Crafting gender and sexual identities in higher education

A proposal on exploring the crafting gender and sexual identities in sexuality education at tertiary education

In recognizing Hong Kong as an increasingly highly “sexualized” society with young people becoming sexually active in earlier age; the significance of peer influence and the unimpeded flow of sexualized messages delivered in mass media and the internet impacting on youngsters’ sexual attitude, the Education Bureau is now proposing “sex and sexuality" as compulsory topics in both junior and secondary schools. Under the New Secondary School Curriculum (NSSC), sex and sexuality education in Hong Kong is a mandate in the “Liberal Studies” for senior secondary students and in the “Life and Society” subject for Secondary 1-3 students. Topics like “Attitude towards Sex and Sexuality”, “Learning to Love” and “Managing Cyber-friendship”, are expected to develop students’ different notions and attitudes about love, sex and marriage; and sexual fantasy and desires (Curriculum Development Council 2010, p. 35). Further, in the 4th Asian Conference on Sexuality Education in 2010, Mr. Michael Suen (2011) the Secretary of Education called on a greater effort from not only the family, but the schools and the community to share good practices and valuable experiences in achieving a sexuality education that equips the younger generation with a healthy sexuality attitude.

In Hong Kong, school-based sex education started in the early 70s when the Education Department issued a memorandum to all schools and proposed sex education topics in formal subjects and its ways of sex education delivery in schools. Thereafter, two “Guidelines on Sex Education in Secondary Schools” were published respectively in 1986 and 1997 served as the mandates for school-based sexuality education in Hong Kong (Ho,2002). However, there is lacking of systematic researches or studies which aim to understand how sexuality education continued in post-secondary schools. According to Epstein et. al. (2003), there is an “official silence” about all kinds of sexuality in the vast majority of schools in UK and the US. Their study suggested that the situation does not change when youngsters transfer from school to university eventhough one may consider universities as a “liberal spaces". Gender and sexuality scholarship has argued that sexual education at all stages should continue to support and nurture students’ effort to think more critically about gender and sexuality as they develop their own understandings of sexuality (ibid, 2003). One of the very few sexuality researches, Telford’s study (Epstein et. al, 2003, pp. 101-120) uncovered the tensions faced by college and university students in UK between “expected freedom” and “continued regulations” not only at classroom but predominantly in peers and everyday life in the college.

The Family Planning Association in Hong Kong (FPAHK) has been conducting city-wide surveys every five years since 1981 to examine the sexual attitudes, experiences and knowledge of young people up to the age of 27. According to the 2006 Youth sexuality study, though the younger generation is more sexually active at their earlier age, there is no significant increase in knowledge in areas of fertility and contraception as compared to the previous survey (FPAHK, 2006). In a 2011 survey, findings suggested that the youth engaged in sexual activities did not have proper knowledge on “proper use of condom”, “methods of contraception” (Yu 2011). Despite effort from schools and NGOs, sex education has long been under criticism for its ineffectiveness in increasing youngsters’ sexual knowledge and cultivating a positive and responsible attitude amongst them (Chung, 2000; Yu 2011). The results of sex education were deemed far from satisfactory in terms of the scope covered. For example, it was limited to facts about biological sex and framed in the discourse of fertility control and contraception (Ng, 1998; 2001; Ho, 2002). Unaddressed constraints faced by the educators on their readiness and the tight teaching schedule and pressure of public examination were also obstacles to achieving a successful outcome especially in secondary schools (Chan 1999; Ho 2002;Ng 1998, 2004). In higher education, Ng (2004) summarized that there is lacking of territory-based sex education in the advanced level. He then discussed the courses, for example, “Human Sexuality” in the University of Hong Kong and “Sexuality and Culture” in the Chinese University of Hong Kong to illustrate the diversities of sex-related courses at post-secondary educational settings. He concluded that the advanced sexuality courses in Hong Kong were improving both in quantity and quality. From a contrasting perspective, Ho (2002) argued that “high schools sex education (in Hong Kong) is just an attempt to control sexual expressions, whilst universities, however, legitimize sexuality enquiry when it is construed as a medical, psychological or social problem”.

Sex education is currently one of the most controversial and politicized aspects of the school curriculum; it engages adults with distinct cultural, political and economic agendas in heated and acrimonious debates in which student voices are largely unheard (Trudell 1993, p. 2). Few research or study aims to explore the voices from students who participated in different forms of sexuality education. Ho (2002) argued that sexuality research and study in Hong Kong was lacking of a “personal narrative” and direct articulation of the subjects of their sexual experiences. All these “facilitate the formation of a discursive reality which systematically relegates sexuality to the marginal space of the unspoken, unnamed and unarticulated.” (p. 62). Employing cultural theories and feminist approach in sexuality resaearch will provide a renewed framework and tools of analysis to re-represent the sexuality education students as subjects, authors of their experiences in crafting their sexual identities in the classrooms, in their everyday interactions with their peers and the popular culture they consumed. In place of the existing official sex education curriculum, a broader version of sexuality education that incorporates the informal cultures and the pre-existing understandings of sex and sexuality among students will be employed (Epstein and Johnson, 1998) to capture the after-class interactions and informal contexts central to our understanding of the role of sexuality education in post-secondary education.

Rather than focusing on evaluating the sexual knowledge and attitude of students, it is necessary to uncover the formation and the process of how teenagers craft their sexual identity; and aims to throw light on understanding why knowledge did not transform into practices amongst sex education students. Gender and sexuality education will be taken as a continuous process. Therefore it is important to explore how sexual knowledge gained by youngsters in their life experiences and also to take not of different sources such as the media and the peer influenced teenagers’ sexuality attitude and practice.

Reference
Chan Po On (1999) ‘Sex education in secondary schools of Hong Kong – Literature Review and Recommendations’, Asian Journal of Counselling 1999, vol. 6, no. 2, The Hong Kong Professional Counselling Association & The Chinese University of Hong Kong., pp. 129- 145 (Chinese text).

Chung, Jenny (2000), “Sex Education in School: Don’t wait ‘til it’s too late”, Varsity Online Edition, February 2000, viewed 25 June 2011, http://www.com.cuhk.edu.hk/varsity/0002/feditor.htm.

Curriculum Development Council (2010) Personal, Social and Humanities Education Key Learning Area: Exemplars of Organization of Modules for Life and Society (Secondary 1-3), Hong Kong: Education Bureau, Hong Kong SARS, [Online] Available at http://www.edb.gov.hk/FileManager/EN/Content_7845/organization_modules_eng.pdf

Epstein, Debbie and Richard Johnson (1998) Schooling Sexualities, Buckingham and Philadelphia, Open University Press.

Epstein, D, S. O`Flynn and David Telford (2003) “Post-compulsory Heterosexuality: Silences and Tensions in Curricula and Pedagogy at University” in Silenced Sexualities in Schools and Universities, Stroke on Trent, UK: Trentham Books, pp. 101-120.

The Family Association of Hong Kong (2006) Youth Sexuality Survey, Hong Kong, [Online] Available at http://www.famplan.org.hk/fpahk/common/pdf/ar-07-08/YSS06.pdf

Ho, Sik Ying and A. Ka Tat Tsang (2002) “The Things Girls Shouldn’t See: relocating the penis in sex education in Hong Kong”, Sex Education, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 61-73.

Ng, M. L. (1998) School and Public Sexuality Education in Hong Kong, Journal of Asian Sexology 1, pp. 32-35.

Ng, M. L. (2004) “Hong Kong” inRobert T. Francoeuret. Al. (ed.) The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, updated, with more countries, New York: Continuum, pp. XXX.

Suen, Michael M. Y. (2010) Speech at the 4th Asian Conference on Sexuality Education 2010, 12 August; viewed 23 July 2011, http://www.edb.gov.hk/index.aspx?nodeID=133&langno=1&UID=104142

Trudell, Bonnie Nelson (1993) Doing Sex education: Gender Politics and Schooling, New York. London: Routledge.

Yu Andrea (2011) ‘A rude awakening’,China Daily (HK Edition),7 July, p.4, retrieved on 23 July 2011, http://www.wisers.com/corpsite/global/en/products/wisenews.html

http://nsrc.sfsu.edu/article/silenced_sexualities_schools_and_universities

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