Categorised | Columns

Sex, honestly

(Pic by Ingorrrr @ Flickr)

(Pic by Ingorrrr @ Flickr)

WAS it wrong for award-winning school teacher Alias Ismail to be so upfront about his sex life? When asked for the secret of his career success, he credited reading a book with his wife, having a good conversation, and then having sex before going to sleep. Every night, apparently.

Was it shameful for the 42-year-old Bahasa Malaysia teacher from Terengganu to openly talk about his enjoyment of sex within the context of what appears to be a healthy, legitimate and loving relationship?

The reactions to Alias’s revelation betray an archaic hypocrisy towards sex. Alias was both criticised and praised. Criticised because he offended the hypersensitive sensibilities of some people who fear that more illegitimate sex will now take place. A columnist in Chinese-language newspaper Sin Chew Daily said Alias was being illogical and misleading by relating his teaching career to sexual enjoyment. The columnist suggested Alias see a psychologist to “get his indulgence fixed up”.

But the teacher was also praised because others recognised his honesty, even if a little off-topic, as testimony about the effort that goes into keeping a relationship and family happily intact.

And this, I think, is what the Alias’s story is all about. He wasn’t talking about sex for the sake of it, but about its importance to his 25-year marriage and about teaching his children the right circumstances for having sex. Alias’s openness and clear understanding about the role and right context for sex is a contrast to our waffling, never-ending public debate for and against teaching sex education in schools. Alias embodies some key points of what sex education ought to prepare young people for  – 1) the right time and context for sex, 2) faithfulness to one partner, and, if one doesn’t want monogamy, 3) safe sex.

Mixed messages

Underlying our collective hypocrisy towards sex is a false sense of shame perpetuated by the mixed messages we put out about sex. That it is taboo and disgraceful, when actually, sex is a major preoccupation of pop culture, media, religion and politics.

Beyonce in concert (Pic by Felipe Brand | Wiki commons)

Beyonce in concert (Pic by Felipe Brand | Wiki commons)

Pop culture: An oft-cited example is Beyonce. She’s not allowed to perform in Malaysia in person because of her revealing outfits, but there she is in all her curvaceous glory on our screens on TV music video channels. Or how about overt sexuality in some TV sitcoms, dramas and movies? Or both subliminal and direct messages in fashion and relationship advice dispensed in magazines catered to teenage girls, women and men, respectively?

Media: Alias’s story was apparently important enough to be on page three of The Star the first day it ran. Sure, the story was interesting, but it was more titillating and a curiosity than being newsworthy or of public interest. And on any given day, just check the “Most Read” section of some internet newspapers to see how sex-related the most popular stories are.

Religion: In Islam, sexual sins are publicly penalised in the name of protecting the religion or to return the “sinner” to the right path. Offenders are made “examples” of, supposedly to deter others from committing the same sin. In church circles, while there is no state interference, there is sometimes a skewered perception that sexual sins are the “worst” kind of sins. However, scriptural text also teaches that gossiping, lying, envy and injustice are just as sinful, too. The Catholic Church is currently going through one of its most testing periods of public credibility as its leaders grapple with the cover-up of sexual crimes committed by its clergy.

Politics: Just look at the second trial of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy. His accuser, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, was the joke on Twitter when he testified about how Anwar supposedly asked him for sex, and when he said he didn’t wash for two days to keep evidence of the alleged sodomy. Or what about Kinabatangan lawmaker Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin’s taking a second wife in violation of syariah law, and the mild reaction from fellow politicians?

What does all this show? That newsmakers are preoccupied with sex; the media that reports on them loves sexing up stories; and consumers are just as enthralled by sex-related stories.

Sex, shame and society

I believe there is a link between society’s prejudiced and voyeuristic attitude towards sex and the lack of sex education. I also believe in a link between this ignorance and prejudice with violent crimes against women and children, and what some call “moral decay” or “social ills”. And given our collective fixation on sex, it is an injustice to our young people and victims of sex crimes that we don’t come clean about our hypocrisy and advocate for sex education in schools.

It is an injustice to the teenage girls raped for an extended period by a serial rapist taxi driver because they were ashamed to report his abuse. It is an injustice to victims of incest when their families have a false sense of shame and disbelieve them or urge against lodging police reports.

(Pic by agastecheg /

(Pic by agastecheg /

We let ourselves be bombarded by sexual messages everyday but do little to teach our children and women that shame is not theirs if they are victims whose rights have been violated. We read with disgust about babies dumped in rubbish bins or toilets but avoid talking about sex with our teenagers. Some are against the new effort to set up a baby hatch where unprepared mothers can leave their newborns in a safe, clean and caring environment, and yet offer no solutions about how to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

The teachers’ union has said teachers are ill-equipped to teach sex education, and concurs with the Education Ministry that it’s better to incorporate it into other subjects, as is currently the practice. But how effective is this, assuming it’s really happening? I for one, remember my Form One biology teacher telling my class to “go home and read yourself” the chapter on reproductive organs. If teachers have too many subjects plus curricular activities and administrative work to handle, the teaching of sex education can be conducted on a one-off or scheduled basis by reputable non-government organisations. It just takes some thought and the will to get it done.

Sex education should not just be about reproduction, but about what healthy and respectful relationships involve. Going further, this kind of education should not be limited to schools, but include adults as well.

So I think Cikgu Alias has hit on something right. He’s shown us sex in a healthy and happy context. If only we’d tell ourselves not to be so titillated by his story, and look at the values he’s promoting instead. We could have more honest relationships with our partners, a wholesome understanding of sex and gender, and a better society with less fear and stigma towards survivors of sexual crimes. Terima kasih, Cikgu.

Deborah Loh is thankful for parents who spoke to her frankly about sex.

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20 Responses to “Sex, honestly”

  1. sex says:

    Hi Deb,

    Please share your sexual experiences too… it’s way of telling people … you are being open minded when you write about others’ sexual experiences.

    [Editor’s note: Please don’t titillate yourself over what is meant as a serious article about the importance of sex education. The article and this comments forum is not meant for exchanging stories about sexual experiences, but about the need for sex education in the hopes that it can: reduce violent sexual crimes, teach young people what healthy and respectful relationships are, and improve the happiness of legitimate and consensual relationships. In any case, thank you for your concern, I do enjoy a good sex life with my husband and a happy marriage.

    Deborah Loh
    Assistant News Editor
    The Nut Graph]

  2. Rhan says:

    I don’t understand how honesty could come into this topic. I have to re-read Rousseau’s Confessions.

  3. Farouq Omaro says:

    Sex should be celebrated, not demonised! When you demonize sex, you get babies in garbage bins and babies being buried alive. Like Alias, I have a good sex life too and am loving it.

  4. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Deborah,

    Well Malaysia is just a typical Muslim country with Muslim mores. Even here in Singapore – we have issues with discussing sex. Asia is simply NOT the West. Especially in Muslim parts of Asia. You have to learn to live in an Islamic society. In any case – do you honestly think that things will change and become more permissive when PAS comes into power ? Think again…

    [Editor’s note: Hmmm, the article wasn’t about wanting more permissiveness but about the need for sex education in the hopes that it can: reduce violent sexual crimes, teach young people what healthy and respectful relationships are, and improve the happiness of legitimate and consensual relationships.

    Deborah Loh
    Assistant News Editor
    The Nut Graph]

  5. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Deborah,

    If that is the case – then sex education should be integrated with religious or moral education. You cannot separate sex education from the values that you want to promote. Therefore – sex education should go hand in hand with moral and/or religious education.

  6. Sam says:

    Sex is personal and should remain so. It is very unlikely his achievements as a teacher is linked to daily sex, which is perhaps an exaggeration. Has any sexologist done any study to link sex with performance in the workplace?
    Perhaps he has the neck for drawing attention to himself.
    Honesty is bunkum. Would he share his secrets had he been gay?
    I would ignore him. That’s what I did when I first read the news in The Star.

  7. m.k. says:

    I find nothing wrong about the Cikgu’s confession. I don’t know why when it comes to discussing sex openly, most Malaysians become hypocrites. This Tokoh Guru should be applauded for his honesty and frankness.

  8. Shane says:

    “Asia is simply NOT the West.”

    The West wasn’t the West either a few decades ago; I wrote for The Nut Graph about extreme censorship of sexual references in 20th Ireland, along with criminalised homosexuality, divorce, abortion and contraceptives. A story like this would have caused outrage in Ireland not all that long ago.

    These things can change incredibly quickly!

    • Dr Syed Alwi says:

      Dear Shane,

      The Islamic Resurgence in Malaysia is not going to disappear so soon. Besides – Islamic values is not going to be diluted that easily. Malaysia is not Ireland. Its an entirely different game over here. You are making an invalid and inappropriate generalisation.

      • Shane says:

        Well, I just question the generalisation of “the West”. There is no “West”, really – the borders are undefined. A few decades ago many “Western” countries had oppressive Communist governments, others had religious fascist governments. My own country was democratic, but not very liberal, with strong social taboos on any sex-related topics. The idea that “the West” was always about individual freedom is untrue.

        Of course circumstances are different in Malaysia. But Ireland’s drastic cultural changes were largely unpredicted and Malaysia is already changing; Malaysian women today average at 2.56 children each – around the same as Ireland in 1984.

        Never be confident about the future – anything can happen!

      • What has “Islamic resurgence” and “Islamic values” got to do with this? Look at all those Mastika-like pulp books that are sold in bookstores, often the same ones where the only other option are books on religious advice and a few pathetic bestsellers. They’re pretty much borderline porn.

        Conservatism about sex isn’t parallel to any form of religious resurgence.

      • Yuki Choe says:

        That will still depend on what is your definition of “Islamic values”, whether it is based on personal biased validation or you are choosing one of the different “Islamic values” worldwide that fits to a certain shallow worldview.

        Either case, cherry-picking based on what validates the sense of self or comfort is unavoidable. Cigarettes are haram in most Islamic states, am I correct? And yet, why are religious “officials” talking so much less about it especially when the dangers are more riveting than discussing about sex?

        Fortunately for all of us, things will change, and it will change according to just that, comfort. Once more people leave their comfort zones and explore the different designs of the world and humanity, more holds will be broken and society will advance. Civilization cannot be stopped from a coming of age.

      • Dr Syed Alwi says:

        If you people think that Malaysia is suddenly going to be some kind of a liberal society devoid of Islamic morality – then you are most assuredly mistaken.

        • Yuki Choe says:

          Mr. Syed Alwi, I hate to break this again, but “Islamic morality” is up to every Muslim individuals’ definition.

          Your own refusal to define for us what “Islamic morality” is to you speaks for itself. Remember your response to Deborah that has “invalid and inappropriate generalisation”:

          “Well Malaysia is just a typical Muslim country with Muslim mores. Even here in Singapore – we have issues with discussing sex. Asia is simply NOT the West. Especially in Muslim parts of Asia. You have to learn to live in an Islamic society. In any case – do you honestly think that things will change and become more permissive when PAS comes into power ? Think again…”

          Talk about kettle calling the pot as having a sexy colour.

          I can see that a new world in Malaysia that includes sexy MTVs, fast computers, iconic handphones; increase of technology and advancement of civilization, has got you really worried. A peaceful world can co-exist with you. It has no time for anti-“west” mongering or anti-cultural parroting or anti-society ranting. So chill out, Mr. Alwi.

  9. Nicholas Aw says:

    Honestly, I think Sex Education is fine. But in the case of Cikgu Alias Ismail’s ‘confession’, it was said at the wrong place and at the wrong time. It’s like going to a place of worship wearing a micro skirt or going to a disco wearing a cassock.

    What has Cikgu Alias Ismail’s secret recipe to boundless energy got to do with the Nilam Award that he received? To put it in a nutshell, comments have to be appropriate to the occasion.

  10. Fenno says:

    Well he was asked a question and he responded in a supposedly honest way and really believes daily sex helps him. Some folk do follow that way of thinking (read men) but sounds a bit robotic to me (read women). I’m all for sex education and information, but don’t expect that that will magically wipe away all sexual crime. It’s happening all the time in the ‘West’ where we do receive sex education. Unfortunately [humans are humans are humans] and there are evil types out there who for various reasons/illnesses/depravities, carry out these heinous crimes. Penalties for same should be severe. Maybe, Deb, you could carry out some research on the difference in court sentences between SEA and the West. I think the results might show that the West are too lenient. Anyway, would be an interesting study. Cheers

  11. Jamal Burok Hamid says:

    Sex education by all means [including] using scare tactics like graphic terminal cancer pictures on cigarette packs. Sex is beyond pleasure but [includes] responsibility. Responsibility is to ensure optimum level of population can be sustained. Within that is the goal to achieve a quality breed of population. When quality breeds quality then you can talk about human capital development, high income economy etc. Boring goodnight sex definitely leads us nowhere, zero quality population destined for bankrupt nation in 2019.

    • Yuki Choe says:

      “Within that is the goal to achieve a quality breed of population. When quality breeds quality then you can talk about human capital development, high income economy etc. Boring goodnight sex definitely leads us nowhere, zero quality population destined for bankrupt nation in 2019.”

      This is the most shocking comment made in any civilized world. With this kind of statement, relationships and intamacy are reduced to no other use but to merely “breed”. It also gravely insults those woman who are born biologically unable to give birth, and also men who may suffer conditions rendering their sex organ defect. Commitment of sharing our bodies with people we love is replaced by targeted projection of babies born every 9 months.

      Quality breed? This is blatant discrimination and it further stigmatize those who are born different, those born OKUs, those born with disorders such as cerebral palsy and autism, those born deaf and mute, those born with medical defects etc. How society used to condemn those who are born left handed comes to mind.

      Seriously, I cannot believe such thinking still exist in Malaysia 2010. Indeed with such thoughts, no wonder Malaysia is considered a country of first world facility, but with third world mentality.

  12. I thought he was joking. Sometimes the press just catches the most striking thing someone said.

  13. Jason Kay says:

    Hi Deborah,

    Thanks for writing the article. I must admit I was laughing at him when I first read the article. But upon reading the follow-up article and reflecting, I felt ashamed that my first reaction was to laugh at the guy for being frank and honest.

    I suppose it’s good to learn from one’s mistakes early.


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