Sex and us

Isn’t it time we started talking about how babies are made?

by ADHEEP SHRISH POKHREL

A friend who works at a transit home for street children checked his office’s computer one day to find that the most recent search on Google was the term “Nekid laydis”. The boys and girls he looks after are mostly young, barely in their teens but their obvious curiosity hammers home a very important point, that is, the need to talk and educate ourselves, and young people, about sex.

As children when we asked our parents where we came from the answer we usually got was that we were picked up from the hospital, or that we dropped from the sky (yes! I believed them but asked why my aunt hadn’t caught me because she cooked better meals). Sadly, the discussion of sex and sexuality are limited to male and female reproductive organs in our education system. My shy biology teacher would quickly skim through this part, telling us “Okay, you can read the rest on your own at home.” There was no information about STIs, condoms or contraceptives.

Nepali parents seem to be fine with the idea of sanctioned sex, i.e. after marriage, at an early age. According to UNICEF, 51 percent of Nepali children between the ages of 5 and 14 are married off in the rural Nepal, and it’s still 41 percent in urban areas. These children are barely aware of what’s going with their body, yet they become sexually active and reproduce. We fail to recognize that girls in this age group are five times more likely to die in pregnancy. About 66 percent of women have their first child by the time they are 24.

Just because it is ignored does not mean it is not happening. According to a research conducted by Ramesh Adhikari of Mahendra Ratna Campus in 2006, 39 percent of male college students had premarital sex in Nepal. A 2003 study by Family Health International found that among Nepali teens, the number of boys who have had sexual intercourse is three times more than the number of girls. About 7.5 percent of clients of sex workers were male college students.

UNAIDS estimates about 70,000 Nepali people are HIV positive, of which migrant workers make up 42 percent, followed by sex workers, drug users and men having sex with men. The majority of the HIV infected population is in the most productive age range between 25 to 39. All these numbers hint at the need for a reality check about the increasing prevalence of casual sexual activities.

Despite the rigorous way contraceptives are advertised and the 48 percent Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) revealed by the 2006 Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), it is amazing that the traditional theme of “sexual activity should be strictly reserved for reproductive purpose after marriage” has not been more challenged. Moreover, the increasing cases of HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and unintended pregnancies still fails to convince our society that there are people having sex with multiple partners for recreational purposes as well.

Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to talk about safe sex rather than preach about morality and expect chastity out of everyone. People either tend to ignore or be completely unaware of the fact that penile penetration is not the only way to have sex and transmit diseases. For example, even mouth-to-mouth kissing can transmit the infection oral herpes.

The rate of STI transmission is high even in developed countries with reasonable sex education and where the social attitude to sex is more liberal. 1.2 million new cases of chlamydia were reported in the United States in 2008. According to UNFPA, survey data from sixty-four countries indicate that only 40 per cent of males and 38 per cent of females aged 15 to 24 had accurate and comprehensive knowledge about HIV and its prevention.

Legally, we have made giant strides in terms of giving women the right to choose abortion, and legalising homosexuality. The nomination of Blue Diamond Society founder Sunil Babu Pant in the Constituent Assembly has also given rise to hopes that same sex marriage could soon be legal in the country.

Despite this progress, it is the moral norms and attitudes that impede us from accessing these legal rights and sexual health services. As a young woman tells in the following pages, if a young female goes to see a gynaecologist, she is asked many questions that pore over her personal life that are not related to the medical examination. Meghna Lama, a transgender activist who was recently crowned Miss Pink, says she didn’t know who she was until her late teens. “I knew I was different to others,” she says, “But I didn’t know if there was anyone else who was like me.”

Everyone is doing it; otherwise there would be no babies. In the absence of moral, familial, social and medical support, sex becomes a taboo, and thus loaded with worry and risk. We hope the following stories inspire you to open up and talk about this very important aspect of human life.

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