Sex education in Singapore's schools should provide teens with objective, reliable information, Education Ministry says

The number of teenagers contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections has increased over the past several years, Singapore's Education Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Thursday, the Straits Times reports.

In 2008, 787 STIs were recorded among teenagers, a more than threefold increase from the 238 cases in 2002. In addition, nine new HIV cases were reported among teenagers in 2007, compared with one in 2002. According to Ng, the figures highlight the need for sex education programs.

The programs also are needed because of increases in sexual activity and unintended pregnancies among teens, the Times reports. According to a 2006 Health Promotion Board and education ministry survey of 4,000 students between ages 14 and 19, about 8% reported being sexually active. In addition, less than one-quarter of sexually active teenagers reported using contraception to protect against STIs and unintended pregnancies.

Changes in attitudes toward sex -- as well as the increased exposure teens have to information about sex -- only increase the need for schools to provide students with objective and reliable information about sex, according to Ng. He added that sex education programs in schools have changed since the programs were introduced in 2000. He said, "When we started, the key message was abstinence, reflecting the conservative social tone of our Asian society, where liberal values on sex are not espoused," adding, "This is not a negative facet of our society. It is not prudish, regressive or naive."

Ng said that two years ago, the focus of sex education programs changed from abstinence to include information about how to prevent unintended pregnancies and STIs. He said, "In 2007, messages were added -- beyond knowing how to say no -- students were also taught the repercussions of unwanted pregnancies and STIs and HIV and how to prevent them. This is now a key focus of sexuality education, and should continue to be moving forward" (Tan, Straits Times, 5/22).

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