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
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."