Parents Can Teach Sex Education
Recently, when asked to comment about cases of abandoned babies, Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Hannah Yeoh, touched on the importance of providing sex education to children. According to her, sex education which was once seen as appropriate for secondary school children, is no longer so now. In fact, she believes that sex education should be given to children as early as four years old by their own parents. This is because age appropriate sex education will not only prevent teenagers from having sex outside marriage, but also prevent children from becoming victims of sexual crimes.
Over the last two decades, the idea of the importance of teaching sex education to teenagers are bound to encounter oppositions by certain quarters. There are several reasons why sex education has always been opposed. Firstly, the negative perception that people have towards the word “sex”. Sex is considered a taboo and it should not be discussed openly, what more with school children. It is also feared that sex education will increase the teenagers’ curiosity and thus encourage them to try it out.
Secondly, sex education is opposed due to the misunderstanding about the meaning and contents of sex education. Many equate sex education with teaching children how to have sex.
Avoiding sex discussions with children or teenagers will not help as they are already discussing it with their friends. In fact, in this ICT era, information about sex and even pornographic videos are already at their fingertips. Therefore, as parents, we need to talk to our children to ensure that they get the right information regarding sex.
To a certain extent, sex education would make our children curious about sex and some would perhaps even try it out. But the right information about sex would also create awareness among children about the sanctity of their body and the fact that no one has the right to touch them unnecessarily. As what Yeoh said, a four-year-old child, needs to know the difference between a “good touch” and a “bad touch” to prevent them from becoming victims of sexual crimes, which normally are committed by adults closely related to them.
Finally, if the barrier to teaching sex education comes from the word “sex” itself, then other terms can be used. Nowadays, sex education is known as “sexual and reproductive health” education which includes many other related matters as well.
Dr. Abdullah Nasih Ulwan, an Islamic scholar who specialises in education and tarbiyah (nurturing), in his book Child Education in Islam, wrote that parents are responsibe to teach their children the following: (i) faith education; (ii) ethical education; (iii) physical education; (iv) mental education; (v) psychological education; (vi) social education; and, (vii) sexual education.
It is clear that one of the parental responsibilities is to teach sexual education to the children. The question is, how many parents are aware of this responsibility? For those who are, how many of them know the contents of sex education from an Islamic perspective? Finally, do they know how to impart the knowledge to their children?
In Islam, sex education is about teaching a child from an early age about what is lawful and unlawful for him or her when they reach the age of puberty so that they are not driven by desires or led by debauchery.
Sex education in Islam encompasses: : (a) the teaching of manners in asking permission to enter the parents’ bedroom; (b) the teaching of manners in looking at the opposite sex; (c) keeping children away from objects that can arouse them sexually; (d) educating children on hukm or legal ruling governing puberty and maturity; (e) explaning to them Islam’s stand on marriage; (f) teaching children about abstinence in situations where they cannot get married; and, (g) talking to children about sex.
Indeed, Dr. Ulwan’s writing made it clear that in Islam, parents are the best persons to impart sex knowledge to their children. Moreover, Islam has outlined that the teaching be done in phases, that is, according to the children’s ages. It is a continuous process starting from pre-school until the pre-nuptial day.
In the US for example, the involvement of parents in providing sex education to children has begun more than a decade ago through parent-based intervention programmes. Among these programmes are The Parents Matter, Families Talking Together, Familias Unidas (United Families) and Take Care of Them. It is found that parental involvement in such programmes has been effective in reducing risky sexual behaviours among adolescents.
The West, through such parent-based intervention programmes, has restored the function of teaching sex education to parents. When are we, Muslims, going to do the same when Islam has long established it to be so? If there are still many parents who are not aware of their responsibility regarding this, awareness should be given to them. At the same time, parents need to be empowered so that they know the contents of sex education in Islam and how to communicate it effectively to their children. It is high time we educate parents on this so that they can do their part in teaching sex education to their children.