Published on August 1, 2007
So you've done it before!" The cry from Pornpilai Kamhan's Mattayom 5 classmates struck her pale with humiliation midway through her presentation at Sahathatsuksa School in Ubon Ratchathani's Khuang Nai district.
She'd just finished slipping a condom on a wooden mould - expertly, the other students thought.
Pornpilai's personal experience was hardly the point - it was the attitude toward sex education that mattered. The moral standard remains unchanged since a century ago: Girls must keep their virginity until their wedding day; boys can have all the adventures they wish.
And it remains a lie.
Pornpilai and her teacher, Supaluk Utara, have both witnessed the same scene on several occasions - a girl walking briskly back to school from the woods behind, followed a few minutes later by a boy.
Adults "simply deny the truth of premarital sex", says Usasinee Rewthong, associate programme officer of Path, a two-year-old Education Ministry initiative that tries to lift the taboo from premarital sex through a project called Gao-yang Yang Manjai (The Confident Step).
This was the outreach project that taught Pornpilai - at a sex-education training session in Bangkok last summer - how a condom is put where it belongs. The idea is to have trained young people teach their peers.
In the southern Northeast, Path is connecting with students through Ubon Ratchathani's Prasrimahabhodi Psychiatric Hospital, which is engaged in the fight against HIV/Aids.
To start with, sex education is blended in with other subjects taught by the Path-trained teachers. Then it's promoted as an extracurricular subject for an hour a week, with guidance in safe sex, relationships and problems in adapting at school.
"Every kid is curious about sex," says Usasinee.
It's taken a little convincing to get some teachers on board, though.
"I'd always thought sex education was strictly about sexual intercourse and particular human organs," says 54-year-old social-sciences teacher Praivan Boonpairote of Sahathatsuksa School. "How could a senior teacher like me discuss subjects like that?"
Not every teacher maintains that erroneous perception, but many believe the project could encourage students to try sex.
Chongmekwittaya School director Sanguan Sangchat says his Mattayom 1 pupils enjoy the subject and would like it to be part of the daily curriculum.
"There's no way you can stop kids from having sex," he says. "They're all experienced. The only thing you can do is teach them about safe sex and give them condoms."
Ubon Ratchathani's three participating schools now have fewer youngsters dropping out due to unplanned pregnancy - the headmasters aren't getting as many invitations these days to their own students' weddings.
Pornpilai's teacher Supaluk is now a supervising trainer for the project. She tries to dampen the young students' curiosity and encourage them to wait until they're sure they're ready.
Praivan, who fretted about being too old (and too shy) to talk about sex with youngsters, underwent the Path training and now appreciates how much guidance the students get on love and other relationships.
She also learned about HIV and Aids - information she'd insisted on ignoring even when her infected cousin was dying in her home.
"If I'd known more about it I'd have taken better care of her before she died," Praivan says.
Pornpilai had to give her own parents a reminder. They were gossiping that a young female neighbour must have had sex with her boyfriend, so she pointed out that it was their own personal decision, and that it was only to be hoped that they were handling it safely.
And condoms, once smuggled merchandise at the schools - if used at all - are now handed out for free in the nurses' rooms.
"Sometimes the students come right out and ask me in the hallway if they can get one," says Supaluk.