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Changing attitudes to Valentine’s

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A young couple looks at souvenirs at a shop set up for Valentine’s Day on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich. Sreng Meng Srun

Changing attitudes to Valentine’s

As an independent researcher on public health, I have compiled a report on youth attitudes to love and sex on Valentine’s Day, and how they have changed over the past 10 years.

Every five years since 2009, with campaigns launched to educate young people as to the meaning of Valentine’s Day, I conducted research on their attitudes to the holiday.

So have youth attitudes to Valentine’s Day changed over the past decade?

A total of 1,176 young people – 674 females and 502 males – between the ages of 15 and 24 and from fairly wealthy backgrounds in Phnom Penh were used in the study.

Research shows that Valentine’s Day is now considered a special day by less than almost half of young people – 38.2 per cent compared to 61.2 per cent in 2009 – especially among youth who had a boyfriend or girlfriend (42.5 per cent compared to 81 per cent).

Most participants said they still planned to go on a date on Valentine’s Day, but the locations had changed.

Whereas before they went to karaoke parlours, recreational areas like Koh Dach, Kien Svay and Bak Kheng and guesthouses, the current trend is to go places such as shopping malls and the cinema, 44 per cent of participants said.

The change towards more public places suggests the pressure to have sex on Valentine’s has diminished.

The buying of traditionally romantic gifts for partners on Valentine’s Day is also down by almost two-thirds (21.6 per cent compared to 56.3 per cent), especially flowers, which decreased the most.

But the trend among youth who had a boyfriend or girlfriend to buy clothes, toys and jewellery for their partner increased.

There was no change from previous research with regard to youths conducting romantic activities such as going to lunch or dinner or to places of entertainment on Valentine’s.

What is noticeable is that sexual relations among youth on Valentine’s Day decreased by more than half compared to 10 years earlier (12.4 per cent compared to 5.4 per cent in 2009).

What put pressure on the young to have sex on Valentine’s Day was specifically related to the perception of Valentine’s Day as a special day for the young, but this trend decreased by more than half compared to 10 years ago.

Among participants, the percentage of youths who had partners and planned not to use condoms increased two-fold (37.5 per cent compared to 15.6 per cent in 2009). The instance of both partners planning to have sex for the first time was around 50 per cent of the total who said they would have sex in 2019.

The proportion of young men who said they would have sex with their girlfriend without her consent or if she refused decreased from a decade ago, with 12 out of 40 saying they would compared to 17 out of 25 in 2009.

More than 50 per cent of young men said they expected to have sex with their girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, saying they would buy her a valuable gift to pressure her to do so.

Results show that little had changed over the past 10 years regarding parents educating their children as to Valentine’s Day.

The results of this research show there must be a focus on gender and sex education, especially regarding HIV and the use of condoms, before Valentine’s Day to increase knowledge on sexual health and safety, focusing on high schools and universities in Cambodia.

Tong Soprach is an independent researcher on public health. Soprach is also a social affairs columnist for The Post’s Khmer edition. The full 2019 report can be downloaded at https://soprach.com. Comments can be sent to [email protected].

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