Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

For CBCP, sex education or abortion?

Posted by butalidnl on 8 June 2011

(This post was published in BusinessWorld on  5 June 2011, as an opinion column. )

The Catholics Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) objects to sex education because they say that it encourages promiscuity. In other words, if teenagers don’t have sex education, they won’t engage in sex before marriage.

In this era of speedy communication, mass media and Internet, it is naive to think that we can “shelter” teenagers from sexual knowledge by not teaching it at school. As things are, teenagers will learn about sex from the mass media, Internet, or peers — and this information is often incomplete and incorrect. It is better to teach teenagers about sexuality in schools to ensure that the information that they get is more balanced and complete.

The argument that sex education is mainly the parents’ task is also wrong. In the first place, parents find it quite awkward to teach their children about sex. And there is the question of what they will teach them. There would need to be sex education courses for parents for this to work. I think that parents have a role in sex education, but this will be secondary to the role of schools.

I believe that an information campaign on human sexuality for adults would also need to be undertaken, as part of the sex education campaign, since there are so many married adults who know too little about sexuality, especially on how to prevent pregnancies.

The CBCP says that the government proposal for sex education is more about the technical aspects of sexual behavior. They want sex education to teach “values” instead. They would rather have something similar to the US “abstinence-based” sex education program — which teaches about the ideal of abstinence before marriage, and which does NOT teach about how to avoid pregnancy in case you don’t abstain.

The US abstinence-based sex education and movements like “Say No to Sex” and “True Love Waits” and abstinence pledges simply don’t work. They may have the short-term effect of delaying the age of first sexual encounter, but when these teenagers do have sex, they won’t know how to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Studies show that their sexual behavior is the same as that of teenagers who have not had sex education. The US government poured $15 billion in the last 10 years to promote abstinence-based sex education; and as a result, the US has the highest rate among developed countries of teen pregnancies and abortions (combined rate is 86 per 1,000 teens), which is up to four times the rate of other countries.

It is all quite logical. If people are taught about sexuality, including how to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, there will be less unplanned pregnancies, and consequently, there will be less need for abortion.

Estimates of illegal abortion in the Philippines vary from 400,000 to 550,000 per year. And 1,000 women die every year while having abortions. Compare this with the Netherlands’ abortion rate (note that abortions are legal in the Netherlands) of 28,000 per year. If we correct for population size (and taking the figure of 400,000 Philippine abortions/year), the Netherlands’ figure is about 1/3 that of the Philippines. Comprehensive sex education is given in the Netherlands, and not in the Philippines.

If the Philippines had a comprehensive sex education program (but retains the abortion ban), there could be up to 270,000 less abortions, and that the number of deaths will drop to 330 from the present 1,000.

The Dutch system also teaches “values” together with the technical aspects of sex education. They promote the value of love and commitment in relationships, that teenagers who become mothers are ruining their lives, and that children should grow up in loving families. The Dutch have one of the lowest rates of teen pregnancies in the world, and have low rates for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

The question then comes: if the CBCP is really against abortions, they would be well-advised to promote comprehensive sex education. It would radically reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and thus the number of abortions. If the CBCP is against comprehensive sex education, then they have to accept that this would result in more abortions, and more deaths of mothers during those abortions. There is no middle ground, the church needs to choose.

I suggest that they agree to a program of comprehensive sex education. This way, they would indeed be decreasing the number of abortions. And if this is not being “pro-life,” what is?

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