By Shree Ann Mathavan
SHALL we talk about sex, baby?
That's something parents in Singapore have had to ponder seriously since sex education in schools have come under intense scrutiny of late.
These programmes are now being reviewed by the Ministry of Education (MOE).
But what about the role of parents?
After all, when it comes to sex education, the ministry has reiterated its stance that parents have to be responsible and discuss sex with their kids - uncomfortable though it may make them feel.
The New Paper sat three parents down with 10burning questions - all rather prickly - that their kids, all aged 12 and below, might someday raise.
Amid embarrassed smiles and the occasional uncomfortable pause, we talk about sex from a child's perspective.
1: How are babies made?
Ms Chelsia Leung: 'I would tell my older child (6 years old), that mummy and daddy love each other and that's why you're here.
'I would tell her about how the baby grows from an embryo. At her age she may not yet understand how the fertilisation happens, so that's something I would probably explain later, when she starts asking more questions.'
Mr Sebastian Anthony: 'That's something my son (12years old) has asked me before. I told him it's because of love that we (me and my wife) married each other and it's because of an act of love that you came about.
Madam Haslinda Putri Harun: 'If they ask, I will turn to books and television to help explain. Parents don't know everything, so it's good if we can tap on other resources especially if we're not knowledgeable about biological stuff.'
2. What is oral sex? Can I get pregnant from it?
Madam Haslinda: 'If my daughters asked me, it's something that I would explain, although I would say this is something unacceptable until marriage.'
Ms Leung: 'I would explain it. It's better coming from us than from other sources. But I don't think they need to know much about it until they reach adolescence.'
Mr Anthony: 'I would be upfront and tell my eldest boy what oral sex is. There is no intercourse, but it is still sexual in every other way.
'I would talk to him about the physiological aspect first and follow that with the religious and values standpoint.'
3. Is masturbation okay? Will I become blind or can I get pregnant from it?
Mr Anthony: 'I won't tell him that you'll go to hell for that, because that only generates fear and guilt, which doesn't help.
'I would talk to him openly - is it right, what is the Church's stand on it from a cognitive standpoint.'
Madam Haslinda: 'My girls have never used the word. But I would tell them if they do it, it may make them feel good.
'But ideally, it's better for them to wait till they find someone they love and want to marry.'
Ms Leung: 'That's not something I've really thought about till now.'
4. I think I may be gay.
(Pause as all parents fidget and look visibly uncomfortable.)
Ms Leung: 'I would go deeper and question further. I would ask what makes you think that you are a homosexual?
'I may take my daughter to church to get people who are more equipped to address such issues to talk to her.
'But if she is really a man trapped in a girl's body, and if everything else fails, then I think I would accept it.'
Madam Haslinda: 'This is something that doesn't happen overnight, it's down to parental responsibility.
'Part of the problem is Singaporean parents are so busy. Being parents we can sense when something is up. It's up to us if we want to say something or not.
'I would have to repeat that it's unacceptable. I would still love her as my child, but that doesn't mean that I approve of her orientation.'
Mr Anthony: 'I agree that these things don't happen overnight. I'm not of the view that someone is born that way - it has a lot to do with environmental factors.
5. Can I be friends with someone who is gay or lesbian? Will people make fun of me?
Mr Anthony: 'I will tell them that I have homosexual and lesbian friends myself, and while I don't condone what they do, I still love them.
Madam Haslinda: 'I have homosexual friends who are living abroad.
'When we go visit, my kids ask me why this uncle can marry that uncle, I tell them gently that it may be something acceptable in this person's religion but not in ours.'
6. Can I have a boyfriend or girlfriend?
Ms Leung: 'It depends at what age they have a relationship.
'Having a relationship should come after the O levels because their maturity levels are different when they're younger.'
'Sometimes it's peer pressure to have a boyfriend. I would tell them they don't need to follow what others are doing.'
Mr Anthony: 'I would tell my son to go out in groups first, otherwise it might be easy to fall into temptation.
'But having a relationship isn't something I would encourage while they're still young - maybe only when they are in college or university.'
Madam Haslinda: 'I would tell my girls to wait until college or university.'
7. My boyfriend says if I love him, I should have sex with him. Should I?
Madam Haslinda: 'I would tell my kids to save themselves for their marriages, for the person they love.'
Ms Leung: 'My stand is the same, saving it for the man you love. I would tell her that if that boy really loves you, he would wait.'
Mr Anthony: 'For me I would tell them that while it seems nice in the beginning, pre-marital sex sucks you in. There can be a lot of pain and consequences and every action has consequences. Ultimately, is the price worthwhile?
'I would speak from my past experience that I've been down that road, I made a mistake and this is the priceI paid.'
Madam Haslinda (nodding): 'I think when you share personal experiences, kids take it in better.
'It's not just telling them not to do certain things, which is very puritanical.'
8. How do I use a condom?
Madam Haslinda: 'You have to talk about condoms, that's something that comes with the sex talk.
Ms Leung: 'When you bring it up you reinforce it with issues like Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and the consequences.'
Mr Anthony: 'Using condoms is something I will not teach them. It takes what, two seconds to learn how to use it? I don't want to teach it, because I'm not advocating it's okay.'
9. During sex, when my boyfriend puts on the condom half-way, am I still protected? Could I get an STI or become pregnant?
Mr Anthony: 'I will tell them yes, you can get pregnant with pre-ejaculate.
Ms Leung: 'It's definitely something you have to share with your child, what are the risks involved? Show them pictures of STIs.'
10. Is it okay if I look at porn? After all it's just pictures.
Ms Leung: 'If it's something that they haven't seen before, people tend to have a dying thirst to see it.
'So if my daughter asks, I may show her something (porn), but I would tell her to take it with a pinch of salt, that this isn't what it's like. It's very exaggerated.'
Mr Anthony: 'I would question them. I would ask them, what does porn do? It demeans, it reduces the act of love. Relationships are more than just an act of sex, that is just one component.'
MR SEBASTIAN ANTHONY, 45, a corporate trainer, is married to a reading therapist, 46. The couple have a son, 12, and two daughters, 8 and 10. He is Catholic.
MADAM HASLINDA PUTRI HARUN, 38, a housewife, has two daughters, aged 6 and 9, with her husband, 40, a dentist. She is Muslim.
MS CHELSIA LEUNG, 32, a financial consultant and her husband, 33, a photographer, have a daughter, 6, and a son, 3. She is a Methodist Christian.
This article was first published in The New Paper.