Let’s talk about sex.

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!

Helem Lebanon

Helem's website.

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.

39 Comments

Filed under life in Lebanon

39 responses to “Let’s talk about sex.

  1. Well done. Great post! :-))

  2. chantale

    great post!

  3. The right of all persons to:
    “consensual marriage”
    Unfortunately this isn’t the case in many Lebanese families…

    Great post Danielle. You’re raising awareness on a very important issue!

    • Ramy

      Many Lebanese families? I dunno about that…
      Maybe you have had a messed up sampling of forced marriages or something, but the general population doesn’t go for forced marriages – hence increased divorce rates in the country where divorce is near impossible with religious restrictions.

      • I think there are a lot of parents who allow their daughters to choose their husbands, but there are also parents who force/pressure their kids to marry someone for financial benefits or some other reason that serves the family.

  4. Excellent post, raises a lot of awareness, I will surely share it on my blog as well.

    Thanks for taking the time to assess jismi.net, the whole campaign and doing a survey.

    It pinpoints once again the embarrassment that young sexually active people have, and thus risk their lives just to avoid bad reputation (unfortunately the values in this countries really need to be revisited on what makes good reputation and bad reputation)

  5. Hey,

    Nice post. But it’s worthwhile to remember that even in your country (America), the topics of Abortion and Sexual health are also very tricky. It’s interesting that you brought up those two topics recently.

    In America, there remains a significant section of the population which advocates an “abstinence only” sex education program, and yet another section which thinks that taking a morning-after pill is the same as killing a human being.

    What I’m trying to say is: Don’t be too hard on the Lebanese. I’m sure a lot of them are very aware about sexual health (a friend of mine makes it a habit of checking for STDs every 6 months), and perhaps they weren’t among your small sample of 10 people😛

    • meinlebanon

      Mustapha,

      I never said these issues aren’t tricky topics in my country – indeed they are. There needs to be a collective awakening about this issue all over the world..but I’m doing what I can, while I’m in Lebanon.

      Again, this post was written strictly about Lebanon, since this blog is after all, about Lebanon…and I wrote this post based on what I have experienced and encountered in Lebanon over the past year..and yes I agree that 10 people is a small sample..which is why I used the word “mini,” and not “official..”

      I think it’s safe to say that I have met a pretty balanced cross section of people here, which is what gave me the confidence to make the assumption that many Lebanese people don’t even know even the basics about sexual health..or even if they do, they aren’t being responsible about it.

      By writing about this issue, I’m just trying to advocate awareness…I’m not being HARD on the Lebanese people..

      And just because one of your friends checks themselves for STD’s every six months, doesn’t mean that all Lebanese are doing the same. 😉

      • Sorry, I guess I’m guilty of not explaining my point well.

        I do commend you and think you’re doing a great job for raising awareness, I was just trying to add the dimension that this is an international problem, and that Lebanon, like the US has people who are aware and people who are not. (perhaps with different proportions)

        That said, I still think that Lebanon is doing better than other countries in the neighborhood (can you imagine a jismi.net in another Arab country?)…

        cheers..

    • Patrick

      Mus, long time fan of your blog here, I think the fact that those topic are tricky is the reason why people should be talking about them more.

      Definitely waiting for your take on the issue on the beirutspring🙂

      I did not feel Danielle is being hard on the Lebanese, someone needed to say what she is saying. If a more serious survey is done showing she is wrong about the numbers, then great for all of us I am sure she’d be the happiest one to know that.

      Oh and thanks Danielle and thanks jismi.net for tackling the important issues.

    • Joanna

      What happens in the States is not the topic of discussion here. There’s no point trying to justify one’s faults by pointing out someone else’s faults.. as at the end of the day, all we have left is faults and no one to deal with them🙂

  6. Mustapha, I completely see your point, probably a sample of 10 isn’t enough, but you and I and every Lebanese know how much of a taboo this subject is, and how many single people are embarrassed to do these tests, in fear of someone knowing that they did it which would implicate that they are sexually active and that is “embarrassing” w 3eib

  7. samia qumri

    Thanks 4sharing with us it does tackle sensitive issue in our seociety but we cant turn blind eye on such issue ..we need keep talk about it and raise awareness..:)

  8. This reminds me of when I got tested for my residency and right to work.

    I was escorted to the clinic to pick up my results by the office’s driver. Went in, paid the bill, and then the nurse dropped the envelope on the counter.

    He picked it up and pocketed it immediately and I had to be quite firm about getting to see the see the results.

    It was, with hindsight, pretty amusing.

    I’d agree, sex-ed and, I assume, testing isn’t something you can talk about easily here.

  9. Mustapha,

    The rare minority of Lebanese people who discuss these topics, let alone go test for them, is not enough to put up in comparison with countries such as the USA where awareness campaigns range from flyers on the street and free condom giveaways at events to large multi national events all promoting sexual health. The point here is not pointing out the wrongs in other nations’ policies. The point here is emphasizing on the total absence of such policies in our beloved Lebanon. Yes, maybe your friend does test every 6 months, but what about the rest of the population who is in such denial that these things exist in Lebanon or could happen to them that they don’t even consider testing even once in a few years!
    This post again is about raising awareness. So let’s not criticize other countries for gaps in their campaigns and start working on our very own ones. If we’re so good, why not set an example for others to follow?

    • You’re right, Lebanon does have to do more and make this more acceptable to talk about.

      But TV programs like “Khat Ahmar” and Zavein have already broken that taboo. And I can’t see why this cannot be transfered to ministries and public awareness campaigns..

  10. Joanna

    Excellent post Danielle! Touches on a very very important subject in this society that not many people have the guts to bring up..
    There are several problems in this country, privacy (or lack thereof) being one of them, professionality and patient-doctor confidentiality (or lack thereof) being another, and awareness (or lack thereof) as well…

    Something for everyone to keep in mind is that your partner’s entire sexual history (which as Danielle pointed out may include asymptomatic STD’s like Herpes) gets transferred to you if you’ve had unprotected sexual contact (not just intercourse as Danielle also pointed out).. so please be careful!

    Again, Danielle, I think it’s brilliant that you’re shedding some light on these issues, you, unlike jismi.net, gave answers and information. I loved their website, but it may be missing some stuff, like info about sexual health, maybe even a “doctors who are professional enough to keep your private info private” section..etc.. but I guess I’ll need to e-mail THEM about that!🙂

  11. Joanna

    Also, pregnancy and abortion should be on your list of things to blog about in the future.. very touchy subjects!

  12. Ramy

    Nice article… I am with Mustapha regarding this to some extent. The thing we should notice is our entertainment industry (music, TV, film) showcase sex like it is the “it” thing to do.

    Couple that with lack of sex ed, and you have Leb teenagers screwing basically everything, and anything, that moves. I don’t know what age group the readers on this blog are, but let me tell you 16-25 yr old Lebs are pretty well educated with regards to sex do’s and don’ts. What the funny part is, since there is no education regarding it, the option of abstinence isn’t one that is taught, but one that has been assumed to happen automatically… if only people knew that is rarely the case.

    But this campaign is great, and those new shows of Lebanese programming (like Ajyal, Madame Carmen, Methli Metlak) all discuss taboo topics and put them out there for people to understand their points of view. We just need the school system to help, media can only go so far.

    • nadimaboualwan

      I have to disagree… If anything, these shows are highlighting sex as the “wrong” thing to do, and discussing the issue of young people having sex as “breaking of taboos.” What we should understand, is that it isn’t the do’s and dont’s that we should focus on, but ALL the options a person has. Whether it is to abstain, which a lot of people in our society still practice, or if it is to healthy sexual life. Again, unfortunately, a healthy sexual lifestyle in our community is restricted to using a condom, which is not the case at all.
      Instead of these shows discussing the issue of having sex, they should be advocating for services and an education, fit to empower young people to make the right decisions in their life.

  13. Anonymous

    Thank you for a very interesting post. Although I’m skeptical about taking part in the discussion, I’ve decided to share a personal experience.

    I am 21 years old, and lost my virginity last year to my boyfriend (at the time). I don’t regret it. After a few months, he brought up the issue of sexual health and insisted that I see a gynecologist, even offered to pay for everything.

    The problem is, my father is a doctor, well-connected, and very well-known among the medical crowd, a close-knit community in Lebanon, which in turn is a very small country. I sometimes visit doctors and they recognize who I am from my family name of face even. My father is also very strict about girls saving themselves for marriage, and I couldn’t imagine what he would do if he found out I didn’t.

    At one point, after thinking things through, my boyfriend did get around to convince me to see someone, however when the day arrived, I went into tears and just couldn’t.

    Now I’m no longer in that relationship, and I do have intercourse. I try to be as careful as possible.

    My concern is that I do not trust that doctors will be discrete about their medical files, and I don’t want family finding out about my sexual activities. Please do understand that my worries are valid and not exaggerated.

    The best solution I could come up with is visit a gynecologist when I’m abroad as I get to do some traveling every once in a while.

    What would you suggest?

    • Ramy

      Hey!

      Well thanks for sharing your story. If you do feel that your file may be revealed to your father, why don’t you see a gynecologist outside of the city you are from? These doctors are found throughout the country, and no way could they all know you even if your father is in the medical field – there is just way too many. So I suggest just go to another town where you have no medical history file stored and just get a checkup ta tamne nassek:)

    • nadimaboualwan

      Hey!

      You bring up another very important point. Besides the fact that we do not have what is called “comprehensive sexuality education” that tackles issues deeper than what the function of the “fallopian tubes” is, what we lack in our society is something called “Youth Friendly Services.” Although some NGOs have started adopting such services, unfortunately, it is only restricted to HIV testing. Keeping in mind, testing is an essential part of youth friendly services, young people do not have access to services such as ones you might have needed at the time.
      My advice to you, is consulting an NGO that works in the sexual and reproductive health field (I would be glad to share some details with you), and see if they can refer you to a specialist that is “youth friendly.”
      You are one case, in a society filled with young people looking for support.🙂

      Lots of Love😀

  14. anateboteo

    Bravo babe! Keep up the good work lady! Make some noise, this stuff is important!

  15. patrick

    hey, are you the blogger in beirut from miami? im from miami too and living in beirut. one of my friends e.b. told me i got to meet you. send me an email or something – – deucecrew@hotmail.com

  16. Samantha

    I’m really curious, does guys in lebanon use condoms? cause I get the feeling that the guys there thinks it’s the girl’s “responsibility”. Please don’t take my question the wrong way, I just want to know.

  17. rami

    Yes Samantha, we do🙂

  18. Heads up, you’re in the October issue of Arab Ad magazine

  19. Pingback: Pre-Martial Sex: An Interview (Part 1) « Seif and his Beiruti Adventures

  20. Lorena

    great post! happy to see someone speaking about it openly in our blogging community🙂 this is a first, very important step towards more sexual awareness in the region!

  21. Great to see so many people engaged on this. Its about time Lebanon got into gear. Women must be empowered to have a) easy accessibility to the right information b) the ability to ACT on that information c) the ability to GET the tests SHE wants when she wants, without feeling embarrassed.

    What we didnt’ mention is the list of STD’s that everyone should demand that their doctor tests for:
    Chlamydia
    Gonorrhea
    Syphilis
    Trichomoniasis
    Bacterial Vaginosis
    Thrush
    Herpes
    Cystitis
    Human Papilloma virus

    And yes I mentioned women because most of these are symptomless in men, and can cause major problems in women if not treated early.

    Great way to get the conversation going Danielle.

  22. nadimaboualwan

    An awesome post! It’s initiatives like these that stir up discussions and raise awareness that help moving the sexual and reproductive health rights movement forward! Hats off😀

  23. Haitham Al-Sheeshany

    Thank you for a good read.

    I guess the the quote by participant #2 says it all. We have “fears” (in lack of a better word) when it comes to approaching such matters. Sex-education is a big no no by itself so one can imagine how talking about STDs would sound like for other people.
    Alongside with changing the orientation toward sex-related topics/issues, in homes as well as schools and various other mechanisms of societal communication, and how we view them we need to work on tearing out the stigma, judgment, stereotyping, etc from all the communal fabric, sex being one of the major aspects of such. The websites/campaigns u referred to would be excellent examples to use and build on.

    I`m not from Lebanon, never visited either but I can say with great certainty that our region “suffers” basically the same situation!

    Thanks again and respect for all the people exerting efforts to overcome such mentalities/practices
    يعطيكم العافية

  24. lebnen

    and jismi.net turned into a chinese website now ! lol

  25. lanee314

    Hello Danielle! I stumbled upon this post, which I know is from a while back, but I would like to share this link: http://gynopedia.org/Beirut. It’s a wiki for sexual, reproductive and women’s health — and, if you click on the link, you can find information on STI testing and resources/support in Beirut. Thanks for writing on this topic!

    • jihad

      hi im jihad.im lebanese.34 years old.good looking.i work in a embassy.im searching for a girlfriend or wife.78855441 this is my number

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