In many countries, the portrayal or discussion of sexual matters is considered obscene according to the generally accepted standards of morality and decency. Cambodia is one of these countries where all sex talk is treated as dirty talk. It is because of this cultural perception that parents find the topic uncomfortable to deal with. Not only do they not want their children to talk about sex, they also do not want them to hear about it. The primary reason for this is that they do not want an interest in sex to distract their children from their studies.
I accept that abstinence is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs, but the truth is that many young people have sex anyway. This is most obvious in Cambodia on Valentine’s Day. Contrary to what their parents might think, growing numbers of young people are celebrating the day by booking a room in a hotel or guesthouse to make love. Furthermore, no matter the day or the hour, young people can watch pornographic movies on their mobile phones or computers. Therefore, isn’t it high time we started talking openly about sex for the sake of young people’s safety and health? Isn’t it better to teach about the dangers posed by unprotected sex rather than keep ignoring the matter and pretend young people don’t need to know a thing about it? Isn’t it better to teach youth about sex ourselves rather than let pornography do the job for us?
Sadly, most people feel ashamed or embarrassed when sex is brought up in conversation, because they view it only as a “dirty” topic. This could be because people rarely speak about sexuality in a positive light, or perhaps this view is the result of people associating sex too closely with pornography. In to a report released in 2006 by World Vision, 46.6 per cent of boys and 30.3 per cent of girls said they had been exposed to pornography. These numbers are sure to only have risen with the increasing popularity of video-capable mobile phones and the internet. We can’t ignore this. Instead we need to talk openly about sex, emphasising its positive and nonviolent aspects in order to change how it is perceived. Sex education in the classroom is especially important because it is during their school years that young people come under new pressures from their peers regarding sex. At the same time they are reaching for more independence and are forming their own views on love, romance and what is acceptable or unacceptable for them. Sex education is as important a subject as maths or science. It is a vital part of life.
The argument, born out of shame and fear, that sex education will corrupt Cambodian culture plays an important role in the discussion. I agree that Cambodian culture is precious, with delicacy and decency among its most cherished elements, but educating our children about healthy sex will not destroy the culture in any way. On the contrary, it is by ignoring the problems which spring from a lack of sex education (usually self-education based on pornography) and by letting young people do the wrong thing that our culture and society are corrupted. Knowing that our children will do it yet not telling them how to do it safely is wrong and irresponsible. There is nothing to be shy of.
I agree that it will take time to change the way people perceive sex in general, and I know that the matter of culture is not to be underestimated. However, if we focus deeply on the importance of sex education, all the other issues seem to be less weighty. It is of primary importance that we educate the upcoming generation and help them make informed decisions about their sex lives. Cambodia is highly affected by gender inequality, domestic and sexual violence and prostitution. Youth in rural areas receive no education at all about gender issues. They have no access to information about sexuality and as a result they are not prepared to deal with their own emotional and sexual development. This lack of information and awareness is a primary cause of conflict and one of the main triggers of domestic violence.