In Pakistan, new TV show lifts veil on sex taboos

Published: November 26, 2014
In this picture taken November 13, 2014, Anoushey Ashraf (L), hosts a morning show on Health TV in Karachi.  PHOTO: AFP

In this picture taken November 13, 2014, Anoushey Ashraf (L), hosts a morning show on Health TV in Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: Doctor Nadimuddin Siddiqui fixes his gaze on a camera in the shiny new studios of Health TV in Karachi and prepares to take the day’s first question.

“My husband doesn’t want to make love anymore, what should I do doctor?” the housewife asks over the phone.

A new TV show is trying to deal with the delicate subject of sex and embarrassing illnesses without angering conservatives.

Most of Pakistan’s 80-odd television stations fill their airtime with cooking shows, soap operas, cricket and interminable chatshows debating the country’s myriad political dramas.

But once a week, for an hour, Health TV does something very different: it takes questions from viewers on sex. Or more precisely, sexual problems.

“My husband only wants to do it once a week, sometimes once a fortnight, and it doesn’t last very long,” continues Ayesha the housewife, calling from Lahore.

The portly Siddiqui, his pearly white teeth glistening under the studio lights, doesn’t miss a beat.

“We call this loss of libido…it occurs when you have a low level of testosterone. You should work on your husband’s diet, feed him more fish and push him to exercise,” he says.

“God willing your husband will get better.”

Each Thursday Clinic Online, which began airing a year ago, takes dozens of calls on subjects ranging from loss of libido and erectile dysfunction to questions about sexually-transmitted diseases, micro-penises and nymphomania.

“Sex is a very difficult matter in Pakistan, here it is very difficult to talk in open forum, in media, in any seminar. So whenever you talk about sex you should be very careful,” Siddqui told AFP after the show.

He attributes the programme’s success in part to highlighting issues around sexual diseases, which he says resonates even with the deeply religious, and takes pride in having avoided controversy — so far.

“I have never seen a single person who is having any objection (to) me. They appreciate me because…if it is a disease, you have to treat (it). You must try to propagate your knowledge,” he said.

Part of the Ziauddin network of private hospitals, Health TV says its mission is to improve health awareness in a country where access to a doctor can be difficult in rural areas and for those without financial means.

Sometimes religious conservatism can play a part in ignorance and poor health: gynaecologists are known to refuse examining unmarried women, who according to them should not be having sex.

“In our society, the woman, if she comes from a very conservative background, someone would have to take her to the doctor — her mother, her sister,” says Faizan Syed, the channel’s director.

“This (the show) gives them that comfort of a hidden identity.”

Syed stresses that the channel provides only an advisory role and people should still visit a doctor if they are concerned.

And the channel also offers advice to men.

“We are living in a conservative society and we hesitate to talk on such issues with our doctors,” a laptop salesman and Health TV viewer Mehboob Ahmed, from Karachi, told AFP.

Other programmes deal with topical subjects like polio, the crippling disease still blighting Pakistan thanks in part to Taliban opposition to vaccination.

Even sensitive issues like abortion and breast cancer are covered.

“There was a time you couldn’t even discuss breast cancer, because women didn’t want to talk about their breasts, they didn’t want to talk about their body because their husband might get upset,” says Anoushey Ashraf.

Ashraf hosts a morning show where a cleric, a psychiatrist and a social worker have gathered to discuss abortion — illegal in Pakistan except to save the mother’s life.

The opinion of religious leaders carries a lot of weight in Pakistan and can add significantly to a doctor’s arguments. What, for example, does Islam make of abortion?

“If anything like this is done to save the life of a mother, then sharia (Islamic law) allows abortion,” says cleric Shahid Madani.

The public appear to agree, if the dozens of calls to each show are anything to go by — though Pakistani channels guard their ratings jealously.

Health TV knows it is far from dethroning the biggest national channels. But it is confident of quietly growing its market share thanks to shows by the likes of Siddiqui and Anoushey.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Nov 26, 2014 - 7:12PM

    Host, Producer, crew, TV Channel, and entire team of program are brave to air such program on TV. Claps!


  • Stranger
    Nov 26, 2014 - 7:25PM

    Hmm how do u say this – der aayi durust aayi – better late than never.


  • Yoyo
    Nov 26, 2014 - 8:08PM

    Great initiative – kudos to them, and hope the show continutes. It can do wonders, especially in rural areas. Or for that matter, even in urban areas.


  • Anon
    Nov 26, 2014 - 8:57PM

    Hopefully this wont get slammed shut cuz people start threatening it. This country seriously needs some sex education. At least the basics.


  • Nov 26, 2014 - 9:27PM

    Indeed time to great over soaps and politics that sell better.


  • japani
    Nov 27, 2014 - 8:45AM

    It won’t be long before they end up in jail for blasphemy. That is Pakistan for you.


  • Alfa Romeo
    Nov 27, 2014 - 8:56AM

    Unislamic, isn’t it? This program will last only till some mullah declares it units lambic and blasphemous.


  • Aamna H. Fasihi
    Nov 27, 2014 - 6:54PM

    This show is only surviving because Health TV is not notorious much. I hope this great initiative grows even more without having to face threats,


  • nidz
    Nov 29, 2014 - 4:05PM

    wonderful.. i appreciate, all issues related to women must be share on a large platform though our society doesn’t give us permission to do so. so that other women can be aware from those issues and can cope up any problem by herself if she faces in future.


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