Preach message of abstinence with proper understanding

Sex education is sometimes set up as a fight between the "safe sex message" and the "abstinence message". The Singapore government has been stepping up its campaign to publicise "safe sex" - the use of condoms to prevent disease and pregnancy. In a letter to CN, John Ooi points out that the safe sex is not really that safe. I reply that his use of statistics is unfair, and that perhaps both messages can be allowed in schools. Catholics should remember that the church does not condone premarital sex and that abstinence is the only way to practice "safe sex".

Dear Editor,

I am writing in reply to John Ooi’s letter ‘“Safe” sex is not really safe’ (CN, 25th Dec 2005). In it, John argues that condoms are neither effective in preventing pregnancies nor sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and that abstinence is more effective than practicing “safe sex”. I agree wholeheartedly that the abstinence message is not “out-of-touch with reality” and should be propagated. However, there are certain misrepresentations that need to be addressed, lest we come away with a skewed perspective regarding the “safe sex” message, and be accused in the end of being “out-of-touch with reality”.

First, John states that “studies show that the user-effectiveness rate of the condom against pregnancy is 86 percent”. While this statistic is correct[1], it is from a study of couples that use condoms as a birth control method. It turns out that most of these condom failures are caused by errors in use, "most notably the failure of couples to use condoms during every act of sexual intercourse."[2] Its true effectiveness in preventing pregnancy is probably much closer to the estimated 97 percent if ‘used perfectly’[3]. In fact, if calculated on a per condom basis, its effectiveness is closer to 99.96 %[4].

Next, John extrapolates from this 14 percent first-year failure rate, to a 26 percent failure rate over two years. While this is correct, it needs to be put in perspective in that an estimated 85 percent of women using no method of birth control will become pregnant in the first year[5]. Using the same reasoning, 97 percent, or 970 out of 1000 teens will become pregnant in two years if they do not use birth control. But this would not be a fair representation of the statistics. We should also not use such extrapolations and large sample sizes to make the numbers support our argument; we should present the facts as fairly as possible.

In truth, these statistics about failure rates are actually not relevant to the question of how effective the “safe sex” message is. The relevant statistics should be “how many teens get pregnant after being taught only the ‘safe sex’ message” versus “how many teens get pregnant after being taught only the abstinence message”. It is not at all clear in this regard that the abstinence only message is more effective.

John also refers to how condoms are not actually effective in preventing a number of common STDs. This is true. He then adds that it is logical to conclude that condoms are not any more effective in preventing the transmission of AIDS then in preventing pregnancy. There is an unfortunate impression that condoms are not at all effective in preventing AIDS. As a clarification, while latex condoms provide almost no protection against HPV (human papillomavirus), the cause of genital warts and cervical cancer, lab studies show that using a latex condom to prevent transmission of HIV is more than 10,000 times safer than not using a condom[7].

Here, if we are arguing about effectiveness, the relevant question is whether more teens will catch HIV if they are taught the only “safe sex” message, as opposed to if they were taught abstinence only. Again, it is questionable that the abstinence only message is more effective. If even one straying teen could be prevented from catching HIV by the proper use of a condom, it is arguable that teaching “safe sex” is justifiable just to save that one life. In my opinion, we should not be opposed to the teaching of the “safe sex” message as long as abstinence is taught correctly and as the primary message.

I thank John for educating us about the fact that condoms are not really as effective as commonly thought, but his use of statistics and talk about effectiveness is skewed and misguided. Individuals such as John and organisations such as the Family Life Society should be honest and responsible in propagating the truth about Catholic teachings. Feeding us such figures while ranting against the popular perception of the “safe sex” message only invites people to blindly believe in the abstinence only message. This is actually why we are being accused of being “out-of-touch with reality”, and prevents the message from being more widely accepted.

Most of my information was gotten from this website: The Truth About Condoms (2002),
While a good article to read about sexual education in Singapore is What should be taught in sex education?

[1] R. A. Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology, 17th revised edition (New York: Irvington Publishers, Inc., 1998), p.328.
[2] CDC Update, Questions and Answers on Condom Effectiveness, January 1997.
[3] R. A. Hatcher, et al., 1998, p. 328.
[4] Ibid, p. 329.
[5] Ibid., p. 216.

[7] R. F. Carey, et al., "Effectiveness of Latex Condoms As a Barrier to Human Immunodeficiency Virus-sized Particles under the Conditions of Simulated Use," Sexually Transmitted Diseases, July/August 1992, vol. 19, no. 4, p. 230.

“Safe sex” is not really safe
Letter from John Ooi (Published in an edited form in CN, Dec 25)

Practise safe sex - use the condom, and you’re be protected against pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease (STD)! This is what articles about sexually active teenagers that appear regularly in the secular press push for. And in discussing sex education, these articles may make the Church’s teachings on chastity (which means abstinence for the unmarried) appear out-of-touch with modern day reality.

It is agreed that there is a problem, which is that a portion of our youth are sexually active. There are generally two options to solve any problem. Option 1 (the safe sex message) is to go for a quick fix that its proponents hope would be adequate. Option 2 (the abstinence message) is more difficult but more effective as it identifies and addresses the root causes.

How valid is the safe sex assumption that the condom would address the problem of teenage pregnancy and of teenagers contracting STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, genital herpes, HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which leads to AIDS)?

The user effectiveness rate of the condom is of the order of 86% (1). This means that of 1000 women and their partners who are using the condom, 140 would be pregnant after one year. Now if the remaining 860 women continue using the condom for a second year, another 14% of this group (or 120 women) would possibly be pregnant by the end of the second year, that is, there is a 26% chance of an unintended pregnancy after 2 years. The probability of an unintended pregnancy would increase with length of use – this is a statistical fact.

As for the effectiveness of the condom in preventing STD transmission, what is the scientific evidence? This was the question that brought together a number of public health agencies in the United States at the start of this millennium. The scientists involved reviewed and discussed the data from many published studies. As indicated in the table below, they were unable to conclude that the condom can effectively prevent the transmission of a number of common STDs. One reason for this could be that these STDs infect the entire genital area and are spread by skin-to-skin contact. Also, if one compares the factors involved in achieving pregnancy versus AIDS transmission, it would be logical to conclude that the condom cannot be more effective in preventing AIDS than in preventing pregnancy. Should one promote an airline that has a crash rate per year of 14% or higher?

Condom Effectiveness for STD Prevention (2)

STD Effectiveness
Chlamydia No proof of effectiveness
Gonorrhoea Men: Some risk reduction; Women: No proof of effectiveness
Syphilis No proof of effectiveness
Genital Herpes No proof of effectiveness
HPV No proof of effectiveness
HIV / AIDS Significant risk reduction (but not elimination of risk)

An effective approach must first understand why people get sexually active. Our youth, indeed all of us, search for love and happiness. Unfortunately, some mistakenly believe that they will find this love and happiness in sex or through sex. Abstinence education helps our youth to understand that, while we are all sexual beings, we are more than just being physically male or female. Our sexuality includes, in addition to the physical, all the mental, emotional and spiritual characteristics associated with being male or female. The way we think, feel, behave, react - these are all affected by our being male or female. One interacts with and builds up relationships with other persons as a complete and whole sexual person.

Abstinence education suggests to our youth that, before marriage, it is best to develop a relationship by focussing on these other aspects of sexuality first (that is, to learn to relate to each other mentally, emotionally and spiritually). Only after a couple have developed a great relationship and sealed their commitment to each other in marriage will sexual intercourse (which is the intimate language of the body in marriage) be an appropriate way to express, strengthen and deepen that love further. This contrasts with unmarried teenage couples involved in a sexual relationship where the focus on sex makes it difficult for their relationship to progress beyond a shallow, physical level. The common experience is that most of these relationships break up eventually after the initial attraction has died away.

Beyond the physical, the condom provides our youth with no protection against emotional hurts from relationships that have gone wrong, nor does it help to develop their self-mastery. Compared with the safe sex message which is based on erroneous beliefs, abstinence education is more consistent with the aim of education to develop our youth holistically, for it does not pander to desires but strengthens the will, develops self-mastery and enhances self-esteem.

(1) Robert A. Hatcher, et. al. Contraceptive Technology (17th Revised Edition). New York: Ardent Media, Inc., 1998. Table 31-1, p. 800.

(2) From the Summary Report on Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention prepared by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Dept of Health and Human Services, USA, July 20, 2001.


ChrisYeo said...

I'd like to invite comments before sending this in to the Catholic News.

Daniel said...

Ok, now I can comment, since it's published. :)

Well written and well researched. A very good letter.

ChrisYeo said...

I read the version that was printed in the Catholic News today and I must say I am severely disappointed. In fact, I found it laughable. I wonder who made the editorial decision; I'd honestly rather it had never been printed.

Please pick up an issue of CN if you want to read the printed version.

The reason why I was prompted to write a reply in the first place was because the initial letter by John Ooi was edited in such a way that it gave an unfair and unbalanced impression that the "safe sex" message was severely flawed. I wrote a letter that argued that we have to be careful how we present facts to other people, and that Catholics should form opinions about sex education with proper understanding. Implicit in my letter was that we should be open to teaching abstinence as the primary message as well as the safe sex message.

Instead, the printed letter was made to sound as if the writer was just nitpicking over statistics; it failed to make any coherent point about the message of abstinence. This I feel, was a poor editorial decision. In the end, I felt that no one would even read the letter to its end, much less obtain any knowledge from it.

I would suggest to the Catholic News editor, Fr Johnson Fernandez, that if any future letter had to be edited as such because of space constraints, that they rather not print the letter and ask the writer to submit a shorter version (if they wish to see it in print).

The letter ended with an editor's note: "Depending on the sources one chooses and the assumptions made, statistics can often be used to support one's viewpoint or rebutt some else's. While the letters are really a debate on [...] relative effectiveness [...], Catholics must remember that the church teaches that abstinence is the right way."

Whether intended or not, this comment is injurious. It implies that my reply is inconsequencial; instead, "abstinence is the right way". My whole point, as clearly stated in the title, is "understand abstinence properly before preaching it". The Catholic News seems to say "You don't need to understand anything, just remember that only abstinence is correct".

Writer's note: To its credit, CN has published the letter in full on its website. Unfortunately, who do you think will bother to read it? Maybe only John Ooi.

ChrisYeo said...

..added a forward/introduction.

Daniel said...

It is hard for me to comment objectively, Chris, but I shall do what I can.

As a Catholic newspaper, CN is unable to publish the view that both abstinence and 'safe sex' should be allowed, because that is not the stand of the Catholic Church. If such a viewpoint were published, it would give the message that CN is supportive of such a viewpoint. And we (and you) will receive much more flak (than what we did receive) from other readers.

On the other hand, it was good that you brought up such a matter, because it reflects the current thinking of our generation. It makes things worse if we try to cover that up and say such a thinking does not exist among Catholics.

As for space constraint, space is always a constraint for us.

ChrisYeo said...

1. There is a confusion between sex education in church and sex education in schools. I have all the while been refering to sex education in schools. There is no issue with regard to sex education in church. The church stands by the abstinence message only; there is no problem leaving out the safe sex message in church.

Overtly, John Ooi's letter was talking about the safe sex message in schools/Singapore. There is no safe sex message to speak of at all in church teachings, so let's not get confused here. We are clearly talking about sex education in schools.

In light of this clarification, would CN have been willing to publish a letter arguing that the safe sex message can be taught, but only as a secondary message to the abstinence message in schools?

2. Of course space is always a constraint. That was already understood. I made the point that you should not print a letter if it is edited beyond recognition and reason i.e. different from the point that the author was trying to make. Would you agree?

3. Would you be able to tell us who makes this editorial decision?

4. Why did CN print the letter partially and publish it online fully when it was deemed so disagreeable with church teachings? May I point out also that CN published a letter by Dudley Au that basically condoned the death penalty. Thus I don't agree with your point that readers will construe forum letters as sanctioned by CN and thus the church.

Daniel said...

Let this be just my opinion as a reader and not an official reply from CN.

1. I don't think that CN would have been willing to publish a letter arguing that safe sex can be taught at schools. If safe sex message does not appear in church teachings, why would it appear in schools, secondary message or not?

2. If the author was trying to make a point that is contrary to church stand, but still holds valid points, then those valid points will still be brought up. All letters written in to CN or any newspaper are subject to editing as the editor chooses. The editor chooses what is best for the paper and its readers in general.

3. All letters go through several editors before being published. The best person to ask would be Father Johnson.

4. You are free to disagree. That's what the viewpoints section is for.

For more clarifications, it would be best to seek them from Father Johnson.

ChrisYeo said...

Thanks for your replies. Please allow me to engage you some more, just as a reader, and not officially.

Firstly, I am reminded of the church's firm stand against contraceptives, and can now see why the safe sex message in schools is perhaps objectionable.

I also agree that CN has to right to protect its readers from error.

I'm just wondering if you understand that it can be insulting to the writer to censor letters like that, but more importantly, it makes the letter so much more unintelligible.

Please understand that this writer at least is very much upset.

And also, it IS very curious that CN published a letter by Dudley Au that basically condoned the death penalty.

Again, thanks for your replies.

Daniel said...

Hi Chris!

I am glad that you are able to accept the answers I can give you.

CN does receive many long letters from readers. And CN does recognise that a lot of thought has gone into such long letters, many of them are very well-written.

But constraint of space is a factor that the paper faces every week. On the internet, there is no such constraint, so that is why we try to put up the long form of the letter that readers send in. This is so that those who are interested in the matter can refer to the full version that we lack the space to publish.

Even so, the long form of the letters are edited as well - although as minimal as possible - so that wrong messages are not sent.

With regard to Dudley Au's letter, I agree, it is curious. But it is not related to this topic.

ChrisYeo said...

Hi Daniel,

Don't really want to pick on this point, but you said:

"With regard to Dudley Au's letter, I agree, it is curious. But it is not related to this topic."

Please don't say that it is not related, because it is very obviously related.

I was wondering whether CN should censor letters that question established church teachings, and you said that CN should, because CN would otherwise be seen to be supporting them.

"As a Catholic newspaper, CN is unable to publish the view that both abstinence and 'safe sex' should be allowed, because that is not the stand of the Catholic Church. If such a viewpoint were published, it would give the message that CN is supportive of such a viewpoint. And we (and you) will receive much more flak (than what we did receive) from other readers."

Therefore, CN's printing of Mr Au's letter very clearly contradicts your point.

I really hope that you won't dance around such points by saying "it's not related" in the future.

ChrisYeo said...

The Catholic Medical Guild, Dr John Ooi and Dr Ian Snodgrass have replied to this letter.

Read them on the Catholic News website!


Condom or abstinence: What would we teach our daughters? (CN03/06, Feb 05)

There is no such thing as safe sex (CN03/06, Feb 05)

Catholic doctors shed light on faith, sex, condoms, diseases (CN03/06, Feb 05)

ChrisYeo said...

As I read the replies, I feel vindicated. Rather than seeing it as "receiving flak" from the Catholic Medical Guild no less, I feel that my purpose of clarifying the issues for the public has been achieved. My main objection after all was that we should not preach a church teaching with too simple, and therefore faulty, understanding. My use of statistics was simply to back up this argument.

I am not a doctor, and in fact knew nothing about condoms. However, I knew enough about science and statistics to find John Ooi's arguments a little suspect. True enough, a simple web search showed that his use of statistics were objectionable, at least questionable.

I commend Dr Snodgrass and the CMG in elaborating on the rationale behind the church teaching, and also correcting my mistake regarding the "10,000 times" fact. That should have been how the abstinence teaching should have been presented in the first place.

I now understand better why I found CN's editing and 'editor's note' so objectionable. I would like to regard myself as a young thinking person willing to ask questions and find answers about church teachings. The generation today can no longer accept the black and white kind of reasoning that older generations did. I am genuinely living out my faith by exploring truthfully these issues, rather than swallowing them 'faithfully'. My wish is that all of us can come to grow in faith by having a deeper, more nuanced understanding of our church teachings and our faith.

By concentrating only on the statistics, the CN has first made me out to be a young rebel, dangerous and out to destroy our church teachings. This is not the truth. CN has also misunderstood my intentions, which simply was to solicit more information and to denounce misinformation.

I am thankful that more information has come out because of my letter and I hope that church organisations in future will be more willing to engage the young with 'greyer' arguments, rather than the 'black-and-white' arguments of old.

Daniel said...

I too am happy that more information has come out because of your letter, and that the other readers may benefit from it.

Hope to read more letters from the younger generation.

Anonymous said...

Jan 29, 2006
Students cry foul over sexuality workshop that pushed these messages

By Jeremy Au Yong
A SEXUALITY workshop at Anderson Junior College a week ago sparked an uproar after some participants complained about it online and to the school.

The four-hour workshop run by church-based group Family Life Society irked some of its participants when it put down contraceptive sex and rejected abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. The entire second year cohort of the college attended the talk.

A handful of students posted complaints on their blogs, another started a thread in an online forum and one even wrote directly to the organisation. The forum attracted some 120 comments in six days while a posting on blog bulletin Tomorrow.sg was read by nearly 700 people.

One student griped that the workbook they were given seemed to promote the organisation's beliefs rather than present facts.

The student, who declined to be named and goes simply by his online moniker Cygig, started the active thread on the online forum at www.spug.net

He said in one posting: 'It seemed like I was being brainwashed.'

His schoolmate, Tay Wei Kiat, said: 'They did not clearly state the source of their opinions and instead attempted to spread their beliefs to everyone attending the workshop by asking everyone, regardless of their individual beliefs or religion, to write down things like 'I must condemn masturbation and in-vitro fertilisation'.'

They admitted that large parts of the programme - which focused on goal-setting and abstinence - were fine. Their beef was with isolated statements.

For example, the programme workbook had this to say about contraception: 'The sterilised sexual act is not much different in its meaning from an act of mutual masturbation whereby the couple seeks to use each other (their bodies) to derive sexual pleasure.'

Another section listed 'adult instead of embryonic stem-cell research' alongside 'absolute respect for life' and 'life is a gift' as things to 'promote, protect and cherish'.

According to Mrs Woo Soo Min, vice-principal of Anderson Junior College, the school had also received feedback that mirrored the views expressed online.

She explained that the Family Life Society was chosen because 'it focused on abstinence and approached the topic using one's values and beliefs as the basis', but conceded that the tone might not have been suitable.

However, she stressed: 'The content raised merely represents a certain viewpoint and we see our role as educating and exposing students to a range of viewpoints.' She would not say if the school would get the group to conduct further talks.

Under Ministry of Education guidelines, schools are expected to provide eight hours of sexuality education to upper secondary students and four hours to tertiary students. However, many schools are going above and beyond the time requirements - often engaging external vendors to do so.

When contacted by The Sunday Times, Family Life Society defended its programme, saying that it never imposed any ideas on the students and had kept its content entirely secular.

'I don't see how it would work otherwise,' said Mr Andrew Kong, a senior executive in the society. 'Even I would be put off if someone tried to tell me these things while quoting from a religion.' He added that while some parts may have been 'moralistic', they were never 'religious'.

He also said that every talk kicks off with a disclaimer.

'We tell them every time that whatever views they don't agree with, they don't have to accept. In one ear and out the other.'

Indeed, not everyone who attended the talk took issue with it.

Jane Wu, 18, said: 'I did not agree with everything that was said, but I don't necessarily mind sitting there listening to it.'

Four other schools which had engaged Family Life Society to speak to their students - Hai Seng Catholic School, Orchid Park Secondary, Westwood Secondary and Bukit Batok Secondary - received no complaints.

Other groups conducting similar classes - Focus on the Family, A Life and Synergy Coaching - said they do not go so far as to bring up morality.

Mr Jay Abdul Rahman, 35, chief coach at Synergy Coaching, said: 'From the start I make it clear that I am approaching it from just a secular point of view. I may be Muslim but if a student asks me about masturbation, I will tell him it's natural.'

He added: 'I think the best way is not to try to shove the message down their throats. We should just equip them with enough information for them to make the choice for themselves.'

ChrisYeo said...

Wow. Interesting. Came across the original forum thread that started this.


One interesting quote is this:"Attended the talk in Aj last week. Really brainwashing. They used all sorts of ways to convince you of their viewpoints. There was one section where they played soft music, and talked to you and ask you to close ur eyes. I think the worst was when they played the abortion video, which was supposed to evoke emotions. Fact is, contary to what they say, they are not presenting a viewpoint for us to examine and decide if we are to accept. They were manipulating us emotionally to not make rational decisions, but to make decisions based on emotions...

Somehow, i felt the whole event had a religious twist to it. Like the pure condemming of IVF and cloning, without any in depth analysis of the reasons for condemnation. Hmms, and thruout the whole event, there was alot of presentations of half truths. Like the link between breast cancer and abortion. It has not been proven scientifically, and there are conflicting viewpoints, but they still choose to present it as true.

Oh, and there was one part where i was pretty amused by them. Like they were talking about the link between porn and violent criminals. That when the search violent criminals houses they find porn etc. And thus they conclude that porn makes people violent. My friends were sniggering that if they would find porn in any guys house, violent or not..."

I think this really is vindicates what I've been trying to say. Kids nowadays are not stupid. We need to be very careful in presenting statistics and must be intellectually honest. Using "emotions" and "half truths" is really going to backfire.

Daniel said...

Based on responses from FLS, I think that we need to consider what was actually presented to the students, instead of taking it just from the ST report (which was somewhat inaccurate) and the voices of a few students.

On the other hand, this incident does show that despite what is presented, most of the time, the audience will take away from it only what it wants to hear.

Incidentally, this is a great opportunity for Catholics to stir up some activity in the ST and the nation at large regarding such a topic. Introduce this topic in discussions with other friends. It's a good topic to help spread a culture of life.

ChrisYeo said...

I think your points miss the crux of the matter.

Go and try to 'stir-up' up this topic with your non-Catholic friends. They will probably end up more suspicious. Why? Because we are ill-informed and worse, misinformed about the topic of sexuality. If we use the emotional arguments and the dishonest statistics such like Family Life Society provides, we will get one of three responses. The non-critical will let it in and out the other ear. Otherwise, they will accept blindly and subsequently flounder when they are confronted with opposing arguments and statistics from the world. The slightly more critical listeners, which the young very much are today, will reject it outright.

What FLS presented to the students is very much correct. They need to have an ‘eye-opener’ towards the truth. However, are we going about it the best way we can? We need to hear both sides of the argument, present fair statistics, concentrate on the real values of human sexuality, and preach with humility. Any kind of ‘fighting the world with sword and shield’ will only backfire with today’s generation.

If you read with and open and discerning heart the following letters by Dr Gabriel Oon defending the workshop and the subsequent replies published in today’s Straits Times, you will know exactly what I mean.

Anonymous said...

Feb 7, 2006
Sexuality workshop an eye-opener for teens

IN THE article 'Students cry foul over sexuality workshop that pushed these messages' (Sunday Times, Jan 29), reporter Jeremy Au Yong said a four-hour workshop of the Family Life Society irked some students.
It was held under the Education Ministry's guidelines to provide sexuality education for upper secondary and tertiary students. He said the teachings were 'too strong' because it discouraged contraception, abortion, in-vitro fertilization and human embryonic stem cell research and allegedly infringed on other freedoms of thought.
As a parent of two adult sons, a practising doctor, and a volunteer helper in orphanages locally and overseas, I am grateful to see that the Family Life Society is bringing traditional values on sexuality to the sexually active young here.
As a young medical student, I learned about infectious diseases such as gonorrhoea and syphilis. We saw men and women in venereal disease clinics with fear in their eyes as they passed pus from their genitalia in pain. We also saw the tears of women who had repeated strictures of the fallopian tubes because of venereal-transmitted disease. These women remained sterile.
Later, I would be one of the first to see the early cases of HIV and Aids in the United States. There was fear in the partner, knowing that to contact Aids was a death sentence and ostracism from their sexual partners.
At an orphanage overseas, we find that without the exceptional love of the care-givers, these orphaned children would be dead.
Some children were dumped on the streets by the single mums. If they were lucky and got picked up, they were saved. In other instances, abandoned babies could be eaten by hungry dogs.
Locally, in one of the new homes for 'battered children, and teenaged mums in crises', we try to provide them a shelter until the mum can complete her studies and learn her trade. I wondered. Was this a price of the freedom of sexual expression?
When my teenaged sons were growing up, my wife and I would reflect on the question 'what if both of us died suddenly, who would look after them? What if they picked up bad moral values and would not listen to our counselling?' My experiences in a public school helped me to guide my sons but like in my time, masturbation and homosexual behavior were not rare in the schools, though dating with the opposite sex was not frequent. We were free and unrestrained in what we wanted to do as long as we did not breach school discipline.
Family Life Society has its opponents. While it champions responsible parenthood, the sanctity of marriage, the sexual act within marriage, and the precious value of all human life (regardless of how weak that life is), it also actively discourages euthanasia in all forms, such as contraception (where sperms are killed), abortion (where life is intentionally terminated), and embryonic stem cell research (where the hapless human life is destroyed).
My sons are now responsible professionals. While we disagree from time to time, my wife and I still keep our traditional values.
The teenage sexually active school children here have been given an eye opener. It is now their choice.

Dr Gabriel Oon Chong Jin

Anonymous said...

Feb 9, 2006
Sex education should be objective and balanced

I WRITE in response to the letter, 'Sexuality workshop an eye-opener for teens' (ST, Feb 7) by Dr Gabriel Onn Chong Jin. He is grateful Family Life Society is bringing traditional values to the sexually active young.
Some values championed that were mentioned in his letter included responsible parenthood, the sanctity of marriage, the sexual act within marriage and the precious value of all human life and objection of euthanasia in all forms, such as abortion, contraception and embryonic stem cell research.
He went on to cite very relevant and compelling personal experiences about people with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and orphans to substantiate the importance of these values.
I am a pro-life proponent myself and I have completely no objections to the above values being propounded at a sexuality workshop in school.
But the issue is not, as perceived by Dr Onn, a tussle between traditional and non-traditional values. Many liberals too treasure life and respect marriage and family. The fundamental question to ask is whether the workshop has equipped our youth with enough knowledge on the various kinds of values and perception pertaining to sexuality in order to make informed choices on their own.
I am inclined to think this is not so.
Mr Andrew Kong, senior executive of Family Life Society, reported that they had given a disclaimer before the start of the workshop that students are free to agree or disagree with ideas at the workshop.
Is such a disclaimer enough, without exposing the students to ideas and arguments from proponents of abortion, contraception and condom use in the prevention of STDs?
Other earlier newspaper reports also showed false information was also given to students, for example, that condoms are not effective in preventing the spread of STDs, contrary to advice from World Health Organisation and UNAids.
The workshop also asked students, regardless of their personal conviction, to write down statements like 'I must condemn masturbation and in-vitro fertilisation'.
What this clearly shows is a lack of balance in exposing our youth a variety of viewpoints regarding the issue of sexuality.
We need to ensure that content of such sexuality workshops is objective and balanced, so that our youth can exercise informed, responsible choices.

Felix Ser Cherk Yen

Feb 9, 2006
Educators should not favour any religion

I REFER to the letters, 'Sexuality workshop an eye-opener for teens' (ST, Feb 7) from Dr Gabriel Oon Chong Jin and 'Don't resolve social issues dogmatically' (ST, Feb 2) from Mr Harvey Neo Choong Tiong.
Both letters discuss the recently reported sexuality workshop.
As a student who has recently completed junior college and is now studying in university researching on Aids and sex education, I feel that sexuality workshops go against the very principles of education and are very rarely secular.
While these workshops conducted by third-party organisations have some good intentions in spreading values, it must be stressed that in our multi-racial and secular schools, we must not allow a singular religious voice to dictate the sex education syllabus.
Take, for example, the Family Life Society, which is a 'resource body for family life groups in the Archdiocese of Singapore, helping individuals, couples and families to live and love as God intends' (Singapore Catholic Church Directory, 2006).
It is hardly secular to begin with.
To educate against contraception and force students to write down on worksheets that contraception is bad goes against our secular system of using contraception for family planning and using contraception to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Furthermore, we cannot assume that every student listening to the lecture is of the Christian faith.
In a public secular school, where different students from different backgrounds mix, it is important that the educators do not preach or favour any religion.
While it is easy to claim that the talk given by such third party organisation is secular, at the end of the day these are just claims.
As a practising doctor of the Catholic Medical Guild & the Archdiocese Bioethics Council, Singapore, and Medical & Oncology Clinic, Mount Elizabeth Medical Center, Singapore, Dr Oon certainly has seen many cases of STDs.
It is very distressing to hear of the examples he cited, but it also struck me that if these children have known that contraception is highly effective against the transmission of STDs and Aids, then perhaps they might not have been infected in the first place.
To argue that the condom is not 100 per cent safe and abstinence is the best method is to me a non-statement.
Following similar logic, since seat-belts are not 100 per cent safe in preventing deaths in accidents, one should not drive cars at all.
While the values Family Life Society champions are not inherently wrong, if it steps on the boundary of being overtly religious and dogmatic, then maybe we must re-examine contracting religious groups to give sexuality workshops.
For example, human life is indeed precious (as championed by Family Life Society) and euthanasia, while a very debatable topic, can be seen from one angle as taking a life which is wrong (as championed by Family Life Society).
However, it is important to note that euthanasia refers to the taking of the life of a suffering patient.
I have two siblings. I teach my sister about sex and how she should not be having sex, and that is my personal value. I also teach her how to defend herself against men should they force her.
But at the same time, I teach her how to use a condom.
I teach her what are the dangers involving casual and unprotected sex.
Am I an irresponsible brother?
I do not think so.
In fact, I feel that by equipping her with such knowledge, she would be better able to fend for herself.
Unlike me, who came out of the education system knowing next to nothing about sex, and having to find out all the information that I hold today through research on journals and on the Internet, I think she would know better what to do, should the need ever arise.

Teng Kie Zin

Feb 9, 2006
Scare-mongering is counter-productive

IN HIS letter, 'Sexuality workshop an eye-opener for teens' (ST, Feb 7), Dr Gabriel Oon Chong Jin makes the point that promoting 'traditional values of sexuality' among sexually active youth is beneficial.
Dr Oon's point, that traditional and non-secular values be used as a conduit for sex education and sexual health promotion, is inherently flawed.
The examples he gives, such as those with venereal diseases suffering painfully for their past acts, HIV patients facing ostracism, orphans abandoned by single parents, all illustrate the point that there is a need for more constructive, well-rounded sex education.
As a medical student today, I am taught, as he was, how diseases like syphilis, gonorrhoea and HIV/Aids cause great physical suffering.
However, I have also been shown that countering these problems involves medical ministering as well as a firm grasp of the ethical implications of treating those who might have differing beliefs from myself, and that a sense of reality must underpin all efforts, at all levels.
The reality is that sex education has been inconsistently and inadequately propagated in schools.
With the accessibility and attractiveness of the lifestyles depicted and promoted in the mass media and the rising levels of education in Singapore today, it is to be expected that a changing perspective on morality, marriage and sexuality has also evolved.
No longer will the average youth be happy with force-fed messages - that students find themselves irked by the Family Life Society's faith-centred workshop is evidence of this.
What is needed is a message of sexual health that is all-encompassing in its reach, grounded in scientific and medical fact, systematically and consistently taught, and which seeks to embrace the reality that sex is a part of life.
Any programme which purports to do so while ignoring, or worse, condemning, what the civilised world has already accepted - condom usage, HIV and Aids sufferers, homosexuality and responsible stem-cell research, among others - cannot expect to succeed.
Youth-centred programmes in European countries, and even in South-east Asian states like Thailand, focus on responsibility and the ability of the individual to make rational decisions.
Anything less will only alienate those whom the authorities should seek to reach out to the most.
To want to give school- goers the choice of determining their own sexual health, and yet to support scaremongering and non-secular moralising in the context of a multiracial and multi-cultural education system and society, are contradictory and counter-productive.

Wong Chen Seong

Daniel said...

I e-mailed Gabriel Oon to ask him something about that seat belt analogy. He responded with this article that you might find interesting.

It is "an authorative article in the world recognised Medical journal, the Lancet.


Copyright 2000 by The Lancet Ltd
The Lancet
Lancet 2000; 355 (9201): 400-403
January 29, 2000

TITLE: Condoms and seat belts: the parallels and the lessons

SOURCE: Department of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Royal Free and University College Medical School, The Mortimer Market Centre, Mortimer Market, London WC1E 6AU, UK

Correspondence to: Dr John Richens (e-mail: jrichens@gum. ucl.ac.uk)

AUTHOR: Richens, John; Imrie, John; Copas, Andrew

Condoms and car seat belts are applied to the human body to save lives. For both, there is an abundance of evidence of benefit to individuals directly exposed to risk. When evidence of benefit is sought at population level it becomes much harder to show beneficial effects. We look at evidence that suggests that the safety benefits of seat belts are offset by behavioural adaptation, and we ask whether condom promotion could also be undermined by unintended changes in sexual risk perception and behaviour.

Condoms-seat belts for sex?

The huge increase in seat-belt use since 1970 has been paralleled by a similar trend in condom use since the rise of HIV. The benefits of condom use to individuals exposed to HIV or sexually transmitted diseases are substantial, well documented, and can be compared with the benefits of wearing a seat belt during a high-speed collision. However, it is hard to show that condom promotion has had any effect on HIV epidemics. The most well-known example is the 100% condom policy in Thailand, which has been linked to a decrease in numbers of cases of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, but the strength of the evidence to link disease prevalence with condom promotion is unclear. Similar declines in prevalence of disease have been observed in countries with low condom uptake, such as Uganda. In Thailand, the contribution of fewer visits to prostitutes may have been underestimated. In the absence of any intervention, all epidemics eventually decline from a peak as host and pathogen evolve.

There are three ways in which a large increase in condom use could fail to affect disease transmission. First, condom promotion appeals more strongly to risk-averse individuals who contribute little to epidemic transmission. Second, increased condom use will increase the number of transmissions that result from condom failure. Third, there is a risk-compensation mechanism: increased condom use could reflect decisions of individuals to switch from inherently safer strategies of partner selection or fewer partners to the riskier strategy of developing or maintaining higher rates of partner change plus reliance on condoms. A Canadian study cited by Wilden showed that televised AIDS messages from the Ontario Ministry of Health made respondents more inclined to use condoms and less inclined to avoid casual sexual partners. A US study showed that women taught to negotiate condom use with their partners had no change in incidence of sexually transmitted disease compared with controls, with a trend to an increase in such diseases.

A vigorous condom-promotion policy could increase rather than decrease unprotected sexual exposure, if it has the unintended effect of encouraging greater sexual activity (figure 3).


Seat belts have not delivered all the safety benefits that were originally expected of them. A theory of risk compensation may explain why the obvious benefits of seat belts do not necessarily translate into benefits when they are used by whole populations. If safety interventions engender compensatory changes of risk behaviour among drivers, it is highly probable that interventions to reduce sexual health risks could also change risk behaviour. There is much preliminary evidence that sexual behaviour does respond in this way. We believe that those who plan and implement interventions in sexual health should actively look for this phenomenon and deal with it. We should ask why condom promotion is apparently not having much effect in most developing countries. We should ask whether we have the right balance between messages about condom promotion and partner reduction or selection.

I must honestly say that I didn't catch most of it, but maybe you will. :)

ChrisYeo said...

Hi Daniel,

Thanks for sharing this post. Yes, it does make sense. Perhaps I should dialogue with Dr Oon and Ooi and Snodgrass, the latter two whom I have met incidentally.

In the 1970s when seat-belts were introduced, they saved many lives in high speed crashes. However, over the years, people noticed that seat-belts actually made people feel safe and made them drive much faster and more recklessly. This negates the initial benefits of the seat-belts. I have heard of one town where seatbelts are not allowed, and this town has not had anyone die in a car accident because people will automatically slow down at junctions.

Having said that, think about how impossible it would be to eradicate seatbelts today, and the perceptions people would have of one that tries.

To me, the last line of the article says it best: "We should ask whether we have the right balance between messages about condom promotion and partner reduction or selection. "

We must preach abstinence, but we must strike a balance. There is a need to speak out against "safe sex", but no highfaluting please.

Anonymous said...

Feb 14, 2006
Learning about contraception not enough for Aids prevention

THE letters 'Scare-mongering is counter-productive' by Wong Chen Seong and 'Educators should not favour any religion' by Teng Kie Zin (ST, Feb 9) express important reactions towards Family Life Society's workshops. However, they contain some popular misconceptions about the relationship between contraception and HIV/Aids prevention.

Mr Wong points out that any programme which ignores or condemns 'what the civilised world has already accepted - condom usage, HIV and Aids sufferers - cannot expect to succeed'.

Actually, some facts suggest otherwise. In March 2004, the medical journal Studies In Family Planning published an article titled 'Condom Promotion For Aids Prevention In The Developing World: Is It Working?'. It says that high HIV transmission rates have continued despite high rates of condom use in many sub-Saharan African countries.

In fact, the nations with the highest levels of condom availability - like Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa - continue to have the highest HIV prevalence.

On the other hand, in 2002, the US Agency for International Development (Usaid) published a paper titled 'How Can Uganda's Aids Prevention Success Be Explained?'. The report tells us that the national HIV prevalence for Uganda fell from around 15 per cent in 1991 to a mere 5 per cent in 2001. The key reason for the impressive result is the decrease in multiple sexual relationships. Condom promotion was not an important component in the campaign.

To effectively minimise Aids transmission through sexual contact, people need to grasp the importance of having as few sexual partners as possible. Simply teaching them how to use contraception is not the solution.

In an Asian society like Singapore, the best strategy is to teach the young people to abstain from sex before marriage and then to remain faithful to their spouses after marriage. And this is one of the crucial messages being taught to students in the sexuality workshops conducted by the Family Life Society.

Also, in June 2003, the United Nations' Aids agency (Unaids) published a draft study which said that condoms are actually ineffective in protecting against HIV at an estimated 10 per cent of the time. Given that Aids is a fatal disease, it is safe to say that the one in 10 failure rate of condom protection is simply not good enough. Instead, condoms are liable to give sexually promiscuous people a false sense of security.

This clearly falsifies Mr Teng's statement that 'contraception is highly effective against the transmission of STDs and Aids'. He believes that he is being a responsible brother by teaching his sister how to use a condom to protect herself from contracting STDs and HIV/Aids. He might be surprised to find out that this form of protection is actually a form of Russian roulette.

Edmond Eh Kim Chew