Le Van Hien, deputy director of the Mekong Obstetrics and Gynaecology Hospital, spoke to Tuoi Tre (Youth) about the importance of sex education for adolescents in Viet Nam.
As a visiting faculty on gender education in schools, how do evaluate local students' knowledge and awareness of sexuality?
I think they are rather well informed about sexuality. Some of the students I talked with had learned via the hard "black" web pages. They were very open in their questions. After the lessons, a few students approached me and asked questions about their own circumstances.
Tell us about your study on the practice of safe sex among adolescents in HCM City.?
Our study started from the reality that quite a few female adolescents had visited healthcare facilities for abortion without any anxiety and said things that surprised doctors. Our research found that adolescents' knowledge about sex, mainly derived from "black" web sites, was rather rich, but not totally right.
The study, spanning three years (2012-2014), asked a set of questions about adolescents' knowledge of and concepts about sex and gender issues. More than 2,000 students from grade 10 and 11 in HCM City participated in the study.
The results were surprising. Their knowledge about gender and sex was very good, but their answers to questions relating to their attitude or practice were naive and even childish. However, after attending a few talks on safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases or reading materials about contraceptive devices and other related issues, their knowledge had improved considerably. This was reflected in their answers to a questionnaire.
Can you elaborate on the changes?
The percentage of adolescents with correct knowledge of safe sex increased considerably. Their knowledge and attitude about morning pills, condoms and other pills also increased remarkably. They knew what they had to do to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent infertility that can be caused by abortion.
The adolescents said they found intervention programmes presented by doctors very useful. They were free to ask any questions without worrying about being reported to their parents.
Do you think parents are paying due attention to gender education for their children?
We did in-depth interviews with 50 women who have teenage children. Most mothers agreed it was important to talk with their children about gender and sex, but they didn't know where to start. However, when we asked them what if their children took the initiative to talk about sex, up to 60 per cent of the mothers said they couldn't answer their children's question directly as their own knowledge about sexuality was poor. Twenty-seven per cent of the mothers said they promised to answer the children later, or gave incomplete answers.
Seventy per cent of the mothers understood that gender education would help their children understand the changes in their physical bodies and psychology of their puberty period. They found that this knowledge would help children handle their daily problems and avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases. However, up to 30 per cent of the mothers had very little or no knowledge of gender education and related issues. It is worth noting that 100 per cent of the respondents said they didn't have any plan to provide sexual education for their children and wanted to co-operate with the schools in doing so.
Can you say something about the impacts of adolescents engaging in unsafe sex?
According to a recent national survey on adolescents and youth, about 7.6 per cent had sex during their adolescence and the percentage of abortions among female adolescents was rather high and continuing to increase. Unwanted pregnancies can lead to various problems, including sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, and affect their future. For male adolescents, early sex can affect their future reproduction function. — VNS