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A Critique
AWARE CSE - Comprehensive Sexuality Education

This is an attempt to look at AWARE's Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) as laid out in their Basic Instructor Guide (version 3, released in July 2008) which serves as a framework for the facilitation of their workshops. The Instructor Guide is henceforth referred to as IG here.


Ice-breaking activity (IG, pages 11-12) - Module 2

Students (in groups) are asked to generate words associated with sexuality and sex and then categorize them into three categories – positive/neutral/negative. Alternatively, students can refer to the words on Page 2 of their workbook and categorize those words.

The latter method of conducting this ice-breaking activity seems to recognize that some students may lack knowledge in these areas. This is confirmed by the Trainer Notes (IG, page 15):
"In the event that the workshop participants are 12-13 year olds, trainers must take the lead in explaining the meaning of the terms used. Do not assume that the participants know/are aware of what contraceptives, oral sex or anal sex means. Take the time to explain the terms and in the event of lack of time, do not attempt to facilitate discussion on each word on the list."
"Explaining the meaning of the terms used" is imparting knowledge i.e., educating ... which is good.


Debrief of ice-breaking activity (IG, pages 12-15)

The following is the suggested categorization of words (IG, page 13).

Positive Neutral Negative
Pleasure
Fun
Orgasm
Love
Foreplay
Condom
Homosexual
Sexy
Pre-marital sex
Anal sex
Virginity
Pill
Pain
Teenage pregnancy
Rape
Violence
Drugs
HIV/AIDS
STI
Power

I presume these words are the same words on Page 2 of their workbook.

According to the IG, there are no absolute answers, as it depends on the context. The IG goes on to explain why the words should be in these particular categories. Text in red is taken verbatim from the IG.
  1. Anal sex - can be healthy or neutral if practised with consent and with a condom.

    Anal sex often refers to the sex act involving the insertion of the penis into the anus. This seems to be the reference in the IG as the use of the condom is recommended.

    Historically, anal sex has been associated with male homosexuality - men having sex with men. It is probably practised to some degree among the heterosexual population in Singapore. By the way, anal sex can also be extended to include other sexual acts such as anilingus (anal-oral contact) and fingering (of the anus).

    Anal sex is a comparatively high risk sexual behaviour due to the thin lining of the rectum and the septic nature of the anus. Even with the use of a condom, anal sex can be risky as condoms are more likely to tear during anal sex than during vaginal sex. Therefore, anal sex is not neutral and definitely not healthy! If you still choose to practise anal sex with a condom then you are toying with danger.

    Fifteen minutes is allocated to Module 2 (IG, page 7) which includes the ice-breaking activity and debrief and explanation of categorization of words associated with sexuality and sex. The IG states "Take the time to explain the terms and in the event of lack of time, do not attempt to facilitate discussion on each word on the list." But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing for teenagers because they tend to try novel experiences without considering the consequences of their actions. "Just do it" seems to resonate among teenagers.

    Are students made aware that they can get HIV from anal sex? This is stated in item 18 (IG, page 15) ...
    18. HIV/AIDS – HIV is a virus that is transmitted through bodily fluid transfer. This could be from unprotected sexual intercourse including oral sex and anal sex. A person does not show any symptoms when infected with HIV.
    ... but is this danger highlighted to students? Why categorize anal sex as healthy or neutral (a) when one can get HIV from anal sex? (b) when condoms are more likely to tear during anal sex? and (c) when one's potential sex partner does not show any symptoms of HIV even if he/she is infected?

    There is speculation that AWARE has a hidden agenda behind the CSE workshops. The listing of anal sex as the first on the list of terms to be explained does not help. In any listing, there is usually a reason behind the order e.g., alphabetical order, importance, order as shown in the categories, etc. Anal sex is first on the list not because it starts with the letter "A" as the rest of the list shows that the words are not listed in alphabetical order. The listing also does not correspond to the listing in the categories. So why is anal sex the first item to be explained? Is it first in importance? Important to who ... the students? AWARE? Maybe, there is simply no reason behind the order of the listing.
  1. Pre-marital sex - people might place pre-marital sex as negative, but it is really neutral. The key is whether the couple is aware of the consequences and responsibilities and is ready for them. Sex with girls under 14, with or without her consent, is considered as statutory rape. Sex with girls under 16, with or without her consent is considered as carnal connection.

    The phrasing of the above statement is loaded. It sounded like "People might place pre-marital sex as negative, but (here's the truth) it is really neutral."

    I have no issue with the subsequent statement ... being aware of the consequences and responsibilities and is ready for pre-marital sex ... if we ignore religions and are talking with adults. But we are living in multi-religious Singapore and the CSE workshops are targeted at teenagers as young as 12! Some religious groups view pre-marital sex as morally wrong whether or not you are aware of the consequences (e.g., pregnancy, AIDS, or STIs) and ready to face them and bear the responsibilities. Moreover, since when are teenagers ready for the consequences and responsibilities of sex? Anybody can be a father or mother but it takes maturity and financial independence to be a parent!

    Are teenagers truly aware of the consequences and responsibilities of pre-martial sex? They know they may get pregnant but do they know that have to stop school to deliver the child? Who is going to support the child financially? If you and your partner have to stop school so as to work, you will have fewer job opportunities and less income which in turn may mean fewer opportunities for the child.

    Let's pause for a moment and consider why there are provisions in our laws against offences deemed as statutory rape and carnal connection. Isn't it good enough if there is mutual consent and/or the parties involved are aware of the consequences and responsibilities and are ready for them? The rationale for these provisions - "Minors are considered to be a vulnerable group as they may be immature and thus more susceptible to exploitation and abuse. Hence, there are provisions in our laws to protect minors against sexual exploitation." For the same reason - that minors may be immature - sexuality education must be carefully designed, explained and cautioned.
  1. Virginity - is a concept which is really difficult to fix, traditionally virginity is related to the hymen. But perhaps we can also think of virginity as a state of mind?

    A virgin is a person who has never had sex1. To define virginity as a state of mind takes the cake. It is saying that if you think you are a virgin then you are a virgin. Our mind (what we think or believe) does not determine or change reality!

    Have the content developers (and auditors) of the IG considered the likely impact of "virginity is a state of mind" on different groups of teenagers - those who had sex, those having sex and those who have not had sex?

    1 We would have to define "sex". In its biological and traditional sense, "sex" is the act in which the penis enters the vagina. But in today's world, shouldn't we extend its meaning to include oral sex and anal sex?

  1. Fun – sex is meant to be fun. However, like all things that we enjoy, there are some rules and regulations for sex, which you must set for your self first. Then you must also know what your partner feels and whether he has a different motivation for sex than you have. Also, you need to be able to trust the person in order to have 'fun' with him. Will he stand by you in case things go wrong?

    Yes, sex can be a pleasurable act but to say (to teenagers) that sex is meant to be fun is irresponsible because teenagers are attracted to fun and excitement. Moreover, sex is more than pleasure, it is also meant for procreation. The IG does mention teenage pregnancy in item 14 (IG, page 14) ...
    14. Teenage pregnancy – pregnancy is one of the major life events in a couples’ /woman’s life. Being prepared emotionally, financially and physically helps her to have a successful pregnancy and motherhood. A teenager might not be prepared for pregnancy and motherhood, which makes it a stressful event.
    The rules and regulations for sex are not spelt out in this module but left open for students to decide for themselves. If I were to put forward a guess of AWARE's stand, these rules and regulations probably are

    • Do not use sex to keep a guy (IG, page 18, item 6);
    • "Safer" sex2 - use contraceptives/condoms (IG, pages 22 & 30); and
    • Never compromise on one’s values and beliefs (IG, page 24, Trainer’s notes).

    These are good rules and regulations.

    Item 5 seems to be directed at girls since it uses the masculine pronoun "he" to refer to "your partner". I leave you to consider - "What are boys' probable motivations for sex?" and "What are some things that may go wrong with sex between boys and girls?" Oh, one more question to consider, "How do we expect a boy to stand by a girl when things go wrong?"

    2 Some religions teach that premarital sex - safe, "safer" or not - is wrong.
  1. Foreplay – Foreplay is the physical and sexual stimulation (kissing, touching, stroking, etc.) that occurs in the excitement stage of the sexual response before intercourse or without intercourse. Foreplay increases the pleasure of sex.

    All true but inappropriate for teenagers without warning them that foreplay encourages sex. Foreplay arouses our hormones and passion; when caught in such a state of arousal, rational thoughts go out the window and you want to go all the way to culmination in sexual intercourse and/or orgasm so much so that all the skills practice on abstaining from sex (IG, page 28) or even negotiating condom usage (IG, page 29) are probably futile!

    The statement "foreplay increases the pleasure of sex" is perfectly fine in a marriage preparation course or a workshop for married couples but in a workshop for teenagers, it is inappropriate because it indirectly promotes pre-marital sex!

  1. Homosexual – people have different preferences for their partners. Homosexuality is perfectly normal. Just like heterosexuality, it is simply the way you are. Homosexuals also form meaningful relationships, and face the same emotional issues that heterosexuals do. The Singapore law does not recognize homosexuality and deems homosexual sexual activities as unnatural.

    Homosexuality exists, that is a fact. Homosexuality is perfectly normal, that is a value judgment. I defined "homosexuality" as sexual acts with a person of the same gender.

    The statement "Homosexuality ... is simply the way you are" is still unproven. Debate continues over what biological and/or psychological variables influence sexual orientation in humans, such as genes and the exposure of certain levels of hormones to fetuses. Even if homosexuality is the way you are, does that mean you do not have a choice and that you can't help it?

    The Singapore law mentioned above is Section 377A of the Penal Code of Singapore which criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult men. It states "Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years."

    But should law (Section 377A of the Penal Code) or society (read the majority) determine the rightness or wrongness of an act? Should the majority group impose their preferences on a minority group? There are other societies with laws different from ours. What makes their laws right and ours wrong or vice versa?

    Is homosexuality wrong? What determines the rightness of an act? Because I choose to do it? Because it's fun? Because the other party agrees? Because I know the consequences? Because I'm ready to face the consequences? Because I think it's right? What if someone else thinks that the same action is wrong? What determines the rightness or wrongness of an act? That is a question worthy of contemplation.
COUNTER-ARGUMENTS AND REBUTTALS
  1. One counter-argument put forth is that the objectionable materials take up only a small portion of a 3-hour workshop.

    But that is where problems can arise because insufficient time is devoted to them. When statements are made but not carefully explained, elaborated and cautioned then these statements may become dangerous "explosives" in the minds of teenagers. Ponder the likely impact of the above statements on different groups of teenagers: (a) those who had sex, (b) those having sex and (c) those who have not had sex.

  2. Another counter-argument is that this is a student-centred activity and that if the students themselves did not bring up anal sex or homosexuality during the activity, anal sex or homosexuality will NOT be discussed in the class at all. Point taken.

    But this question remains: "When the students do bring these up for discussion, what will be communicated?" Won't the message in the above statements be communicated?

  3. An educator has argued that these "objectionable contents" are part of an ice-breaking activity and must be judged in that context. Point taken.

    If I understand his point of view, he would say that in this ice-breaking activity, it does not matter how these words are categorised by the participants as long as they justify their decisions. The purpose of the ice-breaking activity is to create an open environment for discussion and to surface the participants' understanding of their sexuality. The Trainer Notes (IG, page 15) reflect the latter ...
    Trainers should familiarize themselves with concepts of respect, consent, sexual rights and gender in order to conduct discussion around these words. An attempt should be made to help the participants realize that what they think about sex and their bodies has been influenced by their family, religion and society. This is an integral part of understanding the meaning of sexuality. Understanding this will help them understand why they make certain decisions.
    But ... If "ice-breaking" is indeed the sole purpose of Module 2 then there would be no need for suggested categorization of words in the IG and no need for value judgments (i.e., no need to explain why the words should be in these particular categories) ... simply accept the participants' categorization and justification. All that is needed in the IG are the meanings of these words.

    NOTE: In the context of ice-breaking, the "description" of foreplay in the IG does NOT seem objectionable but still inappropriate for the young ones in the target audience.

What's your view (IG, pages 17) - Module 3

In this module, students are asked to go through the statements on page 3 of their workbook and decide if each statement is true or false in their opinion. After 10 mins, trainers are to go through all or key statements and summarize as appropriate (see suggestions below).

We will take a look at two statements on homosexuality.

  1. Homosexuality/same-sex preference (i.e. gays, homos, lesbians) is unnatural. - FALSE
    For a homosexual, heterosexuality may seem unnatural. We do not know what causes homosexuality, or heterosexuality for that matter. Some scientific studies show people are born like this. Since lesbian, gay and bisexual people are not ill or abnormal, they don't need to "cured". These are not abnormalities or perversions; they are orientations or preferences, just like being left-handed or right-handed. All people, whether they are heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual, have a right to live with dignity and in accordance with their preferences. Attempts to 'treat' them may succeed in temporarily changing sexual behaviour but also can lead to emotional and other problems.
    The IG argues that homosexuality is not unnatural (i.e., it is natural) because some scientific studies show (such) people are "born like this" yet in the same paragraph it admits "we do not know what causes homosexuality".

    What is "unnatural"? By definition, unnatural is "contrary to nature, not conforming to a norm, not typical, unusual". In that sense, the statement in item 2 is TRUE (i.e., homosexuality is unnatural) because heterosexuality is the norm. I accept the statement that from a homosexual's point of view, heterosexuality seems unnatural but that does not change what is the norm in nature.

    Though I say homosexuality is unnatural, I am not concluding it is immoral on that basis. Under item 10 above, I raised the question of the determinant(s) of rightness or wrongness of an act and left it unanswered.

    Is homosexuality a preference or an orientation? Homosexuality as an orientation implies that being a homosexual is neutral, inborn and unchangeable. The IG likens homosexuality to being left-handed but there is no evidence at present to support a genetic link to homosexuality. Homosexuality as a preference suggests that being a homosexual is a lifestyle choice hence changeable. As to whether lesbian, gay and bisexual people need to be "cured" that is a separate issue.
  1. The chances of homosexuality increase because of childhood trauma, e.g. child sex abuse (e.g. when an older person has sex with or molests a young person with or without consent). - FALSE
    That question is as difficult to answer as 'what causes heterosexuality?' No one knows for sure. Some foolishly suggest that maybe a person turned lesbian because she had a bad experience with a man, or a man became gay because a woman mistreated him. If this were truly the case, then there should be many more lesbian and gay people, shouldn't there?
    Yes, no one knows for sure what causes homosexuality. But to answer the question "What causes homosexuality?" with the question "What causes heterosexuality?" is throwing a curved ball. There is no need to explain causes of heterosexuality, it is natural but not so with homosexuality.

Breaking News May 6, 2009; 4:55 PM AWARE's CSE suspended

THE Ministry of Education (MOE) has suspended the sexuality education programme run by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) in some schools, saying it does not conform to the MOE's guidelines. In particular, MOE found some suggested responses in the guide 'too explicit and inappropriate, and convey messages which could promote homosexuality or suggest approval of pre-marital sex'.

Statement from AWARE reported on TODAYonline May 7, 2009

Like all instructor guides, ours contain far more information than is used.

The guide includes possible responses for instructors should certain topics, such as homosexuality and premarital sex, be raised during the sessions. They’re not necessarily the responses actually used, as our instructors always use language and terms appropriate to their audience.

Letter from Susan Foo to TODAYonline May 7, 2009

I am a mother of a 15 year-old daughter who was on the receiving end of one segment of a CSE program conducted by Aware last year. According to the school authorities whom I approached, the speaker was expected to touch on the topic of teenage pregnancy and discourage premarital sex.

But instead, she veered away in her delivery and told the students how she grew up on a diet of pornographic movies, having watched them together with her parents and grandparents at home! She also casually let on that she was an unwed mother with a school-going son. When my daughter recounted to me what she learned from the CSE programme in school, she sounded both alarmed and confused that her school seemed to condone an immoral lifestyle.

I queried my daughter’s school principal who revealed that the speaker was roped in from Aware, and that the school had contacted them immediately after the talk to express their displeasure with her shocking "off track" delivery.

My Email to Straits Times Forum May 8, 2009

In reference to AWARE's CSE, I'm surprised that you said (in your Editorial on May 8, page A18),
"There are references in it (Aware instructors' guide), about anal sex for example, which are plainly out of line, whatever the context and qualification made. But a distinction should be made: The offending reference is for the guidance of instructors training to run school workshops, not part of the message imparted."
The Basic Instructor Guide is not only used for instructors training (i.e., training of instructors) but also "provides a framework for your (the instructor's) facilitation" of the workshop. The words in quotes are the exact words on page 8 of the Instructor Guide. In other words, the Instructor Guide is a guide on how to conduct the workshop - not necessarily the exact words to be spoken but definitely the message to be imparted.

Short of a video or tape recording, we would not know what was the actual message imparted during these workshops ... which might have been more than or less than what is in the Instructor Guide. The only objective basis for evaluating AWARE's CSE is their Instructor Guide. I had read the Instructor Guide and like MOE said, some suggested responses in the guide "convey messages which could promote homosexuality or suggest approval of pre-marital sex". You can read my critique of the CSE Instructor Guide at http://www.vtaide.com/blessing/AWARE-cse.htm

ADDENDUM dated May 17, 2009 (Not part of my original email)

Some people have argued that the only objective basis for evaluating AWARE's CSE is NOT the Instructor Guide. Instead the assessment should come from participants of the CSE workshops OR to sit through a workshop and see what it has to say.

Well, we have a report from one participant - the 15 year-old daughter of Susan Foo (see above) but I like to add that "one swallow does not make a summer". In other words, one negative (positive) workshop does not mean that all workshops are bad (good). As mentioned earlier, the actual message imparted during these workshops might be more than or less than what is in the Instructor Guide. Different instructors may communicate different nuances of the same message even different messages! Therefore, I STILL contend that the only objective basis for evaluating AWARE's CSE is their Instructor Guide.


Article by Eugene Yeo @ The Wayang Party May 15, 2009

Writing about the modus operandi of "right-wing zealots", he said (in item 4),
"... Selective parts of the instructors manual for the Aware CSE was leaked to the public and distorted on purpose to give the misperception that it has a pro-homosexual agenda ..."
My comment posted on the site: "What I read was seeming(ly) the complete manual … Basic Instructor Guide (version 3, released in July 2008) … would you or AWARE provide the REAL AND COMPLETE manual and refute the critics?"

NOTE: I have to challenge his allegation that the IG posted online is incomplete and distorted. If his allegation is true then my critique would be based on an incomplete and distorted document.

Comments by LL @ The Wayang Party May 15, 2009

To Mr Alan Wong,

We netizens are not stupid to read from the website u posted as “scientific and pragmatic evidence”. That is so obviously Christian! So a religious point of view, more so from a religion that has some believers who are so intolerant, is scientific and pragmatic? Sorry man, but most people won’t buy that. Please stop trying to pass off Christian views as science or pragmatism. I also saw someone promoting the same website in the ST forum. Maybe both persons are the same. Please respect our ability to know what is fact and what is religion. Thank you very much.
My rebuttal posted on the site:

I did not say the (that) my critique is “scientific and pragmatic evidence”. It is simp(l)y my critique - of my views on AWARE’s CSE Instructor Guide.

Yes, I’m a Christian; I don’t hide that. But nowhere in my critique did I appeal to Christianity for argument or support. Please read my critique again.

NOTE: There are some who see the whole AWARE saga as "Christians vs Homosexuals" but I think it is "Parents vs AWARE's CSE".


Jaunty Jabber May 16, 2009

When I read Alan's critique, I don't find his writing has anything connected to Christian teaching or beliefs. It is really very scientific and pragmatic.

Maybe it is the header of this site that steered you to misinterpret the backdrop of Alan's write up.

Stay secular, read with a secularization is the advice to all readers who visit this site. The title or header of this site is a choice of the author, do not link everything to the header. Just like "The Wayang Party", if we behave like LL, shall everyone take all the posts in Wayang as only wayang wayang and not serious topics?

News May 21, 2009; 8:06 PM MOE will not use AWARE's CSE until ...

"External vendors must recognise that access to students in our schools is a qualified privilege based on trust ... If parents are suspicious and distrustful of providers as having a negative influence on their children, then our programmes will be ineffective ... For these reasons stated, we will not be able to use AWARE until they have gained the public’s trust for their sexuality programmes."


Last entry ...

There is an allegation in a blog that there is a group of people spreading the "Have you seen the CSE programme, judge for yourself" kind of comment all around some forums in Singapore. The blogger refused to publish my rebuttal and explanation; that is his right. So here are my (expanded) comments though not in the exact words submitted to the blogger.
There is no group of people behind the said comments on forums. I, the author of this critique, am the "culprit". I go by the nickname "ConcernedCiti" on the Straits Times Discussion Board; on the government feedback portal (REACH), I used "Critic" for my first post, and my name "Alan S.L. Wong" for all subsequent posts; and for comments on blogs, I used mainly "Alan" or "Alan S.L. Wong" and "Anonymous", a couple of times.

Oh, yes, there is another person, Jaunty Jabber who posted (twice?) the link to this critique on REACH. I do not know this person (lady?). She read my critique, felt that it makes sense and asked my permission to publish the link to online panels. I gave my permission.

Why did I go around spreading (the link to) my critique?
  1. Because of the excessive emotions on forums and blogs ... insinuations, allegations and name calling. Discussions should be based on facts, reason and civility.

    There are a few who wrote and commented on AWARE's CSE without reading the IG. Then there are those who alleged that AWARE has a "gay agenda" based on what others said about AWARE's CSE Instructor Guide. Of course, there are those who read the entire IG.

    About AWARE's alleged "gay agenda", I did say that anal sex as the first on the list of terms to be explained does not help in the speculation; however, I concluded that maybe there is no reason why anal sex is first on the list (see above). Moreover, anal sex does not equate homosexuality. A lot more evidence (beyond the IG) is needed to prove the allegation.

    I have tried to be fair and objective in my critique on the other objectionable contents, as well. You be the judge.

  2. Because I have real concerns with AWARE's CSE and its impact on teenagers.

    AWARE's values behind their CSE are clear. Not only did I spread (the link to) my critique on blogs and forums, I also contacted AWARE via email and informed them of my critique. They acknowledged receipt on May 18. I also entered into discussion with others on their website.
That's all folks; let's move on.



A Critique of AWARE's Comprehensive Sexuality Education © May 2009 Alan S.L. Wong