It’s high time we talked about sex, and for our own good…
Before I begin, I would like to say that my thoughts today are written keeping in mind the Nepali context. I write from research findings conducted by professionals and my personal work experience.
For a culture with religious beliefs that is centered on the worship of procreationthe union of the linga and the yoni- it is a total contradiction that one of the constants that surrounds sex in our culture is silence. For example, we discourage talking about anything associated with sex up to the point of marriage. Then we hound the newlyweds to produce offspring. How confusing?!
When we were young we were taught that sex is bad, impure, a sin. Yet, we are quite content to think that romance/ relationships stem from running around bushes and singing to the hills and rivers.
Our movies often portray courtships happening with an entourage. We seldom see couples discussing love, life choices, let alone sex in regular conversations. If you have experienced puberty and adolescence you know that the process of growing up can be pretty freaking scary. With hormones going crazy, your body changing the last thing you need is adults telling you your curiosity is bad, or defining experimenting as promiscuity.
When it comes to sex, most people are curious. If that curiosity is not addressed with the right kind of parental-adult support, knowledge and sensitivity then things could go wrong. Like the loss of innocence in a traumatic way or maybe an unwanted pregnancy or even incurable diseases like HIV/AIDS.
Of course our cultural perspectives are changing. Mass media is creating an environment where dating is becoming a norm and encouraging a more open outlook on relationships, sex and sexuality.
Still, there are those who will say that the dating culture encourages premarital and extramarital sexual behaviors. But is it really anyone’s business what people decide to do with their free time behind the privacy of closed doors?
I come from the school of thought that believes in people’s right to know and experience their sexual rights. Each of us, adolescent, adult or old, has a right to equality in a relationship, a right to express ourselves, a right to experience pleasure, to live our healthiest lives, right to privacy, a right to choose for ourselves, right to experience safer sex and a right to take responsibility and accountability for our actions and decisions. We also have a right to be protected from sexual discrimination, sexual violence, and exposure of private information.
There are studies that show that young adults and adolescents have been sexually curious and active even before they have been exposed to the so-called new media, or been exposed to city life. Yes, it may be easier to be more sexually active and more openly so when one is away from the family and in a new location. It can get easier to have more lax rules for oneself where the threat of discovery, exposure and communal shame are not the same as being in one’s home territory. While it is easy for us to say that it is a part of Nepali culture and tradition to ignore, deny and hide sexual relationships, it does not take away from the fact that engaging in sex, premarital or otherwise, is quite common. I worry more that those who are curious about sex and their sexuality may not have the right information while they are in pursuit of finding fulfillment.
So, it is definitely better to be talking about sex especially safer sex and sharing information and knowledge that can be of help. I would rather err on the side of providing too much information rather than trying to protect or forbid people from having sex. Formal and informal (schools & media) education can be used as platforms for sharing and discussing the nature of sex and sexuality and to reduce the taboo associated with it in a respectful manner.
A lot of Nepalese youth experience their first sexual encounter with a friend from school or from their home commodity. There are often misconceptions that those living in urban areas are more sexually active and promiscuous. But research actually shows that those who are interested in sexual experimentation will find opportunities. Be it while they are away from the home in the pretext of gathering fuel, going to school, tending crops, going for tuition, hanging out with friends. There is no better example of finding a way when there is a will.
When they find these opportunities, they may not be best equipped to make the safest choices for themselves. The main concern during such meetings can center more on keeping it clandestine and safety (physical, emotional and infection-wise) can be secondary.
The Ministry of Health has introduced adolescent friendly services and voluntary testing and counseling centers so that people can get tested for STIs and HIV/ AIDS and also opportunities to consult with health staff who can answer their queries. Though a step in the right direction, challenges to using such services can and will arise. If health care providers are not approachable or trained on how to provide sexual information in a sensitive manner no one will use the services.
There are also other barriers that we face in providing proper sex education like the fact that a lot of parents and communities don’t think that sex education should be taught in schools. They are also not willing to talk about sex with their children so it becomes a repetitive cycle where parents are too shy to talk about sex to their children and this goes on from generation to generation.
There are limitations to the sex education that is provided as part of the school curriculum. The school curriculum lacks a human rights based approach to providing information. The teachers are untrained on how to provide this information to the students. The teachers themselves have grown up in a society where they were discouraged from talking about sex.
When one comes from a background like that, it would be difficult for that person to be comfortable about talking about sex and sexuality with students. It will take time for Nepalese adolescents and youth to grow up in an environment where talking about sex is not a taboo.
To speed up the process those who can help the youth make informed choices should also be facilitated and empowered. Teachers should be trained on how to talk about sex and counsel their students.
Parents have to make a shift from keeping shush to actively sharing information and building strong relationships with their children so that they are the first people their children approach for answers rather than the last.
Here’s to healthier relationships and safe sexual choices! Cheers!