In Malaysia, sex has become a taboo word to be used in public as it conjures up images of sexual activity. More so, the idea of discussing sex in classrooms.
For Dr Hamizah Mohd Hassan, who was one of the main designers of the current curriculum of sex education called Pekerti (short for Pendidikan Kesihatan Reproduktif dan Sosial) now being taught in national schools, her constant trouble is having to explain to the public, especially concerned parents, that schoolchildren are not being taught on how to do "it".
National schools started teaching sex education in a more serious manner since December 2009, after the parliament endorsed the need for the subject.
Her constant trouble is having to explain to the public, especially concerned parents, that schoolchildren are not being taught on how to do "it"
Hamizah is the head of the Reproductive Health Unit of the Family Services Sector in National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN) in the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.
"We cannot teach sex education in a very open manner, as we have to take into account the backgrounds of all students and ensure that everyone can accept the information being taught," says Hamizah.
There is fear from the authorities that should teachers be openly overt and graphic, there may be repercussions from parents and students who may retaliate and this may backfire the intention to make sex education an integral part of the curriculum.
"There is a module for the boys and another module for girls. The Pekerti module is designed to be taught to everyone. The teachers are not supposed to separate the boys and the girls and the syllabus has got nothing to do with religion," says Hamizah.
She explains that the module for the boys include sexual responsibilities and also addresses domestic violence, sexual violence as well as rape.
"It also teaches them that there are laws that deal with these issues, so that they know that it is a serious matter and no to be trifled with," she adds.
She was part of the panel on the session titled "Wrapping it Up: Sex Education!" at a one day Education Conference in Malaysia Baharu organised by NGO Projek Dialog.
The other panelists were child activist Shaney Cheng from PS the Children, Rozana Isa of Sisters in Islam and Kampung Tunku state assemblywoman Lim Yi Wei.
The session moderated by Angela Kugathas, discussed how sex is a very sensationalised matter by Malaysians, to the extent it has reached a point where many youths and children are confused and experimenting dangerously due to the lack of information. This, in turn, has led to problems such as baby dumping, illegal abortions, rape and sexual abuse.
As Hamizah was the only government representative, she was bombarded by with questions from the floor on why there seems to be a lack of proper sex education in schools.
We found trained teachers are not equipped to teach the subject and many are uncomfortable
Hamizah advises that the Malaysian society on the whole is not yet ready for such open discussions and it is best these matters are taught by teachers by staying clear of the religious, racial and communal sensitivities.
She explains at length how Pekerti was introduced under the national school curriculum as a holistic way of teaching sex and relationships, such as teaching how to say no to predators and being responsible sexually.
"Before Pekerti, the subject of sex used to be taught in a dry and factual manner, as we would teach Mathematics or Geography. We convinced the Ministry of Education to make it more comprehensive."
"We teach what the children want to know. Let's say sex is going to happen - what are you going to do? How to say no and how to be responsible boyfriends and girlfriends?," Hamizah says that this makes the subject more interesting, adolescent friendly and interactive.
The module, she adds, is constantly being upgraded with the latest being in a pilot project with five schools, funded by the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN).
"We found trained teachers are not equipped to teach the subject and many are uncomfortable," says Hamizah.
She adds that this is one reason LPPKN is pushing the Ministry of Education (MOE) to train teachers to teach the subject, which is not to be taken lightly.
State assemblywoman Lim Yi Wei said that the misunderstanding and confusion over what is sex and consent have been perpetrated by the mass media which tends to portray sex as being all about performance.
Meanwhile, child activist Shaney says that her NGO believes a part of teaching sex education would mean teaching children on knowing their body and on how to stay safe.