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The International Battle for Sexual Health | Sex Health Blog

Sep 18, 2012

Sexual controversies, debates, and battles are everywhere: Should prostitution be legalized? Should same-sex marriage be allowed? Is stoning a reasonable punishment for adultery? These issues and many others have their advocates and opponents.

Sometimes, we feel like the answers should be a no-brainer. But that depends, like many things, on our cultural norms, moral beliefs, and personal experiences. There’s always another side of the coin.

Today, we’ll take a look at three of the current battles, where they stand, and what the supporting and opposing groups have to say about them.

The Philippines – Reproductive Health Bill

For the past fourteen years, the Philippine Congress has been debating a reproductive health bill, one that would make sex and reproductive health classes mandatory for all Filipino students from fifth grade through high school. It would also give people free access to reproductive health services and contraception.

Supporters point out that while contraceptives are legal in the Philippines, they are not widely available in poor areas, where the birthrate is high. “I have never used birth control; I don’t know about it,” 14-year old Jasmin Balute, a pregnant girl in Manila, told The Guardian. Lack of family planning services, supporters say, continues the cycle of poverty.

Opposition to the bill comes largely from the Roman Catholic church. Radio Australia reports that 81% of Filipinos are Roman Catholic and church leaders have organized protests.

Father Melvin Castro, secretary of the Episcopal Commission for Family and Life told Radio Australia, “We believe in responsible parenthood but we do not believe in contraceptive use so rather than channeling our meager resources into contraceptive procurement and contraceptive promotion, let’s just instead focus resources into making livelihood or making much needed employment for the poor people.”

At this time, the bill is still being debated in the Philippine Congress. If approved, President Benigno Aquino, a supporter, would need to sign it into law.

Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Beyond – Female Genital Cutting

Female genital cutting (FGC), sometimes called female genital mutilation, is a culture practice in which girls, sometimes in infancy, have their genitals cut. Depending on the local custom, the procedure may be a skin cut or a complete removal of the genitals. Some girls have their vaginas stitched shut, with just enough room to allow the flow of urine or menstrual blood.

FGC is not done for medical reasons and is not supported by any religion. It is condemned by many organizations, including the International Society for Sexual Medicine and the World Health Organization. Opponents note that the procedure is painful and psychologically traumatic. Anesthesia is not always given. Equipment is not often sterilized, raising the risk of wound infections and transmission of hepatitis and HIV. Other possible complications include hemorrhaging, problems with urination and menstruation, painful intercourse, and infertility.

Female genital cutting does have its supporters. Many cultures consider FGC an important event in a girl’s life, one that keeps her feminine and “clean.” Some girls are more likely to find suitable marriage partners if they have been cut. In other cultures, FGC is seen as a way to decrease a woman’s libido and prevent promiscuity.

FGC is becoming less common. The UN Population Fund reports that almost 2,000 communities in Africa stopped the practice in 2011, supported by government officials, religious leaders, and traditional village leaders. In some areas, such as parts of Sudan, community development courses have educated women on health, reproduction, and FGC.

Cultural traditions are strong, however. Some areas continue the practice openly. Some families have their girls cut in secret. Other families, who have left the country, return to have the procedure done because it is outlawed in their new home.

The United States – Sex Education in Schools

Sexual battles are fought closer to home, too. Sex education is frequently debated, especially in light of the Real Education For Healthy Youth Act, introduced to Congress in November 2011. The bill would allow federal funding for sex education for adolescents and young adults and for sex education training for teachers. Students would learn about anatomy, relationships, abstinence, ways to prevent pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections, gender identity, and sexual orientation, among other topics. Currently, the bill is in committee.

In the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas, this year’s planned sex-education curriculum for seventh graders is a bone of contention for some parents.  Concerned about a rise in teenage pregnancy, the district’s school board approved videos designed by the University of Texas Public Health Center that include lessons on abstinence and contraception. Parents can preview the videos online and choose not to have their child participate.

Debra Hill, the school district’s Coordinator of Secondary Science, told a KPRC television news reporter, "If we look at pregnancy rates in this school district, they're increasing. If we look at the number of middle schoolers getting pregnant, it's increasing. If our old program was highly effective, we would not be seeing an increase in pregnancy rates."

Opponents are not happy with the curriculum.  “It goes against the grain of the moral fiber and against what’s right for our community,” Teresa Geiaheker told a reporter from KHOU 11 News.  Another parent, Jennifer Fleck, said, “It just glorifies bad choice. It makes fun of it.  It makes light of it.”

According to KPRC, the curriculum will not begin until late October.  Another meeting to address parents’ questions and concerns has been planned.

Other Battles?

Sex is an essential part of being human, an aspect of life that we all share no matter where we live.  Yet, as we’ve seen, it can also be controversial.  What are some of the battles you’ve heard about?  What are your thoughts?  Please share them with us in the comments.

Resources

Click2Houston.com (KPRC)
Mena, Phillip
“Parents concerned about sex ed video”
(September 12, 2012)
http://www.click2houston.com/news/Parents-concerned-about-sex-ed-video/-/1735978/16577616/-/sat2mfz/-/index.html

The Daily Beast
Collins, Gail
“Gail Collins on Texas’s Abstinence Sex Education Problems”
(June 4, 2012)
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/06/04/gail-collins-on-texas-s-abstinence-sex-education-problems.html

GovTrack.us
“H.R. 3324: Real Education for Healthy Youth Act of 2011”
(Status check of bill. Accessed September 11, 2012.)
http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr3324

The Guardian
Lichauco de Leon, Sunshine
“Philippines gears up for battle over reproductive health bill”
(September 7, 2012)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/sep/07/philippines-battle-reproductive-health-bill

International Society for Sexual Medicine
“ISSM Issues Policy Statement on Female Genital Cutting”
http://www.issm.info/news/sex-health-headlines/issm-issues-policy-statement-on-female-genital-cutting/

KHOU.com
Russell, Rucks
“Parents express concern about Texas school’s new sex-ed program”
(September 11, 2012)
http://www.khou.com/home/Cy-Fair-Sex-Ed-169267276.html

NBC News
Masland, Molly
“Carnal knowledge: The sex ed debate”
(September 17, 2010)
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3071001/#__utma=154396583.840361785.1347405878.1347405878.1347405878.1&__utmb=154396583.1.10.1347405878&__utmc=154396583&__utmx=-&__utmz=154396583.1347405878.1.1.utmcsr=msnbc.msn.com|utmccn=(referral)|utmcmd=referral|utmcct=/id/3071001/ns/health-childrens_health/t/carnal-knowledge-sex-ed-debate/&__utmv=154396583.|8=Earned%20By=newsvine%7Chealth%7Chealth=1^12=Landing%20Content=Original=1^13=Landing%20Hostname=health.newsvine.com=1^30=Visit%20Type%20to%20Content=Internal%20to%20Original=1&__utmk=78163540

The New York Times
Whaley, Floyd
“Philippines Moves Forward With Bill to Improve Contraceptive Access”
(August 6, 2012)
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/07/world/asia/philippines-set-to-vote-on-reproductive-health-bill.html?_r=1

Radio Australia
Daniel, Zoe
“Rallies in Philippines over sexual health bills”
(September 6, 2012)
http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/program/connect-asia/rallies-in-the-philippines-over-sexual-health-bills/1011852

Sexual Medicine Society of North America
“Real Education For Healthy Youth Act”
(January 19, 2012)
http://www.sexhealthmatters.org/sex-health-blog/real-education-for-healthy-youth-act

United Nations Population Fund
“2,000 More African Communities End Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in 2011”
(Press release. February 6, 2012)
http://www.unfpa.org/public/home/news/pid/9976

Helmore, Kristin
“Sudan: The Campaign against Cutting Goes to School”
(February 2, 2012)
http://www.unfpa.org/public/home/news/pid/9968

University of Texas School of Public Health
“It’s Your Game – Keep It Real”
(Accessed September 13, 2012)
https://sph.uth.edu/iyg