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Sex Education Welcomed By Students, Families in Turkey
By Nadire Mater
Inter Press Service

     ISTANBUL, Apr 4 (IPS) - Unprecedented for a majority Muslim country, an official attempt to talk about sexuality in the classroom by the Turkish Education Ministry has been welcomed by students as well as by their families and the media.
   Meltem, a 12 year old girl Istanbul student says the campaign is ''very good as most of us are not able to discuss the issue with our families or seek advice from our mothers. ''This results in our receiving unreliable information from friends which could result in serious consequences for us.''
   ''Yet, these limited courses are unsatisfactory, I had lots of questions to ask but could raise only a few in the one hour (allotted),'' she points out.
   Launched by the Ministry earlier this year following an initial trial period, the 2-million dollar 'Puberty Project' has now been extended countrywide and is expected to be fully implemented within four years.
   At present it is directed at 222,000 girls and 267,000 boys studying in the last three grades of Istanbul's eight-year primary school system. There are open discussions with experts on the sexual changes during puberty for each grade separately.
   The experts drafted from among Health Training academies spend the first half hour talking to the students on various issues, while the rest is reserved for questions.
   To make the students feel more comfortable they are grouped according to gender. The project is expected to be followed up by two teachers of each gender from the same school whose task will be to counsel the students throughout the year.
   A textbook on sexual health issues was printed and distributed among students. The campaign has been advertised on billboards, while a questionnaire is being compiled to gather detailed data of gender related issues among the youth as the project unfolds.
   The project co-ordinator, Dr Tanju Yilmazer, says that teens comprise one third of Turkey's 64 million population ''it is vital for those youth to be able to obtain correct and factual knowledge on sexuality rather than rumours.''
   While applauding the idea, women's rights groups have expressed concern that the scope of the project will be limited to hygiene issues rather than the more pressing health and sexual issues as it will be influenced by the sponsors, an international company that produces personal hygiene products.
   ''These courses are focusing more on reproduction and hygiene than gender training, a sort of preparation for puberty,'' observes Beril Eyuboplu, an editor with the women's weekly 'Pazartesi'.
   She said the discussion topics exclude topics like sexual pleasure and protection which are probably of more interest to children and which they cannot ask their family members or friends about.
   ''While it is doubtful that the students are encouraged to ask questions depending on what they have in their minds, we have to admit that this is a step forward as it is definitely better than nothing,'' she said.
   Though most students admit to being a little shy and embarrassed, they say they are getting used to the subject and some of them expressed relief that they were able to ask questions on nagging issues.
   ''We sure need sex education,'' says 13-year old Cagla. ''We are all very curious on this matter. The boys tease us saying 'hahaha they will give you sanitary towels'. This is because they are ignorant of girls sexuality. We are already using pads.''
   ''The boys are mostly concerned with sexuality while the girls are with their bodies,'' observes teacher Seyda Polite.
   ''One of the boys asked me what the difference was between 'oral sex' and 'normal sex' -- a question that I refrained from answering,'' she said. ''We are not dealing with sex but with sexuality I told him.''
   The topics include ''how to be sure of ejaculation'', ''what are the probable hazards of masturbation'', ''how to cope with pimples'', ''what is the standard length of a penis'', ''is shaving pubic hair a problem'', councilors say.
   Today, Turks are easier about talking about sex than earlier. A survey done by Prof Ozcan Koknel of Istanbul University revealed 43.5 percent of students of both genders said they were able to discuss sexual issues with their family in an ''indirect'' way. Another 19 percent said they were free to discuss it openly, although for the remaining it was still taboo.
   ''I applaud the drive for sexual training,'' says author Ozdemir Ince from Istanbul. ''Puberty is such a critical period during which we gain or lose our children.''
   ''I am assured that as the project unfolds both the family and the school too will be re-educated,'' he concludes.
   ''Sexual education is a must,'' says a prominent woman Islamist, Sibel Eraslan of the Virtue Party (FP). ''Sexuality is a part of both Islam and of humanity.''
   Eraslan however cautions against likely media mischief. ''What I am against is not the courses but their coverage by the media in an unpleasant way. The media's presentation of the children's questions and worries in a somewhat pornographic manner might lead to unnecessary annoyance from the families.''
   ''Instead, the matter should be left to pedagogues and the teachers, who are the ones to arrive at further conclusions,'' she concludes.
  This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
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