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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Valentine's Day, by the numbers

Valentine's Day, by the numbers

New research based on extensive interviews with young Cambodian reveals that, for many, what has become known as ‘loving day’ has become simply a catalyst for sex

New research on young Cambodian attitudes towards Valentine's Day and sexual relationships has found that more than half the interviewees questioned were happy to engage in sexual intercourse. In fact, the research shows that many middleclass Cambodians are using Valentine's Day not to celebrate their love but as a catalyst for sex.

The new study, titled "Young People Talking About Valentine's Day in Phnom Penh, 2008", was part of a body of work conducted by independent researcher Tong Soprach.

Tong Soprach, who has a master's degree in public health from the University of Cambodia, conducted in-depth interviews with young Cambodians between the ages of 15 and 24 in an attempt to find out whether they get involved in sexual relationships on Valentine's Day.

The research took the form of a qualitative study with 16 extended interviews and a quantitative study of 458 people conducted over the two weeks prior to Valentine's Day in 2008.

The study questioned youths on two occasions either side of Valentine's Day and found that 61.2 percent of respondents considered Valentine's Day special, but that most knew little about the origins of the day itself. Most youths recognised the day as foreign, with several respondents renaming the occasion "loving day".

Young cambodians ... are experiencing a greater level of urban wealth and sexual freedom.

Almost all Khmer youths were planning to take their sweethearts out on Valentine's Day (99.5 percent), the study found, and 76.6 percent of respondents in a relationship planned to give their partners gifts - 50 percent of which would be flowers.

Both Cambodian males and females saw Valentine's Day as an opportunity to hang out in groups and to socialise in the capital's many parks and restaurants.

Not so ‘loving'

Disturbingly, however, 66 percent of males planned to have sex with their partners regardless of consent, with 39.5 percent of those males losing their virginity.

Also, 26.3 percent of males stated that they would have sex with a sex worker depending on whether they had sex with their partner on Valentine's Day.

Tong Soprach attributes the growing popularity of Valentine's Day in Cambodia to the changing sociopolitical dynamic within the country.

"Young Cambodians are being introduced to notions of individuality and materialism and are experiencing a greater level of urban wealth and sexual freedom," Tong Soprach said.

People are now being exposed to sex on a level never seen before. Globalisation and the Americanisation of Cambodian culture is changing youth attitudes towards sex, Tong Soprach added.

According to the researcher, one in nine educated Cambodians received jobs in their chosen profession, and because young people are putting more pressure on themselves to succeed, sex is often used as an outlet to relieve stress.

Tong Soprach said that some of the worrying aspects of the study are that most individuals receive no sexual advice from their parents, adding that parents need to educate their children about the implications of unsafe sex.

Tong Soprach has spent 10 years in the field of social development and public health and has recently directed his focus towards sexual and reproductive health among Cambodian youth.

He will be speaking at the Partners in Health and Development seminar Saturday from 2 to 2.30pm near the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

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