thus generally composes of parents saying “Don’t do it until you’re married!” and that’s it. So if young people decide they are going to have sex, they have no idea what could happen to them, or how to minimize risks.
I once was at a health meeting in which hotel owners were considering making condoms available in hotels. A nun who was present objected and said if people see condoms they’ll start having sex. I pointed out that if people have personal convictions, they will not, and if they don’t have those convictions then at least they’ll have safer sex. I pointed out to the Sister that if I gave her condoms I know she wouldn’t run out find a partner and start having sex. Granted, kids can be more impressionable, but condoms are not sexy. Condoms do not make people have sex.
Teenagers who are sexually active or who are going to have sex are going to do it no matter what is done or said to try to stop them. And I believe in harm reduction. Do I want kids to be having sex? No. If they are having sex, do I want them to do it safely so they don’t become young parents or contract HIV? Yes.
Our reality is that we don’t live in a perfect world. Our society has problems. Our youth are having babies much too young, and we are about to have an HIV crisis on our hands. We must react. Denying or ignoring the fact that this is our reality is simply making our problems worse.
Let’s be realistic about the situation and proactive with our solutions. “Business as usual” is failing our young people. I for one refuse to give up on sexually active teens and allow them to become additions to the grim teen pregnancy, maternal mortality and HIV infection statistics of our country.
Philippine Statistics Authority: https://psa.gov.ph/tags/teenage-pregnancy
UNFPA report: http://asiapacific.unfpa.org/sites/asiapacific/files/pub-pdf/UNFPA%20SHR%20YP%20AP_2015%20for%20web-final.pdf