By THIM Rachna
Taking pride in their conservative culture, Cambodian people do not like to talk about sex. Even though young people believe in their right to accurate sexual information, discussing sex health continues to be a cultural taboo for young, unmarried Cambodians, according to Marie Stopes Cambodia.
Growing up in a conservative environment, opportunities for learning about sexual health are especially limited for girls. Girls are likely to be prohibited from appearing too curious about these matters. Sexual education topics are also likely to be neglected in schools because of cultural norms. While people here consider sex as a taboo, it is incredibly important to learn about it properly so that young people can make an informed decisions about their lives. I find this extremely important for fellow girls and women to learn and brace themselves from any problems associated with sexual health. Women are at risk to suffer from sexual health issues ranging from sexually transmitted diseases to unplanned pregnancies and abortions.
Social norms are likely to refrain young people from obtaining their right to accurate sexual health information in Cambodia. The subject of sexual and reproductive health has never been taught properly in school despite the program being introduced to curriculum since 1998. It is understandable that the program put more focus on HIV and other transmitted diseases but whether or not it has been critically taught in school is however, remains a big concern.
Due to the conservative culture, it is very concerning that youths are lacking knowledge on sexual and reproductive health information. In Cambodia, there are very few providers of sex education with youth-friendly services. With poor educational attainment, o youth are at risk of having sexually transmitted infections (STI), unsafe abortion from unplanned pregnancy and HIV/AIDS.
According to UNICEF Cambodia, many girls are relatively uncomfortable talking about monthly menstruation. Due to the lack of sex health education in school curriculum, it might lead to knowing too little about menstruation, and fewer girls attending school during their period.
Comparing to youth in urban areas, youth in rural area are more at risk in terms of contracting sex health problems due to their low educational attainment, which leads to insufficient knowledge on sexual and reproductive health. According to Marie Stopes International Cambodia, in 2014, more than 33% of rural women at the age between 15–24 years old had become pregnant. Additionally, according to the United Nation Population Funds Cambodia, 13% of currently married women in Cambodia who do not want any more children are not using any form of contraception due to various reasons, including lack of access to information, financial barriers, inconvenience or fear of side effects.These youth are mostly out of school and have a very limited knowledge on sexual health.
In Cambodia where young people are very prone to sexual and reproductive health risks, the lack of this specific field education consummation of Cambodian people have profound impacts on their lives. Everyone should have fair access of accurate sexual and reproductive health information so that they can be empowered and make an informed decision about their sexual lives. Hence, the more we refuse to talk about this topic, the more it seems like a taboo.
Therefore, we should begin normalizing this topic by starting to talk about it.
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.