I’ve been meaning to write about this issue for a while now, but have held off until today.
The new Jismi.net – “One Day, One Struggle” awareness campaign for Sexual and Bodily Rights gave me just the introduction I needed to discuss another important, yet often neglected, issue in Lebanon – Sexual Health.
I watched all of the videos for the campaign this morning, and in only three distinct, albeit vague, instances was there mention of sexual education/health, or lack thereof. Not that this is a negative thing, the campaign itself touches on many important social issues, but I think that the issue of sexual health in particular warrants a bit more investigation.
I’ve included the three videos for you to watch for yourself.
For those of you who can’t watch you tube..In the first video, one of the speakers talks about how the only sexual education he received was from porn magazines that his friends used to pass around in class, and one biology teacher who went outside of himself to make up for the lack of sexual education that his students were receiving. In the second video, one speaker talks about how sexual education needs to be taught in all schools, and that girls need to know that sexual education is more than just learning how to use “sanitary pads.” And finally, in the third video, a speaker talks about the time she questioned her gynecologist about why he only had pregnancy leaflets in his offices, as if women only have sex to get pregnant.
Such powerful videos. I really respect all of those who participated.
To continue, I’d like to quote the Jismi.net- “One Day, One Struggle” website‘s definition of Sexual and Bodily Rights,
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) working definition, sexual rights embrace human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus statements. They include the right of all persons, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, to:
- The highest attainable standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services;
- Seek, receive and impart information related to sexuality;
- Respect for bodily integrity;
- Choose their partner;
- Decide to be sexually active or not;
- Consensual sexual relations;
- Consensual marriage;
- Decide whether or not, and when to have children; and
- Pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life.
Let’s go back to first sexual right, that I placed in bold:
“The highest attainable standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services”
As far as I know, all Lebanese people (who can afford it of course – this is another issue, what about the sexually active people who cannot afford to get tested!) have access to doctors or clinics that provide “sexual and reproductive health care services.” But my question is: are sexually active people in Lebanon using these services?
To find out, I conducted a mini survey of 10 people, making sure to choose people from different social classes, religious, and educational backgrounds. In the survey I asked two questions:
1. Are you sexually active?
2. If yes, have you been screened for ALL STD’s (not just HIV, not just Hepatitis, but all STD’s)?
What did I find? Out of 10 people, who all answered “yes” to question 1, only 2 people had gotten screened for all STD’s..and some of them have been sexually active for years.
So let’s take this one step further, shall we?
Without even asking them the reason why they’ve never gotten tested, the people who answered “No” to question 2, felt the need to explain. Usually, their explanation went something like this, “well, I’ve only had sex with people I know very well, and I trusted them. I trusted that they would have told me if they had something.”
I went on to ask them this question, “Well, what if that person that you “really trusted” WAS lying to you..or what if that person that you “really trusted” had an STD that he/she wasn’t even aware of because they’ve never gotten tested themselves? What then?” They all fell silent. ”Oh, you have a point,” they would say. The lack of sexual education in this country is alarming.
Like..did you know that:
- You can have an STD without any physical symptoms
- You can get an STD without even having sexual intercourse
- Condoms are NOT 100% effective
- it can take months, sometimes years for some STD’s to show up in your system/bloodstream – what does this mean? If you have unprotected sex today, you should wait AT LEAST three months until you go and get tested…if you go any earlier than three months, you will run the risk of getting false results back.
Anyway, back to my point..
In the process of this mini survey, I became aware of yet another, even MORE alarming problem. To explain, I”ll share two stories as told to me by two participants in my survey.
“I went to the doctor to get my yearly check up the other day, and thought it was a good time to get tested for everything. When I told the gynecologist to draw blood for the tests, he looked at me and said, “Do you really think you need that? I don’t think you need to do them.” I didn’t know what to say! I was shocked! There I was, trying to be responsible about my sexual health, and the one doctor, the gynecologist!, who is supposed to support this type of responsible behavior, was trying to advise me against it!” – Participant 1
“In Lebanon, we don’t have a culture of going to the doctor to get checked for things, especially STD’s, unless we have a physical problem. And even then, we sometimes feel like we have to use fake names, or lie about being married. There are some doctors out there who will judge you if you have been having pre-marital sex. They make it clear that they disapprove…on top of that, you never know who is going to get their hands on your results. The whole process is very uncomfortable.” – Participant 2
So, not only is there a problem with lack of sexual education here in Lebanon, but many people feel like they can’t even be honest with their Doctors when it comes to important issues regarding their health..and even worse, some doctors are not advocating responsible behavior! Does this make any sense at all?
On the Jismi.net – “One Day, One Struggle” website, there is a list of CSBR (Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights) Groups in Lebanon. Of which, only one (Helem) mentions anything about getting tested, in the form of this small banner (see below)..but, again, I have to ask..why only AIDS? There are so many other, much more common, things that people need to be tested for!
Where am I getting with all of this?
Sex and sexuality are beautiful, natural things, and absolutely nothing to be ashamed about. However, the fact remains that these topics, for social and cultural reasons, remain taboo both in Lebanon and in the region. But come on! As we all know, just because you can’t see, hear, or feel something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist!
People all around the world are having sex. They always have, and they always will…and these days, they are “getting active” at a much younger age..making this issue all the more important.
To everyone reading this, whether you are young, middle aged, or old….whether you have only ever had sex once, or many times….whether your partner swears to you that you are the only one they’ve ever slept with….whether you have always used a condom, or not..do yourself a favor, and go and get tested…no matter what obstacles stand in your way.. And keep on getting tested for as long as you remain sexually active..and while your at it..encourage your friends, and your children to do the same. It is the right and responsible thing to do.
I can only hope that someone somewhere is listening, and that I have helped to make a difference. If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to visit www.jismi.net. Educate and empower yourself. Watch all the videos (they are all extremely powerful), and learn more about your Sexual and Bodily Rights. Big Kudos to the people behind the campaign. Slowly but surely, we are all making a difference in this world.