Sex Education Uncensored by Xavier University, Philippines

The campaign named “SHUTA” (Sexual Health Uncencorsed: Talks and Awareness) is a movement from Xavier University Central Student Government: Office of the Vice President in the city of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines. From the one project, through ‘Tough Conversations’, a university-based organization that fights for sexual education is established and continues with a certain vision and mission. The campaign seeks to instill open-mindedness to the people in Region X who are approaching the different aspects of sexual education.

“Why are we doing this? We are still college students, who should focus on our academics, but we want to fight for something very relevant in today’s society,” said Angela Jean, one of the Core heads of Tough Conversations before they share the story about Tough Conversations to Twibbonize.

In 2019, there were about 183,000 female adolescents who got pregnant, and among those numbers, they might have given up on their education, had physical problems, or had any difficulties continuing their life.

“We should address this problem, we should make a better future for our adolescents. More importantly, we should re-build a generation where sexual issues are faced, where people are more open-minded in discussing sexual health concerns, and where it is safe to advocate for our sexual health rights” said Angela.

Not only is teenage pregnancy a growing concern, but sexual harassment is also a problem. Yearly, there are about 7,462 cases of sexual harassment happening in universities, this number does not include those cases that had happened outside of universities.

In response to the situation, another Core Head of this project, Ed Alison said that “they are just victims from lack of awareness about sexual health education. That’s why we want to pursue this project”.

“It’s very alarming. We would like to advocate for the rights of students and to voice out their sexual health needs and problems. Also, we hear a lot about our LGBTQ+ are being discriminated against, being abused, or violated. So, we would like to solve those problems, we would like to create a safer and better place for those who are suffering from sexual discrimination and sexual harassment” Angela added.

As we know, in some Asian countries, sex is something sensitive and taboo to talk about. A good understanding of it is rare, as it is difficult for sex to be a topic in a conversation by society. In the Philippines, the sex-related topic is seen as ‘bastos’ in society. Sexual education is very limited in there.

This is what encouraged Tough Conversation to continue. “Sexual health is considered taboo. We are very traditional and very conservative” said Ed.

As this situation has caused people to turn to non-evidenced-based beliefs and practices, misinformation has contributed to high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexual assault, numerous cases of STDs such as HIV, and LGBTQ+ community shaming in the Philippines.

With that being said, sexual-related topics would always make a conversation tough among the Filipinos. That’s where the project name came from. Alison and all the Tough Conversations team don’t want the sexual health topic to be a tough topic for a conversation anymore, but to make it as a normal topic as possible.

“We believe that if young adolescents will receive accurate sexual health educations, information, and skills, risk factors of sexual health-related problems can be decreased,” said Alison.

To prevent teenage pregnancy, sexual assault, gender discrimination, and to have a better view of sexuality, what does Tough Conversations do?

Tough Conversations provides concrete and uncensored information and education about sexual health by partnering with professionals and experts. Their main target audience was university students in the city. Tough Conversation advocates for the rights of students to voice out their needs and problems of sexual health. From 2020 to 2021, this project has become bigger, better, and bolder, for the academic year with the sustainable plan they made.

Through social media, the misconceptions about sex were talked about. They had set up games and webinars in a very educative way. All of the project activities are shared on Tough Conversations social media account such as Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. Through their publications, Tough Conversations tries to empower men and women to create safe and healthy sexual choices by guiding adolescents on choosing the appropriate contraceptives, helping them to distinguish the different acts of sexual harassment, and helping them to be aware of the existing sexual orientations in society.

This campaign is a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationship as Tough Conversation raises awareness of sexual health. Tough Conversations was able to start the first-ever student-led initiative in Mindanao that advocates sexual health.

Tough Conversations doesn’t promote the practice of premarital sex, but rather they guide Filipino adolescents to make the right and responsible sexual health choices to empower them to build better futures and relationships and prevents sexual health challenges or the lack of sexual education, especially in the Philippines as one of the Asian countries that have a large number of teenage pregnancy cases and HIV awareness.

How did it begin?

Tough Conversation abolishes social misconceptions by providing an adolescent-friendly sexual education platform. Through their social media publications, Tough Conversations started their socialization with a very simple sexual topic into the very comprehensive ones.

The forefront of the initiative was “#ToughConversations – A Discussion Series on Sexual Health” which was held in September 2020. Open for any questions regarding sexual health, they had discussed trends and issues in sexual consent and assault, teenage pregnancy, safe sex, HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness, gender identity, and sexual orientations.

Recently, Tough Conversations launched another project in August 2021: the “SHED (Sexual Health Education Desk) the Light Survey” project. Individuals’ basic knowledge regarding sexual health was evaluated to build on a comprehensive analysis and program inclined to serve the adolescent’s immediate sexual health needs. The students involved in this project were given anonymity.

Doctors were also involved in the third project called “PillowTalks: An Introduction to Sexual Health” which educated the safety precautions and the essence of contraceptives, and the ‘right time’ to practice sex. The misconceptions about sex are also tackled by the health care professional, so the credibility of sources and information is guaranteed by the Tough Conversations. In this project, a Twibbonize frame below succeeded to gain more than 400 supporters.

Pillow Talks: An Introduction to Sexual Health – by Tough Conversations

Link: twb.nz/pillow-talks

The next project, Tough Conversation then provided a platform to their audiences to access fact-based information about sexual health. This is the Myth Sensei Series: Debunking Sexual Health Stigmas. A series of 3-minute “fact or myth” lecture video clips segments provided by healthcare professionals has been released to influence the community in this project. The series of fact-checking videos debunk the following sexual health myths:

  • Oral Sex is Safe Sex
  • Pulling out before Ejaculation is Safe
  • A Woman Cannot Get Pregnant the First Time She has Sex
  • A Girl Cannot become pregnant if She has not yet had her first Menstrual Period
  • The hymen is the Standard Basis of Virginity
  • It Is Impossible To Become Pregnant During One’s Period.

A Twibbonize frame of this project was used by 283 supporters which have been shared on any social media platform.

Myth Sensei Series: Debunking Sexual Health Stigmas – by CSG Tough Conversations

Link: twb.nz/mythsensei

During those campaign activities,Tough Conversations seems to always appear with colorful visualization as the frames shared on Twibbonize and their social media content.

With Twibbonize, Tough Conversation expands their audience of the project from the community university to beyond the young-adults community within the city. The projects went to another level of audience reach and engagement as Tough conversations has adopted a different approach for their online campaign. The enthusiasm is reflected on Tough Conversations’ Facebook for this project which reached in total 77,000 people. With that being said, Tough Conversations realizes their project’s engagement boosted with their use of Twibbonize’s platform, as a lot of communities outside of the city boundaries are engaged in the project.

As said by Ed, Tough Conversations found it essential to use the frame as a tool in campaigning as people interact more with the frames. “Through that, we have realized that using the interactive frames was a strategy to invite a lot of people to join our campaign. We can actually leverage our reach of social media presence throughout social media through Twibbonize’s platform. People tend to use this. This is more convenient.”

Ed also added that “It’s very useful and effective in terms of publicity strategy, with that kind of realization from our team, we made sure there is our frame blast in the Facebook for our projects”.

”This is one way to visualize the people who are joining our campaign” added Shilina.

“Twibbonize has greatly helped Tough Conversations in publicity strategies, reaching our target audience, and creating a more interactive and user-friendly campaign platform. With Twibbonize, we were able to make our advocacy campaign accessible to everyone and leverage our networks” said Alison.

Xavier University is not the only institution behind this project. As Tough Conversation has expanded the networks and partnerships with some other institutions such as Ateneo Jesuit Schools and Government and Private Institutions, including Philippine Universities, Colleges, and Senior High Schools all over Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Private national companies that produce healthcare products with such brands, as Premiere Condoms, EZ Lubricating Jelly, etc, and one of the leading telecommunication providers in the Philippines, which is Smart, are also in partnership with Tough Conversation.

How is the campaign going so far?

“During the first time when we have launched the project, we posted publications which contained explicit words related to ‘sex’. Our academic administration was shocked with the very explicit content. It was highly understandable reaction,” that was how the campaign did go at first said Angela. With explanations from the Tough Conversations team, they eventually met halfway with the academic administration’s guidance.

As time went by, as the numbers of campaign participants and social media engagement are increasing, more than a thousand questions regarding sexual health are obtained by Tough Conversations from the Filipino youth. It means, Tough Conversations is meeting a significant contribution to society and the community and is on the right path to achieve their greatest expectation which is to be the leading youth-led sexual education platform in the Philippines in the next coming years.

Nazhiel Joy Lino, a Director for Research and Development of Tough Conversations, who is also a Project Head of Myth Sensei Series, told Twibbonize that she was in a very hard position to advocate the sexual health concern when she decided to join in Tough Conversations. “Also, accepting the project, Myth Sensei Series is also tough for me, because it is my first time to become a project head, and I don’t know if I can be successful in handling such project, but then fortunately and overwhelmingly we are recognized by Twibbonize and reached this far”.

Nazhiel also said that “we would come into the day where Tough Conversations tackled the sexual health concerns, it will not be tough conversations anymore, people will be open-minded and willing to talk about this because we know that a change does not really happen overnight, it is a gradual process.”

Since Tough Conversation was established, the journey has been nominated In-School Magis Awards, where the office of student recognize the initiatives needed by the student from various organizations among engaging initiatives. Another Core Head of this project, Angela Jean told Twibbonize News that in this nomination, Tough Conversation was the first initiative that advocated for sexual health. That’s not the only achievement of Tough Conversation. They have succeeded in institutionalizing the Tough Conversations in the Central Student Government of Xavier University. This had shocked a lot of youth and campaign participants beyond the university as the Tough Conversations team had experienced the trials of Sex Education Bill. The Bill will ensure the sustainability of the project throughout the next coming years.

Once this bill has passed the trial and approved by the Central Student Government’s Directorate and President, the foundation and organizational structure of the project initiative will be fortified as Tough Conversation aims to expand the mobilization of the advocacy on grassroots level as well. With that being said, the project of Tough Conversation is going to be sustained as a student-led organization at Xavier University. The bill went through three readings to get the Central Student Government President’s approval. Yes, it depends on the President’s perspective and it’s subjective. However, the legislative voting can override the President’s decision.

“It wasn’t always easy, even when there was a strong team behind, not everybody was completely on board with its message. Despite this, we tried our very best to advocate the campaign’s mission and vision, and eventually was able to successfully pursue the Sex Education Bill,” said Shilina Golez, Xavier University – Central Student Government Vice President.

The success of Tough Conversation cannot be separated from the collaborative team. The very passionate student leaders who are willing to grow and have the feeling of being a family within them are undeniable as they are doing their best to achieve the shared vision and mission of Tough Conversation.

A student in the medical field, Mark Vincent, who is a Director for External Affairs of Tough Conversations also advocates himself for the LGBTQ+. “I realized that these sexual stigmas are getting closure to me, my friends and my families are being in the sexual health stigmas,” said Mark. So, he told to Twibbonize team that “I am really hoping that in the future, there will be more organizations or universities that are open to being a part of this campaign, We are hoping in the near future, this advocacy will spread throughout our nation, and hopefully – internationally”. As this movement is needed by the Asian countries, Tough Conversations should keep on growing and developing in the city-wide and nationwide campaign for sexual health. Stay tuned for the next project from Tough Conversation on its social media and of course on Twibbonize.