SEXUALITY EDUCATION BEING CENSORED IN JAPAN
August 4, 2003 -In Japan, comprehensive sexuality education is under attack, and the effects on students are not good.
Over the past few weeks, members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education (the board that oversees schools in Japan's largest city) have been visiting schools, reprimanding or harassing teachers who teach about human sexuality. Manuals, visual aids, and other teaching materials they deemed inappropriate or pornographic were confiscated or banned. This included materials for lessons on human reproduction, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual orientation, and gender bias.
The controversy over whether and how to teach about human sexuality began to draw national attention after Board members learned that one of its schools, Nanao School, had been using a lesson plan on sexuality education that was printed in the May issue of the journal, Sexuality. Along with some legislators from the Tokyo Assembly, members of the Board visited Nanao School on July 4th with a reporter from the national Sankei Newspaper. What resulted was a sensationalist story of lessons that included "obscene" materials, as illustrated by the photo of nude dolls.
The visitors did not observe classes or interview teachers who used the lesson and materials. They did not learn, for example, that the anatomically correct (ie, obscene) dolls were usually dressed during lessons. Nor did they learn that the teachers and staff of Nanao School had developed the curriculum with the input and support of the parents of their students. But the story accomplished its task of generating public support for censorship.
The government tends to favor abstinence education and a hands-off approach to teaching about sex and sexuality. Such a position presumes that silence and ignorance will shield students from sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and other issues. But such is not the case: In Tokyo, 37% of school-aged boys and 46% of girls are having sex, but only 48% of these boys and 22% of these girls use any contraception, and one in 83 girls gets an abortion. Rates of sexually transmitted diseases among youth are on the rise.
Unfortunately, articles criticizing sexuality education have appeared in other national newspapers and magazines. The Assembly of Kagoshima Prefecture has passed legislation banning comprehensive sexuality education. Teachers in other prefectures have received notices discouraging them from attending workshops on sexuality education that are organized by Sei-Kyo-Kyo, an organization that supports research and education on human sexuality and gender bias (and the publisher of the journal, Sexuality, which first printed the controversial lesson plan).
As one teacher stated, "I have taught about sex and gender following the recommendations of Sei-Kyo-Kyo. It would be impossible to teach about sex, including the topic of sexual orientation, if the ideas, materials, and workshops prepared by Sei-Kyo-Kyo were not available nationwide. I fear that this kind of sex-education bashing and criticism of sex and gender education free from bias, as observed in Nanao, will cause other problems."
Sei-Kyo-Kyo believes that the censorship of comprehensive sexuality education is an obstacle to students' well-being and a violation of their human rights. It urges concerned individuals to put pressure on the Japanese government to change its policies and properly educate its youth.
TAKASHI SUGIYAMA is Chair of the Gay and Lesbian Issues section of Sei-Kyo-Kyo, a private organization in Japan that supports research and education on human sexuality and gender bias. Founded in 1982, Sei-Kyo-Kyo provides workshops and teaching materials that help teachers help students make choices about their sexuality and social lives that are informed by the facts of science and the rights of humanity. Since 2001, it has published research articles, lesson plans, and other resources for educators in its journal, Sexuality.
KEIKO OFUJI is on the faculty at Bates College, Maine, U.S.A. Ms. Ofuji's website includes links to relevant news articles and resources in Japan.