By Sumita Thapar
“A man is not a financial plan”, a website advises young women in the Philippines. “Babies are not blessings” it further asserts. Through active use of social media and mobile phone ‘apps’ the web site sexandsensibilities.com reaches out to young, middle class girls with positive notions about sexuality. “Sexuality is about self-identity, self-worth, it is our ‘divine’ right – it is part of being human,” asserts Ana P Santos, the journalist and sex educator who runs the site.
The Philippines has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the ASEAN region. There has been a 70% increase in teen pregnancy in the country in the past decade. Talking about sex more openly, Santos argues, is the only way out. Helping girls to engage with information on sexuality and talking to them about the consequences of sex is important, she says. The project aims to empower girls with information and skills to be safe. “They should know they can say no to a boyfriend if they feel they are not ready for sex yet.”
Santos spoke about the challenges of talking about sex in a prohibitive Catholic environment.
“In the Philippines, we talk about sex in the context of family planning and reproductive health, but not in context of pleasure,” she said. “This excludes young people and does not tell them what choices they have. To change the way we view sex we have to change the way we talk about it.”
Sexandsensibilities.com has found an interested audience in young people and mothers of adolescents who are looking for help in talking to their children about sex. The portal has now evolved into a movement for sexual health rights. The project also does offline activities like sex education workshops for young, middle class girls. Santos admits it is hard to talk about sex, and yet research shows that talking about sex to children and young people promotes safer sex and delays age of first sexual encounter. “Please encourage parents and educators to talk to children about sex,” she emplores, adding that if you are ashamed to talk about it they will take the cue from you.
Santos was speaking at an ICAAP satellite session intriguingly entitled: How can we say yes to good sex if we don’t know how to say no to bad sex? organized by The Pleasure Project.