Did you know that in Malaysia:
- A baby is dumped every three days
- 18,000 teenagers get pregnant each year
- STIs have doubled in the past decade
These are the dire consequences of undetailed sexual health education.
In a society such as ours, sexual health isn’t counted as physical health – it’s a subject that’s actually avoided. Youths are taught the very bare necessities, leaving too much room for misinformation. This has caused many to make harmful decisions, including baby dumping, having teenage pregnancies, and spreading sexually-transmitted infections.
It has become crucial for us to openly start acknowledging sexual health in order to protect our physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as others’. But how do we turn this taboo topic, which continuously sparks criticism, into a positive dialogue?
We asked Jasmine King (a sex positive advocate, speaker and sexual health educator), for her advice on breaking the stigma and normalising conversations around sex. She currently does this on her Instagram page, Jas Explains, where she promotes sexual empowerment by creating educational content, sparking important conversations and sharing sex positive resources.
What exactly is sexual health?
According to WHO, sexual health is the “positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence”. In ensuring everyone receives adequate sexual health, it is important for us to have:
- Access to comprehensive, good-quality information about sex and sexuality;
- Knowledge about the risks they may face and their vulnerability to adverse consequences of unprotected sexual activity;
- Ability to access sexual health care;
- Living in an environment that affirms and promotes sexual health.
Simply put, sexual health encompasses everything that is connected to our sexual wellbeing, whether it be reproduction, relationships, laws and reforms, or diseases and dysfunctions.
What are the common misconceptions Malaysians have about sexual health?
A common one would probably be that sexual health is only about sex and the health of our reproductive organs, but it spans beyond that. It’s about health and rights, as well as the social aspect of sex. This encompasses our reproductive health and rights, sexual relationships, knowledge and education, diseases and dysfunctions, sexual violence like harassment or abuse, and harmful practices like female genital mutilation.
Why is it so important?
It’s important because sexual health is an aspect of our health, and despite the taboo and stigma that’s attached to it, it’s still very much important for us to educate ourselves on it – despite being married or not, young or old. Usually sexual health is only prioritized when couples want to start a family or when something traumatic happens like abuse/harassment.
How can we overcome sexual shame as a society?
A first big step to overcoming sexual shame is to first of all educate ourselves. We need to unlearn years of education and beliefs, which are masked by layers of taboo, stigma and shame, and relearn everything again from the start. By relearning and normalizing the conversation, we are then able to provide a safe space to educate others and receive without judgement.
As individuals, what are the benefits of overcoming sexual shame?
It releases us from some of the shame, judgement and fear that we carry. Sex and our bodies are a normal and healthy part of our lives and should be treated with respect, instead of disgust and shame. By allowing ourselves to overcome shame, we would be able to fully embrace our sexual and sensual side instead of fearing them.
What does it mean to be sex positive?
Someone who is sex positive values consent, communication, education that allows people to make informed choices about their bodies, and pleasure. They respect and do not judge those who consensually practise diverse sexuality and gender expressions.
As sex is a religious stigma here, how can we promote a more sex positive culture?
We can do this by not focusing so much on the term ‘sex’ and changing the language to make it more accessible and neutral for everyone. Hence why, sex education is also known as ‘comprehensive sexuality education (CSE)’ and sex positivity is also referred to as ‘positive sexuality’. Changing the language as well as acknowledging that it’s more than just about sex can promote a more sex positive culture. CSE covers an array of topics which includes:
- Understanding the correct names of our bodies, especially genitals
- Safe, unsafe and unwanted touches
- Healthy and unhealthy relationships
- Gender and sexuality
- Pleasure-based education
- Puberty and menstruation
For more information on sexual health, tune into Jasmine’s podcast, I Wish Someone Told Me, to hear stories by Asians, or those living in Asia, on gender, sexuality, dating, intimacy and sexual empowerment. You can also follow @iwishthepod and @jasexplains on Instagram for more sex positive content and resources!
‘Toxic masculinity’ doesn’t mean that masculinity is toxic. Not all men are bad or evil, but the cultural ideals that are associated with being a man are extremely harmful. The concept of ‘manliness’ has had a negative effect on both women and men, with ‘manhood’ being expressed through misogyny, homophobia, violence and substance abuse. These destructive messages provide men with the dangerous idea that they have the right to participate in such negative behaviours.
In most cultures, men police each other’s masculinity, labelling only specific actions as ‘acceptable’. These traditional cultural norms include being:
- Physically strong
- Sexually active
Conformity to these traditional male gender roles is harmful to society as a whole. Women fall victim to violence, sexual assault, psychological abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and discrimination because of it. Men who don’t adhere to it also experience violence, psychological trauma and discrimination, but it harms those who do too – the pressure to look ‘strong’ and suppress one’s emotions to fit the ideal form can cause aggression, addiction, as well as suicide. Those who aim to be an ‘alpha male’ are a danger to themselves and others.
As a society, we must come together to combat toxic masculinity. The first step is to remove the detrimental norms from masculinity by redefining what it means to ‘be a man’ and developing healthier expectations. Allow boys and men to feel their feelings, and teach them how to express their emotions instead of resorting to violence. Violence-prevention is key, and by providing them with the tools to handle conflict nonviolently, we can create a safer society.
Learn more about men’s mental health here.