Bernardo M. Villegas
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Addressing Problem of Teenage Pregnancies

         Health officials are rightly concerned with the fact that the Philippines has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in the Asian region.  Much can be done to address this problem if Filipino parents and educators collaborate in imparting to children and adolescents a “positive and prudent sex education with due weight being given to the advances in the psychological, pedagogical and didactic sciences,” as pointed out by Pope Francis in his Encyclical “The Joy of Love.”  Given the way sexuality has been trivialized and impoverished in an increasingly materialistic and consumerist society, there is no substitute to a real education in chastity imparted first and foremost by parents.   Chastity in turn should be presented, not as a negation, but as an affirmation of authentic love.  As Pope Francis wrote, sex education can only be seen “within the broader framework of an education for love, for mutual self-giving.  In such a way, the language of sexuality would not be sadly impoverished but illuminated and enriched. The sexual urge can be directed through a process of growth in self-knowledge and self-control capable of nurturing valuable capacities for joy and loving encounter.”

         We have been reading statements from international agencies that there is need to provide as much information on sexuality to girls as young as ten years old, including information on how to enjoy “safe sex.”  The most basic principles of educational psychology should make a parent or an educator realize that “sex education should provide information while keeping in mind that children and young people have not yet attained full maturity.  The information has to come at a proper time and in a way suited to their age. It is not helpful to overwhelm them with data without also helping them to develop a critical sense in dealing with the onslaught of new ideas and suggestions, the flood of pornography and the overload of stimuli that can deform sexuality.  Young people need to realize that they are bombarded by messages that are not beneficial for their growth towards maturity.  They should be helped to recognize and seek out positive influences, while shunning the things that cripple their capacity for love.  We also have to realize that a ‘new and more appropriate language’ is needed to ‘introducing children and adolescents to the topic of sexuality.”

         Instead of giving up on “ignorant parents” and transferring the whole responsibility of sex education to the schools, there should be a serious effort of civil society to develop intensive courses on parenting at all social levels.  This can be the task for such associations as Couples for Christ, parents’ organizations as those organized by parents of universities like the Ateneo and La Salle, the Focolare movement, parish-based organizations, Parents for Education Foundation and EDUCHILD Foundation, among others. Only in the warmth and intimacy of a family can parents undertake a sexual education “that fosters a healthy sense of modesty, however much some people nowadays consider modesty a relic of a bygone era.  Modesty is a natural means whereby we defend our personal privacy and prevent ourselves from being turned into objects to be used.  Without a sense of modesty, affection and sexuality can be reduced to an obsession with genitality and unhealthy behaviors that distort our capacity for love, and with forms of sexual violence that lead to inhuman treatment or cause hurt to others.”

         Having examined some of the textbooks that were being proposed for use in our public schools for sex education, I am truly horrified to read materials in which sex education deals primarily with “protection” through the practice of “safe sex”.  As Pope Francis pointed out in the same encyclical, such expressions convey a negative attitude towards the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against. This way of thinking promotes narcissism and aggressiveness in place of acceptance.  It is always irresponsible to invite adolescents to toy with their bodies and their desires, as if they possessed the maturity, values, mutual commitment and goals proper to marriage.  They end up being blithely encouraged to use other persons as a means of fulfilling their needs or limitations.  The important thing is to teach them sensitivity to different expressions of love, mutual concern and care, loving respect and deeply meaningful communication.  All of these prepare them for an integral and generous gift of self that will be exposed, following a public commitment, in the gift of their bodies. Sexual union in marriage will thus appear as a sign of an all-inclusive commitment, enriched by everything that has preceded it.

 

         As a citizen of a country whose main strength today in the global economy is a “young, growing, and increasingly educated population,” I consider these considerations proposed by Pope Francis on sex education as a guarantee that will help the Philippines to avoid falling into the trap of demographic suicide which has ensnared not only the highly-developed countries of today but also some emerging markets like Thailand and China.   By going through the arduous route of sex education as a formation on chastity or as an affirmation of authentic love, we will prevent the instilling of a contraceptive or anti-life mentality among the young, especially the so-called millennials.  Although it is inevitable that urbanization and industrialization will lead to a natural trend towards reduced fertility, the decline will not be as precipitous as to plummet below replacement level.  The Philippines will always have the healthy demographics in which there will be enough young people to financially provide and physically care for the ageing population.  We have enough lessons to learn from such countries as Japan and our other Northeast Asian neighbors who are suffering both morally and materially from their demographic winter. For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.