No one can wake up a crowd of teenagers as quickly as Dr. Margie Holmes can! The subject was sex and the Q&A session was lively, funny, and serious all at once. Margie had been invited to Puerto Princesa, Palawan, to celebrate the fourth anniversary of our Reproductive Health NGO, Roots of Health (ROH), and brought all her incredible energy into play to draw out students’ hopes, doubts, curiosities, fears. Is there a cure for being ‘bading’? Or is it okay to be gay? Does masturbation really make you grow taller? Can girls masturbate? What’s okay in relationships, what isn’t?
What was the object of this exercise? The new Reproductive Health Law – once it is released from the Supreme Court – requires/expects schools to teach age appropriate reproductive health classes. ROH is already engaged in such teaching and has a lively, interactive curriculum. However, ROH teaching staff wanted to know if they were missing anything, so they created this opportunity to ask students to generate their own curricula, to tell the organization what they needed to know, to discuss, and to learn more about.
What kind of reproductive health curriculum do students want? What do they need to know?
They want to know, quite naturally, about sex and relationships. They want to know about how to prevent pregnancies (really they do, whether their elders want to admit this or not!). If there are no other alternatives – if no one will allow them to have condoms, or pills – they will continue to rely on the withdrawal method, which is not an effective form of contraception.
Many teenagers are really concerned about their own sexuality. Are their own feelings within the range of “normal”? Are they gay? Can they change that? SHOULD they change that? ROH has taught about LGBT issues along with general work on bullying and self-esteem, but had missed the fact that there is an information gap regarding sexuality. There are things students need – and want – to know about sexual orientation.
And students want reproductive health education to bring in a moral dimension – NOT to follow traditional moral or religious lines, but to bring these issues out into the open and discuss them. Is it okay to be gay? What do you do if you are gay but your personal belief is that this condition is sinful? What if your church teaches one thing and your own moral sense is different? All the old moral platitudes have to be confronted, questioned, considered – not necessarily thrown out but not necessarily honored either.
Dr. Margie knows all too well that these issues have to be considered – that students, and their elders, are troubled by them. If a student asks her why she doesn’t feel ‘sexy’, and whether there is something wrong with her, Margie doesn’t treat it as a joke, but looks her straight in the eye and says it is okay, there are different times for different stages, she can hold on and see.
And that’s part of what makes Dr. Margie so special!