What is so ‘filthy’ and ‘unnatural’ about reproductive sex, Pakistan?
By Dureen Anwer Published: September 9, 2016
A close friend of mine recently had an STI (sexually transmitted infection) scare. Despite being in excruciating pain, she was scared to ask her husband how she got the infection. After a few days of discomfort and suffering, she consulted a doctor who put her mind to rest by confirming that she had a yeast infection because of diabetes. But during this whole episode, I was surprised to find out how ignorant she was about sexual health.
First, she was adamant that she couldn’t get an STI from her husband because he was absolutely fine, which is irrelevant and factually incorrect because some STIs are asymptomatic – meaning the person who has the infection don’t show any symptoms. Second, after ruling out her husband, she suspected getting the infection from a toilet since it was shared between her and a relative. This wasn’t the first time I had heard an absurdly naive theory about how people get STIs in Pakistan. I remember the days when I was working for a trade association and was told by a colleague that people get HIV, STIs and even diabetes by using public toilets! Yes, someone said that and that someone wasn’t illiterate. That person was an accomplished professional and an independent woman.
Several years later, now that I am working for the healthcare sector in the UK, I observe how young people are educated about these potentially serious and deadly diseases. Let me clarify a few things particularly for the crowd that proudly claims: Pakistani kids do not have sex before marriage so they don’t need sex education.
What they teach here in the UK isn’t just about sex; they call it relationships and sex education for a reason. Secondly, young people in Pakistan do exhibit some risky behaviour before marriage – be it in a serious relationship or with a random stranger. I don’t think I need to elaborate on how young boys are often dared to experiment with transvestite street performers. Even if we were to believe that the Pakistani youth does not indulge in sex before marriage, they do get married and trust me the advice given by elders (for marital bliss and expression of physical desires when someone is getting married) is often not the best advice.
Boys are not told that some girls are born without a hymen and girls are not given the courage to say no to their husbands during intimacy when they are being disrespectful. Expressing your carnal needs is looked down upon if done by a woman and deemed natural if done at the most inappropriate hour by a man. I have known people who accidentally lost their virginity because no one told them when to stop physical advances by someone they weren’t in a serious relationship with. And the cherry on top is that we always assume that it’s only women who can be physically abused.
In Pakistan, we are embarrassed to talk about sex because we think of it as filthy and unnatural. But the truth is that the experience could contribute positively to one’s mental health if done respectfully and with the right person. The ‘no sex talk’ policy only results in ignorance which is often confused with innocence and purity. In today’s world, you don’t want your children to be ignorant about sex because people will (and they do) take advantage of that. They will hurt your children physically, mentally and emotionally.
Imagine a scenario where a spouse tells their better half that they don’t like certain things about their partner’s physical appearance. Surely we change, adapt and improve for the people we love but some things are beyond human control, such as a physical feature. Wouldn’t you all agree that such conversations could be detrimental to not only one’s confidence but to the relationship as well? So how can we stop marriages from falling apart without blaming women liberation and western influence? We must educate our youth about respecting their partners and it being okay to expect the same in return.
Also, protecting one’s health (including sexual health) is a basic human right. Why is it generally acceptable in Pakistan for men to have sexual encounters outside their marriage and bring several diseases home? Why aren’t they taught how to be safe and also protect their partners? Why can’t their wives be assertive about their own marital rights?
Case in point: The friend who was too scared to talk to her husband about her STI scare because she didn’t want to upset him.
I think we, as a nation, are pretentious and have double standards when it comes to intimacy. Why do we cringe while watching a condom advertisement on television but are perfectly okay to watch vulgar dances in movies? Why do we have these stigmas, fears, misconceptions and misinformation about sex and sexual health? Surely, our religion is practical and in no way oppressive or unreasonable.
Our double standards about sex and sexual health are evident when we look at the statistics. According to UNAIDS, 100,000 people were living with HIV in Pakistan during 2015. In 2014, an 11% increase was reported in mortality rates from HIV/AIDs in Pakistan and if you want to learn further about STIs/STDs then read this article published in Express Tribune.
I am a mother and I do plan to teach my children how to love themselves and their bodies. Anyone telling them that they are inadequate or ugly doesn’t deserve to be a part of their lives. I will teach my children their rights about fertility, safety and pleasure. I will tell them that they have to prioritise their own health and well-being in all circumstances that no relationship is worth compromising your own mental or physical health. I will give them the confidence to say no and to be okay with their feelings.
But for those mothers who are not in a position to do all of this, why can’t a trained professional deliver lectures to youth in colleges and universities? If it is so shameful, perhaps have separate lessons for different genders and sexual orientations. What is so taboo about healthy relationships and physical health? Would you rather have your child learn about sex at the right time by the right person or would you let them go out and discover things on their own (which might result in life-altering damages)?