The following is a letter to the Trinidad Guardian by Dr Peter Gentle highlighting pertinent issues facing the education system related to sexuality. Dr Gentle, a medical doctor, is the coordinator for the Human Sexuality Ministry.
Dear Editor: It is with great sadness that I have been reading about the state of our nation in recent weeks. While we have been hosting international vice-presidents and presidents, important decisions, happenings and statements relating to our children, our behaviour and our sexuality, survival and future have been happening almost daily with little apparent interest or comment.
It was a shock to read on Sunday 19/5/2013 that after only three years, about a dozen of our secondary schools that had been changed to unisex were now to be reverted to bi-sexual schools by the ministry concerned because of apparently disappointing results, but it is not only by academic results that success of schools are judged. Some of the teachers concerned were just beginning to breathe a sigh of relief due to the improved behaviour of the students in many other ways, when they have now learnt that the schools will be reverting soon to their original state so one can imagine the disappointment and low morale of those poor teachers.
One of the distractions of bisexual teenage schools became apparent the very next day, Monday 20/5/2013 when a fourteen year old boy was stabbed to death by a sixteen year old youth from his own school while they were arguing over a thirteen year old girl. Sexual distractions during school hours are much less common in unisex schools but of course they can increase after school hours but at least the teenagers have one less problem to distract them from studying while they are in school, although today the abuse of cell phones and computers while still in school make concentration on studies even more difficult.
Then on 2/6/2013 actor Michael Douglas in an interview, bless his heart for honesty, spoke about the relationship between his oral sex and his mouth cancer and the HPV virus. He has since tried to put a different slant on this but nevertheless he has publicised magnificently something that most youths and adults do not seem to know about. I have been formally trained as a resource person in Sexually Transmitted Infections since 2004 and this has now become incorporated into the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) programme in the Ministry of Education but the teachers are not being trained in this and therefore the students are not being taught it regularly and properly much to their loss and danger.
Oral sex in our primary and secondary schools in T&T is extremely common and popular on a daily basis as any teacher will tell you, and indeed only today the headmistress of a primary school was discussing this with me. It is so popular that the students have 21 names for it, such as ‘chanting on the mike’ and ‘cleaning the canal’, and all these names were published in a brochure Project of the National AIDS Programme many years ago. Of course it is much easier to have oral sex in mixed sex schools but it occurs in any school. For some reason while it is now well known that HPV causes 99.7% of all cancers of the cervix in females, it is not so well known in T&T that HPV type 16 is a causative agent in oropharyngeal cancer (mouth and throat) especially in males. This is well known and published in the USA and UK etc and can easily be confirmed by research on the internet. Only last month there was an international conference in Curacao of ENT surgeons (Ear, Nose and Throat) and it was pointed out there by several speakers, both Caribbean and overseas, that HPV type 16 was associated with an increase in oropharyngeal cancer in the Caribbean.
Unfortunately today 4/6/2013 I read with distress that our Minister of Health said that this association between oral sex, HPV type 16 and throat cancer is not proven but the internet disagrees with him and I wish that he would speak to some of our local ENT surgeons some of whom I spoke to today and who are most concerned about his attitude. What is even more unfortunate is that the Health Services have already got into trouble over the vaccination of our local young females against HPV and now I was hoping that they would be encouraging some of our young males to be vaccinated against HPV also, but now it seems that there may be problems with the Health Ministry over this also.
Finally, the sting in the tail of promiscuity and STI’s is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) which has increased by over 500% since 1991 and is mostly caused in females and males by HPV, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Trichomonas vaginalis, the first two being the commonest STI’s in the world. PID causes infertility as the promiscuous students of UWI and UTT should know, and it is interesting to note that the private infertility clinic in POS last year published a survey showing that 49% of all males in T&T had a problem with their sperms and so are relatively infertile.
Dr. Peter Gentle, San Fernando.