Adolescent Cambodians view themselves as sexual beings in need of information about
sex. But NGOs and their parents don't help by regarding them as "vulnerable
vectors of disease".
That is according to new research outlined in Torn Between Tradition and Desire:
Young People in Cambodia Today, a report published by the European Community and
UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
"For NGO staff in particular, it's easier to look at a young person as someone
who should protect themselves from disease, that is to take a technical approach,
otherwise you need to discuss difficult topics like desire and sexuality," said
project advisor Regine Ducos.
The report states that young people want answers to complex emotional and behavioral
dilemmas, but the overly technical approach employed by NGOs means many of their
questions go unanswered.
"There is a crucial need for information out there," said Ducos. "Young
people, especially girls, tell us over and over again that they can't ask their parents
or even their peers about sex. Most of the information they get is by doing, by having
But while young people are happy to have sex, many, particularly young unmarried
women, are reluctant to seek sexual health services for fear of damaging their reputation.
"It's an enormous problem, particularly in the government health clinics because
it is still a taboo subject," said Ducos. She added that young women are so
reluctant to discuss sex that no reliable data on adolescent sexual activity exists.
"People believe young women are having sex, but the truth is there's no real
evidence either way. Where the girls are living with the family and in the village,
they just won't talk to researchers about it," she said.
However, many of the young participants told researchers that as well as spending
time with their friends and families, they also enjoy having sex, getting drunk and
"They are caught in between exploring modern culture and their tradition. They
are exposed to changing expectations and are curious about sex but feel they are
not supposed to do anything," Ducos said.
The research was based on focus group discussions with 150 adolescents, parents,
teachers and monks, as well as interviews with reproductive health agencies.