(Sex Education Season 4 Spoilers)
After the newly-appointed Headmistress Hope enforces a repressive sex education curriculum in the fictional Moordale High School, female protagonist Maeve Wiley confronts the elephant in the room:
“We shouldn’t be shamed for having sexual desires. You make sex sound terrifying, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be fun and beautiful and teach you things about yourself and your body. You should be telling us how to do that safely.”
This repressive sex-ed curriculum seems to be a reoccurring problem not just in the world of Sex Education (2019), but also in the realities of developing countries. Living in a conservative country such as the Philippines, it is normal for Filipino youth to hide and lie about their sexual activities in fear of being shamed and humiliated. This unaddressed tension keeps growing while nobody wants to take responsibility for it.
Because of the poor sexual education curriculum and implementation, adolescents and youth are among the most vulnerable from unsafe sex practices. The 2021 Digital Report showed that there are 73.91 million internet users in the Philippines, with the majority of users as young as 16. With the wide reach of the internet, sex-related information is one click away, resulting in the self-education about sex. Movies, TV shows, social media, and porn sites are only some of the platforms where any youth can access unfiltered information, while many turn to YouTube and Tiktok for informational videos. This leaves a big gap on whether the Filipino youth are actually consuming useful or dangerous information on sex.
Sex education through Netflix
The rise of popular culture through media is intensified by the pandemic. People, specifically adolescents and young adults, spend most of their time online. Since we can’t go to the mall or stroll outside, scrolling through TikTok or binge-watching a Netflix series became some of the most common ways to relieve stress. Its contents not only provide pleasure, but also different kinds of information to its consumers, including sexual education.
To those who have access to Netflix, you may have come across the show Sex Education released in 2019. Despite the slow progress of a comprehensive sex education in the country, the show became popular among the middle class Filipino youth. The Philippines ranked third for highest demand of the show according to a study conducted in 2020. The Netflix series portrays “TMI” adventures of teens and adults about sex and relationships. It talks about intercourse, gender orientation, sexual identity, consent, sexual harassment, puberty, contraception, abortion, body image and even drug abuse — issues that are often addressed repressively, or left avoided.
Since it is a British TV show, the series may not be entirely the same as what the youth experienced in the Philippines. After all, Western culture and history is significantly different from ours, making many aspects of their experience foreign to us. However, there is one scene from this series that is a lot similar to the situation of sex education in our country. It is when the new headmistress, Hope, decided to implement a sex education class which promotes abstinence instead of safe sex. They strongly advised their students to not engage in any sexual activities.
On the other hand, in the Philippines, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act was passed in 2012. The law dictates the integration of comprehensive sexual education in school curriculums. However, advocates are pointing out that this curriculum is still based on the conservative values the country has since sex before marriage is not widely accepted. Due to this, teenagers engage in sexual activities without any guidance, leading to risky sexual behaviors and teen pregnancies.
TikTok as the new sex education platform
Aside from series and movies, TikTok is also one of the most popular media that became a platform for dissemination of sex education. In a study about TikTok and sex education contents, it was revealed that sexual pleasure, contraceptions, consent, safe sexual practices, and most especially, the failures of traditional sex education are the most common sex-related contents in the said social media. With the increasing number of TikTok users in the Philippines, the information can easily be accessed.
Due to lack of implementation and insufficient curriculum, the youth turn to these platforms to learn more about sex education. While it is true that it can fill the missing pieces in the curriculum, it is also not guaranteed that what they see and hear from these popular media is true and accurate. Some may engage more in risky sexual behaviors because of what they see in the movies or TV shows. Some may also become victims of misinformation.
More vulnerable are those with low media literacy, who are ill-equipped to discern which are credible sources and which are not. Some may also misinterpret what is being said. Though current youth are considered “digital natives”, many barriers stand in between safe sex practices, receiving accurate information, and access to contraceptives and healthcare. Furthermore, these barriers are magnified in low-income communities.
What is the future of sex education in the Philippines?
Nine years after the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, or more commonly known as RH Law, comprehensive sexual education in the Philippines remains lacking.
Teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections stayed as the top concern of Filipino youth, the former tagged as a national and social emergency. By the end of 2021, the Commission on Population (POPCOM) assessed that over 160,000 families will be led by minors in the country. One of the reasons behind these continuously growing numbers is the lack of knowledge about fertility and sexuality. Ineffective implementation of sexual education in schools led the youth to seek knowledge and information on their screens, particularly popular culture.
The Philippines was built as a conservative and religious country through its colonizers. The RH Law can be one step closer to development for the Philippines if it were implemented sooner and more sufficiently. The passage of the law is a great initiative, however, it was not appreciated by the Catholic Church. With petitions against the law, they amplified their disagreement because they believe that contraceptives is a form of abortion.
Because of the rising problem of overpopulation, teenage pregnancy and STDs, the Philippines needs a comprehensive and holistic sex education curriculum in schools that can provide the Filipino youth information about contraceptives, STDs, body image, relationships, sexual harassment, sexual orientation, gender identity, and so much more which they can only learn by accessing social media on their own. The Filipino youth deserve more than TikTok for their sex education. [P]