The naked truth

Unique exhibition promotes sexuality education

A woman in front of me has her eyes and mouth wide open as if she has just seen a ghost. "What caused that reaction?" I thought. In a second, my jaw drops and I, too, have an astonished expression.

Students at Nongkhamarn Wittayakhom School, Buriram, discuss the stages of pregnancy with videos and colourful displays at the exhibition. R. MANOWALAILAO

A close-up of a baby's head gradually emerging from her mother's vagina is projected onto a TV screen before visitors at an exhibition on sexuality at the National Science Museum of Thailand.

The Unesco "Healthy Sexuality: The Story of Love" exhibition is the first of its kind in Asia to promote sexuality education using interactive multimedia.

Unesco Bangkok Director Gwang-Jo Kim said in his opening address: "In many of our cultures, the discussion of healthy sexuality is considered taboo. Our cultures have had difficulties openly talking about issues pertaining to dating, intimate relations, reproductive health, gender identity and violence against women, making it even more challenging to discuss these topics with our children and teaching them such subjects," he said and continued, "I hope this exhibition breaks the silence surrounding sexuality in our cultures. The 'Story of Love' will open up communication and encourage adolescents to make informed decisions regarding their sexuality."

The exhibition consists of six main sections: an introduction; love and romance, love and its link to science; relationships and communication; sex, birth and contraception; sexually transmissible infections; and the personal choice to healthy sexuality.

Pumeraja Locharoenrat, a teacher at Nongkhamarn Wittayakhom School, Buriram, said the exhibition had opened his mind to new information.

Programme Specialist at Unesco Bangkok Philip Bergstrom said: "From Unesco studies, we discovered young people wanted to know about everything to do with sex. They wanted to know about love, they wanted to know the whole story, not just the scary story about HIV and all the bad news.

"We simply want to present the truth as accurately, and not judgementally, as possible to prepare young people to solve many problems themselves and give them the information they need, so that they can make healthy smart choices for themselves, when they are ready to make those choices.

"Throughout the exhibition, we try very hard not to use the word 'should'. We try not to tell young people what they should do [or] what they should not do. We want them to have the information at hand as part of their thinking so that they can make good healthy choices for themselves," he said.

According to a Thai Health Promotion Foundation survey of 2,060 students aged nine to 18, 51 percent consult friends on issues related to sex, while only 14 percent seek advice from parents and 10 percent discuss sexual matters with their boyfriends or girlfriends.

"I never ask my parents anything related to sex issues," said Pawinee Kundulai, 17, from Nongkhamarn Wittayakhom School, and added, "I'm afraid to ask. My parents would not see me as a good girl. Once I was going to ask my mum about her romantic relationship with my dad. She disapproved and said I was too young to know."

According to the same survey, 65 percent of students polled were unaware of birth control measures and 64 percent did not know how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).

Department of Provincial Administration figures report an average of 262 premature pregnancies per day.

Kusuma Tongtidrum, 17, another student at Nongkhamarn Wittayakhom School, said that there were many premature pregnancies in her community.

"Anything can happen, and we need to know how to protect ourselves, especially in a risky situation," she said.

A survey by the radio station FM 105 MHz revealed that parents are reluctant to discuss sexual matters with their children because many do not know how to approach the subject and because "it is a topic children should not know about".

Ganigar Chen of the National Science Museum said: "We hope that visitors [to the exhibition] will learn there are many ways to take care of themselves and to have a good relationship with the people they love. But if they have to engage in sex, they will know how to take care and stay healthy and happy."

The exhibition will be showcased at the National Science Museum in Pathum Thani until June 2011 and will be taken on a road show nationwide after that. Unesco Bangkok and the National Science Museum (NSM) of Thailand, with the support of the Thai Health Promotion and UNAids, in collaboration with Unifem, the Women's Health Advocacy Foundation and other interested parties, developed the event.

Rojana Manowalailao is a media and communications officer at Unesco Bangkok. She has a master's degree in communication from the University of Missouri-Columbia, in the US, and a master's degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (Tefl) from Thammasat University. She can be contacted at .

Kantanach Chayapong is an intern at Unesco Bangkok. She has a master's degree in management from the University of Warwick, in the UK. Her email address is .

About the author

Writer: Rojana Manowalailao & Kantanach Chayapong