Let's talk about sex

Pakistan is caught somewhere between sexual repression and sexual exploitation - two unhealthy extremes.

Anam Gill May 13, 2011
While the Behavioural Surveillance Survey (BSS) found a vast majority of young people in Pakistan to be sexually active, another study showed that Pakistan is witnessing a rise in sexual abuse cases.

Statistics released by an NGO, Sahil, in a report called “Cruel Numbers Report 2010,” reveal that victims of sexual abuse comprise 73 per cent girls and 27 per cent boys. These findings mock the belief that young people do not know, need not know, or, have nothing to do with, sexuality because they are protected by Pakistan’s culture and tradition.

Abuse and violence shouldn’t be the only standpoints to advocate for sex education, but they have become important to consider, especially when the Pakistan government has refused to allow sex education in the school curriculum.

The reasons given are myriad including that it is a “Western” concept against the traditions and culture of Pakistan and will encourage young people to engage in “promiscuous” behaviour. There is a group that feels, by introducing sex education in schools, the abusers will be provided with more opportunities to sexually harass and abuse young people.

The recent release of Dr Mobin Akhtar’s book “Sex Education for Muslims” aimed at educating Pakistanis in the matter, led to a big controversy. Dr Akhtar, 81, says the fact that sex is not discussed in Pakistan is resulting in serious repercussions. As a psychiatrist, he says he has witnessed this himself, and that is why he felt the need to write this book. Dr Akhtar says:
“Ignorance about sexual matters is causing a lot of our young people unnecessary psychological distress.”

Despite the fact that he toned down the title for the Urdu version of the book, from “Sex Education for Muslims” to “Special Problems for Young People,” Dr Akhtar received many threats due to the release of his books.

It’s sad to see the hypocrisy, double standards and bigotry that exist in this country, where we are constantly busy sweeping everything under the carpet.

Take for example Lahore - the city is infamous for its red light district, called Heera Mandi. Men pay a few rupees to sleep with girls, often young girls, who have been kidnapped and trafficked or who have been forced to sell their bodies for survival. Everyone knows what goes on there, but nothing has ever been done about it, at least officially.

Another example is the huge market for stage shows that display explicit matter through crude dialogues and dances, all performed in front of male audiences. In some instances, these dances even turn into strip shows – another adaptation from local culture.

It seems Pakistan is caught somewhere between sexual repression and sexual exploitation - two extremes.

Spreading basic sex education in conservative communities like that of Pakistan is a progressive move - one that could benefit future generations.  Policy makers should base their decisions on rational thinking and not on chauvinistic and moralistic ideas of culture.

Banning sex education will only hinder efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, and sexual abuse, thus putting young lives at risk.

Access to comprehensive sex education is every child’s right.
Anam Gill The writer is a social activist and journalist from Lahore. She is the founder of Dialogue Café, a creative space bringing people together to interact and engage in debates. Her writings have appeared in several renowned Pakistani and international news outlets, including Dawn, Express Tribune and Deutsche Welle.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.