In the shadow of the spread of COVID-19, the number of teenage pregnancy consultations is on the rise.
"Maria", the infant clinic in Gifu City is offering 24-hour advice by e-mail and telephone to women who are worried about their unexpected pregnancies. There has been a threefold increase in the number of consultations with teenagers compared to the previous year. Some of the consultations are from junior high school students as well.
Until February of this year, the nonprofit organization Pilcon, which provides sexual counseling to women, averaged 50 consultations per month for teens, but the number of consultations doubled to 98 in March and 97 in April.
One reason is thought to be that teenagers are spending more time at home with their partners than ever before, as they often have school holidays, spend most of their time at home, and their parents are away at work.
According to Asuka Someya, the representative of Pilcon, "One of the characteristics of teenagers is a lack of knowledge about sex compared to other generations, and there are many consultations with teenagers who do not use good contraception or who are worried about getting pregnant because they haven't had their period yet, even though they haven't had sex".
With the global epidemic of AIDS, the importance of sex education in Japan began to be recognized in the 1990s. However, some politicians strongly opposed this trend, calling it "extreme" and "don't wake up a sleeping child," and this became the reason why education about sexual activity and contraceptive methods did not progress in schools. As a result, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology's "Courses of Study" do not include the subject of sexual activity itself in the physical education curriculum of junior high schools.
What is the nature of sex education?
Chie Miyazaki, an obstetrician and gynecologist from Gifu City, sounds a warning about the state of sex education in Japan. What is needed, she says, is practical education that includes an escape route, but teachers cannot go beyond what the Ministry of Education specifies. According to Ms. Miyazaki, "There are people who say they have to remain virgins until their wedding day. Many people disagree, asking why it's necessary to teach such specific things in junior high school. There's a tendency to think that you shouldn't wake up a child who is sleeping".
Along with other doctors, Ms. Miyazaki has been giving lectures on sex and life at junior and senior high schools in Gifu City every year, including information that cannot be taught by teachers. However, those lectures have been postponed due to the effects of COVID-19. Regular classes have been delayed due to the prolonged closure, so sex education has been put on the back burner.
Morning-after pill Options
The number of women who have an abortion in Japan is over 160,000 a year, or 450 a day.
Someya, the head of Pilcon, points out that one of the main reasons why the number of abortions is not decreasing is because women lack the means to choose contraception.
One such method is the emergency contraceptive, commonly known as the "morning-after pill". If taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, including sexual violence, there is a high probability that pregnancy will be avoided. However, according to Someya, "In Japan, the price ranges from ¥6,000 to ¥20,000 for a hospital visit, and some medical institutions require a guardian to be present, so even if a junior or senior high school student needs the pill, it is a high hurdle to overcome.
On the other hand, overseas, anyone can buy them at pharmacies for a few hundred yen. In Japan, the reality is that they are difficult to obtain.
Someya and her colleagues appealed for easier access to the morning-after pill and collected nearly 70,000 signatures in support of their petition on the Internet.
Nearly 70,000 people signed the petition and submitted it to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare on July 21.
Teenage pregnancy can have a major impact on a woman's life. Now is the time to take a fresh look at sex education instead of postponing the issue of COVID-19 crisis.