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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Minister 'alarmed' at findings of sex survey

Minister 'alarmed' at findings of sex survey

Women who carry condoms are perceived as 'bad', seen as sex workers, or perhaps infected

with HIV, according to research presented by the NGO Population Services International

(PSI).

That perception needs to be tackled in order to promote condom use in 'sweetheart'

relationships, stated the report Sangsar, Ta-Ta, Bong Samlanh: Love, Sex and Condoms

in the Time of HIV.

"The most striking finding was the frequent occurrence of coerced sex in non-commercial

sexual relationships, as well as the prevalence of gang rape (bauk) by the students,"

the report said. It added that bauk was "commonplace" and regarded as "completely

acceptable by this group".

"I am terribly alarmed," said Mu Sochua, Minister for Women's and Veterans'

Affairs. "What is most alarming is that our youth, especially the male youth,

think that this is so natural, that it is their right."

Sochua told a seminar that discussed the report that infection rates were a result

of the imbalance in gender roles.

The same research also revealed that male students often have multiple partners,

both paid and unpaid, but regard themselves at low risk of contracting HIV because

of their status and education.

In recent years Cambodian men have reported fewer trips to brothels but more sex

with indirect sex workers and their "sweethearts", possibly as a result

of increasing knowledge of HIV/AIDS.

"Widespread awareness of HIV risks in Cambodia may in fact lead to an expanded

demand for non-brothel based 'indirect' sex workers employed in restaurants, karaoke

bars, massage parlors and the like," it stated.

Changing cultural norms and greater freedom among young people have also shifted

the patterns of sexual relationships in Cambodia. Despite that, introducing condoms

is considered problematic.

Through focus group discussions and peer research PSI attempted to "understand

decision making regarding sexual initiation and condom use in non-commercial relationships".

The research uncovered 45 different terms used by men to denote female partners and

64 used by women for men. Some terms imply trust, romance and love, such as srey

sneih (loved woman), while others imply an exchange of money including pros kalip

(high caliber man) used to denote a man attractive for his money.

Trust was also revealed as a key issue when it came to condom use, and the research

showed that fear of pregnancy was identified as a socially acceptable way to condom

use within a relationship.

"Both men and women reported that introducing condoms into a relationship where

they were not previously used would imply infidelity on their part," it noted.

"For sex workers, not using condoms with sweethearts is a marker of the emotional

nature of the relationship."

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