Thai-ing in Teen Culture: Reconsidering Sex Ed Curricula in Thailand

It’s difficult to ignore the ways in which Thailand has come to be portrayed in a highly sexualized manner by Western media sources. Such depictions of Thailand are often saturated with images of a “sexually liberated” society characterized by widespread prostitution, uncensored transsexuality and one of Asia’s most severe HIV epidemics. Though Thailand’s economy certainly depends on a tourism fueled by its prevalent sex industry, it has, more importantly, begun to assert itself on the global stage as a newly industrialized economy powered by export led growth. As a double concentrator in Gender and Sexuality Studies and International Relations, Political Economy and Development track, Thailand certainly seemed to be a fascinating place of inquiry for both fields.  

Several slices of information on Thailand that I came across throughout the course of the year shaped this summer project.  And it was actually my failed attempts to make sense of this information that sparked further questions on the topic.  First, there was the 2010 UNAIDS report on Thailand, which revealed a rise in HIV among youth, despite the disease’s decline in the general population.  Why youth?  How could it be that the government was able to effectively curb HIV in the sex industry, but failed to do so among teenagers?  What has been the response of NGOs and the government?

Then, there was The New York Times piece that expressed a general concern with Thailand’s future due to its unpromising next generation. The article discussed the degradation of Thai youth culture, characterized by an increase in drug and alcohol addiction rates, violence, dropout rates and teenage pregnancy. So, what exactly is the nature of this youth culture that fosters such problematic behavior? What are some of its identifiable causes?  Might there be a correlation between the problems discussed in the New York Times article and the increase in HIV?  And how exactly are Thai schools responding to these harmful behaviors? 

As a member of SHAPE, a student group on campus that teaches sex- ed at a local Providence high school, I initially questioned the role of Thailand’s health curriculum in the “deep seated problems among young people.”  What does Thai health curriculum consist of? 

 According to my initial research, not a whole lot-- Government programs implemented in schools have been limited to brief discussions of anatomy. But there are a few groups working to improve Thailand’s health education such as the international non-profit PATH, which has created more comprehensive curricula that incorporates a discussion-based approach on topics ranging from sexual orientation to sexual health to cultural norms.

 

Ok-- Now that I have subjected you all to my long-winded thought process that has eventually brought me to Thailand, I’ll cut to the chase.  What am I doing this summer and what is this blog about?

I’ll be living with a Thai family in Phichit Province (central Thailand) and teaching English with the non-profit Learning Enterprises at a local secondary school.  I'll also be teaching a health class inspired by modules like those devised by PATH.  Before I get there though, I’ll spend a week in Bangkok visiting organizations that work to transform Thai health curriculum and pioneer innovated HIV responses so that I can learn more about the topic before I teach my own class. 

  I am well aware that assembling a curriculum and teaching a class on sex-ed to teenagers in rural Thailand will be… challenging. I am an American college student who is experiencing Thailand for the first time. I have a very limited knowledge of the culture-- And yes, I DON’T SPEAK THAI.

 In addition to learning how to effectively negotiate what may prove to be a very cumbersome language barrier, I hope to gain more insight into Thai teen culture and approaches to sex education. 

Location

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Thailand
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