`Some parents want schools to provide in-depth sex education because they can't do it at home. But because we can't offer these classes on school premises, I rented a conference room and taught the class on a weekend. If the principal finds out about this, I may lose my job.' ANONYMOUS Tokyo elementary school teacher
The debate surrounding sex education boils down to this: Keep the kids totally in the dark or teach them everything they need to know, including the risks involved.
A teacher at a Tokyo junior high school uses a comic strip to facilitate a discussion of sex. In the comic, a girl is wearing a short skirt to go see her boyfriend. One of her girlfriends asks, ``Does that mean you're letting him do it today?''
Students commented on this scene based on their own experiences. One girl said, ``Dating boys means having sex,'' while another said, ``This has nothing to do with me, because I'm not popular enough to date.''
During another sex education lesson, a teacher showed a magazine article that claimed a girl who was raped resisted at first, but eventually enjoyed it. The teacher asked how the students felt about that.
``That's disgusting. No one would ever enjoy that,'' one girl said.
Another student said, ``Sex should only be consensual.''
With sex-related materials readily available off school grounds, some students have been nabbed bringing pornographic videos and condoms to school.
Instead of simply scolding or punishing the culprits, teachers at the school said they wanted the kids to be able to learn to think for themselves.
After several rounds of discussions about sex, one student admitted, ``I think we might just be confused by all this information.''
Despite positive feedback from students, when reports of these sex education sessions were published in a faculty newsletter, someone tattled to the district board of education. The person demanded an investigation, saying the school ``might have gone too far.''
The school principal ended up with a good bit of explaining to do. After a detailed presentation on what the school was doing and trying to accomplish, the board decided there was no problem after all.
Still, the teacher who offered the classes was surprised. ``I don't think I did anything excessive. But the board had to come in and check every detail.''
Many teachers say that it is so difficult just to cover the areas that will be tested in high school entrance exams, they would prefer to skip sex education altogether. Not only are they controversial, but they also take a long time to prepare.
``If our sex education programs get scrutinized like this, teachers are most likely to just read the provided material and do nothing more,'' the teacher said.
The Tokyo board of education in spring 2004 created a sex education reference manual for elementary and junior high school teachers.
The manual states that teachers must use board-certified curricula as well as ``age-appropriate'' terminology.
As directed by the school board, schools are cracking down on the use of words like, ``sex'' or ``sexual intercourse'' because the education guidelines for elementary, junior and senior high schools do not use them.
The manual leaves teachers little room to maneuver. Now in Tokyo junior high schools students skip the segment on sexual intercourse and learn about fertilization and pregnancy.
One Tokyo junior high teacher is perplexed by this turn of events. ``For years, we had no problem teaching sexual intercourse and now what? What am I supposed to say when kids ask me how an egg gets fertilized?''
The manual also states: ``Between grades one and three, foreign words like penis or vagina are not appropriate for describing private parts. Appropriate etiquette and manners should be observed in the use of such words. In younger classes, baby words may be used as necessary.''
On preventing AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the education guideline advises, ``avoiding sexual contact.'' It does allow junior high health education classes to mention condoms but forbids telling the kids how to use them.
``What does that mean? Avoiding sexual contact? Kids may think that includes kissing or holding hands. We should clearly state that what causes the spread of STDs is unprotected sex, blood transfusions and needle sharing,'' said Dr. Shinya Iwamuro.
Iwamuro is the director of the Institute of Community Medicine. An expert in the field, he gives sex-education speeches at schools nationwide.
But the Tokyo board of education will countenance no deviation from its rules and the use of forbidden terminology.
Just before the guideline was issued, a series of supplementary sex education texts that use the names of reproductive organs was cancelled.
In the elementary school version, the book showed pictures of external reproductive organs as well as an explanation on sexual intercourse. It also told children to ``Look at yourself in the mirror if you can't tell from the picture.'' In the junior high edition, the book explained how to use a condom.
The publisher, Tokyo Shoseki, says this series was discontinued because it wasn't profitable. But some education industry insiders believe the book was butchered by opponents of ``excessive'' sex education.
Schools first addressed sex education in 1992. After the first health textbook for fifth graders was issued, many private institutions created teaching materials and many regions held their own study groups. Some ``progressive'' books came out of this movement as well.
But in the past two or three years, there has been a growing opposition to certain teaching materials by those who want to shut down what they consider explicit sex education.
The Diet even jumped into the fray, debating the merits of a junior high booklet that explained how to purchase birth control pills.
A number of Diet members were opposed to the how-to approach of the booklet, saying that it overly stressed sexual independence.
The booklet-created by a foundation under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare-was eventually recalled.
Others criticized liberal sex education as ``promoting casual sex,'' or creating the risk of ``increased abortions and teenage prostitution.''
Supplementary textbooks also mentioned homosexuality and divorce, two hot-button issues that upset people trying to hang on to traditional family values.
In the Diet last spring, Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Hiroko Goto spoke out about the dangers of ``extremely excessive sex education.''
``Only 29 percent of Japanese high school girls said virginity should be saved until marriage, compared with 56 percent of their American counterparts. What is the education ministry doing about this upsetting reversal?'' the lawmaker asked.
All the criticism surrounding sex education has made teachers nervous. One cautious elementary school teacher in Tokyo presented his sex education curriculum to the principal beforehand, obtained permission from the students' parents and conducted the class under the supervision of the principal and vice-principal.
Another elementary school teacher taught a class in secret. ``Some parents want schools to provide in-depth sex education because they can't do it at home. But because we can't offer these classes on school premises, I rented a conference room and taught the class on a weekend. If the principal finds out about this, I may lose my job.''
Even in science classes, sex has become a taboo topic.
Teachers no longer teach fertility in fifth-grade science after a revised 1998 education guideline erased much of the segment pertaining to fertility. Textbooks before the revision showed a photo of a male and female killifish rubbing against each other. The caption read: ``These fish rub against each other so that the female will lay eggs and the male will ejaculate sperm.'' The word ``fertility'' as well as a picture of dogs mating were also included before the textbooks were revised.
Masaki Kosano, a former elementary school teacher, used to teach science. One of his lessons went something like this: ``Marine life lives in a watery environment. Sperm cannot dry out and die under such circumstances therefore the sperm is ejaculated on the outside of the eggs. On land, where sperm cannot survive for long on its own, the mating of sperm and eggs takes place inside the body.
``This way, students can imagine human mating as an extension of how animals mate,'' Kosano said.
The textbook now in use does not teach children about male and female roles in fertilization. A fifth-grader, using the current science textbook, learned in class that eggs will be fertilized if male and female animals are kept together. The child was asked what the role of the male was. ``To protect the female,'' the child replied.
The sudden introduction of sex education in junior or senior high schools, without a grounding in the basic fundamentals in elementary school, makes both students and teachers nervous.
One high school boy said, ``This doctor who spoke at out school for the first time talked about sex in an authoritative tone. It was gross. He showed us photos of STD contaminated organs and said that abortions sometimes poke holes in a women's uterus. It sounded like he was threatening us not to have sex.''
``Is this the beginning of an abstinence campaign?'' another boy asked. ``Many of my peers were looking down or listening to music during the lecture because it was so disgusting. The doctor may have talked about preventive methods, but I don't remember much.''
Meanwhile, Japanese kids are having sex at younger ages. According to a 2002 survey, 45 percent of female high school seniors in Tokyo had already lost their virginity. Only 21 percent of girls and 48 percent of boys surveyed said that they always used protection.
There is also an increase in young people infected with HIV. Between January and June 2004, four teenagers in Tokyo were found to be HIV positive. Other STDs are also spreading fast.
``I want to teach them properly because it is a matter of life and death,'' Iwamuro said.
What do you say to junior and senior high school kids when they ask why they shouldn't have sex?
Iwamuro said they need to hear something they can understand, not just the usual lame answer: ``You're not old enough to take responsibility for your actions.''
Instead, he asks questions in return: ``Why do you have sex? What happens if you don't? What happens if you do? What happens when you contract a disease? Where do you get tested? How do you pay for that?''
After his lecture, Iwamuro always asks his audience. ``Now that you've heard this, who wants to go out and have sex?'' No one responds. When he asks, ``Who doesn't want to have sex, clap your hands if you don't want to.'' The room fills with applause.(IHT/Asahi: January 15,2005)