Of Biology and Theology: Why we need to talk to young people about sex

Guest Article

by Cha Coronel Datu
A 12 year old being treated for STD … an 8 year old raped by a 9 year old… a 13 year old getting pregnant and then undergoing emergency caesarean section after complications from labor… an 18 year old dying of severe infection after self-inducing an abortion using 3 different methods…
Does one need to be a Catholic or a non-Catholic to feel horrified by real life cases like these in the Philippines?
One of the highest pregnancy rates in the ASEAN… 1 in 10 women aged 15-19 already mothers or pregnant with their first child… 1 in 5 unsafe abortions being done on teenage or young mothers… 1 in 3 HIV infected individuals in the country aged between 15-24… 1 in 5 maternal deaths are among adolescents… 62% of sexually transmitted infections also affecting adolescents…
What does one do with these confronting statistics?
What does one do about a train that’s gone off the rails?
Well, for starters, we need to tell young people how women become pregnant in the first place. We need to inform them that young girls’ bodies are not yet fully developed to cope with pregnancy and that the risk of maternal death is twice as likely for teenage girls than for women in their 20s. We need to apprise them of the consequences of irresponsible or risky sexual behavior. In short, we need to provide them the necessary information that can help them prevent, solve, and reduce problems related to their own reproductive health.
In 2006, the Department of Education attempted to trial Sex Education classes in Philippine schools but backed off and scrapped the program after encountering strong opposition from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
On June 2010, just a few days before President Aquino’s inauguration, the Dep Ed again attempted to launch a pilot program; again amidst much protestation from the CBCP and a lawsuit even thrown in by a parents group for good measure. Only a month after it started, the new Dep Ed Secretary, Bro. Armin Luistro, announced that the pilot testing was finished and that “he would create a group to review the teaching of sex education in public schools as part of a two-year general review of the basic education curriculum.”

The halftime score: CBCP -2, Dep Ed – 0
The CBCP’s objection to Sex Education classes in Philippine schools is premised on their belief that “it (sex education) should be left to parents”. In June 2010 Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, CBCP Media Office Director stressed that “parents, not schools, know best when their children are ready to understand sexuality.”
In a January 31, 2011 Pastoral Letter vs. the RH Bill, the Bishops reiterate this position in the following statement:
“We condemn compulsory sex education that would effectively let parents abdicate their primary role of educating their own children, especially in an area of life – sexuality – which is a sacred gift of God.”
But lo and behold! Just this Aug 25th, the CBCP NASSA (National Secretariat for Social Action- Justice and Peace) has announced in their website nassa.org.ph that “beginning SY 2013 – 2014, Theology of the Body will be integrated into Catholic schools’ curricula.”
According to the same website, Theology of the Body is based on a series of lectures given by Blessed John Paul II that focused on an integrated vision of man and his sexuality. Its teachings will include “the body and the sexual relationship itself (as) a symbol of God’s undying love for humanity.”
Further information on Theology of the Body may be found on theologyofthebody.com:
“Theology of the Body for Teens is a dynamic faith formation program for teens and pre-teens in Catholic schools, parish youth ministries, Religious Education, Confirmation, and home-school settings. Using a great mix of stories, real-life examples, activities, prayers, and relevant references to the culture, it goes beyond traditional chastity programs by connecting the two hottest topics on the planet–God and sex. “
“With Blessed Pope John Paul II’s compelling vision for love and life, and a language they understand, Theology of the Body for Teens answers the questions teens and pre-teens have about their own bodies, issues on sexual morality, and how they are uniquely created for greatness.”
So there you go, Sex Education- the Catholic edition, is coming soon to Catholic schools in the country in 2013.
The CBCP, it would seem, has finally realised that parents, in fact, might need a bit of help talking about sex with their own children.
So let’s not gloat or say I told you so, much as we may be tempted to; what matters is that Catholic School adolescents will now have someone talking to them about sexuality. That’s more than a little over 1.3 million high school students in the Philippines covered.
It may be a completely different approach from the Dep Ed modules; more theology than biology, that is. But it’s really better than nothing. The science curriculum can hopefully fill in the gaps such as basic education about the reproductive processes (also can be known henceforth as the biology of love) and puberty and sexual behaviour.
Round 3 therefore goes to both the CBCP and Dep Ed.
But the next one is all for Dep Ed’s taking, if it manages to play its cards right.
With most of the private schools now covered, it can focus on the over 5.5 million high school students enrolled in public schools. All it really needs to do now is implement their twice stalled Sex Education program for the public schools alongside the implementation of the Theology of Love classes in the Catholic schools beginning next year.
Having mustered the political will to roll out implementation of the more complicated K+12 program in 2012, there is no reason why Dep Ed should not be able apply the same zeal and commitment in relaunching the Sex Education Program in public schools in 2013. The public schools, after all, are under their full supervision.
How can one pass up on an opportunity like this?
Go Dep Ed.
32 Responses to “Of Biology and Theology: Why we need to talk to young people about sex”
  1. Anonymous says:

    From: Island Jim-e (aka: The Cricket)1. Good tiddings! Three cheers for thearticle and three more for the DepartmentOf Education and Church Leadership!2. I would like to believe-think thatJohn Paul is looking after his flock longafter he retired to "greener pastures"!3. It remains to be seen what kind of,type, energy, resources will be put ingear by the DOE to implement this "newage" reformation. 4. I hope that the congress is awareof this "news" and what it means to theRH time-line-processing as they havealready "beat this horse to death"–wasted taxpayer time and dollars!chirp!

  2. Edgar Lores says:

    It's a delicious irony that a Pope is more advanced in his thinking than the dinosaurs of CBCP.Now the CBCP must absolve its many sins by standing down and removing its opposition to the RH Bill.That will leave only Sen Sotto – and the other senators who have refused to censure him – as the dinosaurs that still roam around.(My deepest apology to the dinosaurs.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Cha, isn't there a conflict of interest situation when the head of DepEd is a LaSalle brother? He'll probably end up like Fr. Bernas- jesuitic? Offhand, I'm troubled at the rise of AIDS in the country-I saw 3 cases this year but zero the previous 10 years.DocB

  4. As in K to 12, do not forget the teachers. Designing the curriculum is really one small step in the entire scheme. It is still far away from what actually happens inside a classroom. And from that, it is still a long distance to actual learning.

  5. Cha says:

    Thanks Jim-e. I like what you said about John Paul seemingly still taking care of his flock even when he's been long gone. God, clearly does work in mysterious ways.I think the bishops are trying to sneak in this bit of news from right under the congressmen's and senator's noses because of the obvious inconsistency with their previous objections to the sex education classes. We need to put the pressure on Dep Ed on this one instead of Congress, though. The Sex Ed classes should really be able to go ahead in the public schools independent of the RH Bill.

  6. Cha says:

    Well, let's not forget that the dinosaurs disappeared because of their inability to adapt to the changes in their environment.I don't see the bishops standing down just yet on their opposition to the RH Bill. There's the more contentious issue of the use of contraceptives. It's still a long uphill battle. For the sake of the Catholic Church, the bishops need to do a bit less talking and a lot more discerning, maybe have more reading time than presstime, and finally they need to make this whole RH issue less about them and more about "God's undying love for humanity" ( which underpins the Theology of Love approach).

  7. Cha says:

    Glad you brought that up, DocB,. When he assumed office ilast July 2010, Luistro said that Sex Ed was not his priority, that his marching orders from President Aquino was to resolve the more pressing problems of lack of classrooms and teachers in to years time. Well, it's been to years hence so let's hope he gives Sex Ed more attention now. Doesn't the mention of responsible parenthood in President Aquino's SONA sound like marching orders on Sex Ed or does Luistro need that written down in an Executive Order?

  8. Cha says:

    Dios mio, that's two years not to years! Sorry.

  9. Cha says:

    I agree, it's still easier said than done. But I suppose when they drew up the plans for piloting the program in 2006 and then again in 2010, that would have included resourcing and logistics.I appreciate that Dep Ed probably have their hands full at the moment what with the K+12 implementation and these perennial problem of classroom and teacher shortages but there's got to be some way they can get Sex Ed off the ground even if starts only in those areas where kids are at most risk for hiv/aids and other STDs.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hey mum! good job! this is good for young people! xoxo

  11. Angel, that is really an important notion. When teachers are poorly trained or overworked, and classrooms stuffed 45 each, then the clarity of the message might get watered down. And if the kid goes home to a bare home life with no attention or reinforcement . . . bad deal.

  12. Cha, first of all, thanks for penning this article, in line with my intention to focus on the family and kids with upcoming blogs. You kept the tenor positive, but I have to admit that the CBCP makes my blood boil with their hard line fight against RH. If the Church has the wholesome interest of kids in mind, they MUST teach sex education or welcome throwing kids as teens into a very promiscuous Philippines with little or no guidance. Education is not a sin, and ANY subject can be presented gracefully if given enough thought.

  13. Cha says:

    Thanks sweetie! Err, have you finished your homework yet? :))

  14. Cha says:

    My pleasure, Joe.I deliberately avoided mention of the RH Bill In the article itself for that very reason. The discussion on the RH Bill has become quite emotional of late, and Sex Ed was getting buried underneath all the contraceptive hoopla. Let's hope it gets some attention on its own now.

  15. Cha says:

    All valid points. But what has anyone ever accomplished focusing on why an idea will not work? It's always good to be well aware of potential problems before executing a plan but only for the purpose of preparing oneself for contingencies and not to become paralysed Into inaction. I just can't help being an optimist, I guess.

  16. Education is similar to medical care. Efforts alone are not enough. These need to be correct efforts otherwise damage can be made. For example, I take issue on a statement you made above regarding "young girls’ bodies are not yet fully developed to cope with pregnancy and that the risk of maternal death is twice as likely for teenage girls than for women in their 20s." I refer you to "The health consequences of teenage fertility." by Carolyn Makinson in Fam Plann Perspect. 1985 May-Jun;17(3):132-9, to see a fuller account on why teenage pregnancy comes with higher risk. Saying that teenage pregnancy is higher risk because of biological reasons may instill unfounded fears on students, and if they do get pregnant at a young age, these may cause stress and lead them to making additional wrong medical decisions (resorting to unsafe abortion, since the practice is illegal in the Philippines, for example).

  17. Cha says:

    The statements you quote were based on pronouncements from several international organisations like Save the Children, Every Woman's Right, and Advocates for Youth. I did not make them up.From Mail Online, June 27, 2012:'The issue of children having children – and dying because their bodies are too immature to deliver the baby – is a global scandal,' said Save the Children’s chief executive Justin Forsyth.Save the Children (Asia), June 20,2012:The risk of maternal death is twice as likely for teenage girls than for women in their 20s, Save the Children says. In a new report released this week, Every Woman’s Right, the international organisation focusing on child rights added that 50,000 teenage girls worldwide die during pregnancy or childbirth, often because their bodies are not yet fully developedFrom Adolescent Women and Their Infants: at Risk for Injury, Illness, and Deathan Advocates for Youth publication Adolescents age 15 through 19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or child birth as those over age 20; girls under age 15 are five times more likely to die.[2,6,7]

  18. Education like medical care needs to be based on scholarly research that is peer reviewed and evidence-based.

  19. Here is the take of the National Library of Health (UK) on Save the Children's report:"It’s important to note that this is a global figure, which includes the high number of teenage pregnancies in the developing world. It should not cause unnecessary alarm to teenage mothers in the UK."The biological correlation is not true if the finding does not apply to British teenagers.

  20. Cha says:

    Erratum: Every Woman's Right is not an organisation, it's a report issued by Save the Children this 2012 on Family Planning

  21. Cha says:

    The statement you quote should be taken in the context of those that preceded it, as follows:"Childbirth is the number one killer of teenagers,” the Metro today warned, while The Daily Telegraph reported that “one million teenage girls 'suffer death or injury from pregnancy'”.These alarming headlines stem from a new charity report looking at improving family planning in the developing world. The report from the charity Save the Children, highlights the fact that girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy than women in their 20s, and that babies born to younger mothers are also at greater risk."

  22. The point is this: Teenage pregnancy poses a higher risk in developing countries because prenatal and maternal care in these places are lacking. In addition to the social stigma of teenage pregnancy, access to quality care makes it even more difficult for a teenager to receive adequate care and nutrition during pregnancy. The reasons why teenage pregnancy is riskier are socio-economic and not biological. That is why it does not apply to teenage mothers in the UK.

  23. Anonymous says:

    What a great piece. Thanks! This should make CBCP rethink their position.

  24. With all the divisive discussions regarding the RH bill as well as the offensive statements against the Catholic Church, what surprises me is how the Executive Department of the Philippine government gets away with its inaction. The following is already law of the land (Magna Carta for women, section 17):"…Access to the following services shall be ensured:(1) Maternal care to include pre- and post-natal services to address pregnancy and infant health and nutrition;(2) Promotion of breastfeeding;(3) Responsible, ethical, legal, safe, and effective methods of family planning;(4) Family and State collaboration in youth sexuality education and health services without prejudice to the primary right and duty of parents to educate their children;(5) Prevention and management of reproductive tract infections, including sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and AIDS;……(b) Comprehensive Health Information and Education. – The State shall provide women in all sectors with appropriate, timely, complete, and accurate information and education on all the above-stated aspects of women's health in government education and training programs…."While we discuss the RH bill and sex education at infinite length, the government is not held accountable for implementing laws that are on the books already.

  25. Cha says:

    That the reasons why teenage pregnancy is riskier are socio-economic and not biological; that is not stated in the material itself.And the point is that the whole point of the piece I wrote is not to tell Dep Ed what they should be teaching in the Sex Education classes. The assumption is that they already got that figured out as they have already twice attempted to launch the program in the country. The intention of the article is to put pressure on Dep Ed into taking action on the stalled implementation of their program.

  26. Cha says:

    Thanks. I hope It also spurs Dep Ed into action.

  27. Edgar Lores says:

    If I may intrude, the issue may not be that "teenage pregnancy poses a higher risk" because care is lacking or because of biological reasons.The issue is to prevent teenage pregnancy. For many reasons.Is this not one of the reasons for Sex Ed?

  28. Cha says:

    Exactly, Edgar.DepEd has already developed the Sex Ed curriculum. It's really a matter of implementing it now.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Is it true this theology of the body includes a lecture on the benefits of chastity or virginity in teens?

  30. Cha says:

    Looks like it. Apart from the statement quoted above about it "going beyond traditional chastity programs" (which somehow implies it is incorporated into the TOB program); the resource material "TOB for Teens, High School Edition" is described as answering questions teens may have about sexuality and included are the following:- how can teens remain pure in our oversexed culture and,- does waiting for sex make marriages stronger?Both questions seem to address issues on chastity and virginity.

  31. Cha, it looks like manangbok is a kindred spirit: https://manangbok.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/sex-ed/ – since Joe’s people powered journalism article I am checking out the good blogs.

    • cha says:

      Thanks for the heads up Irineo. I’m working on another article at the moment and will bookmark this blog for a visit soonest. ‘Ta.

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