Sex: Oppressed and Obsessed | Daily News

Sex: Oppressed and Obsessed

The top five countries that googled the word sex in 2016
The top five countries that googled the word sex in 2016

Though Sri Lanka might not seem sex-obsessed, data from Google Trends released last December revealed that the island topped the list of countries that searched the word “sex” in 2016. It was the fifth year in a row that Sri Lanka placed first on the list.

South Asia was well represented, as Bangladesh, Nepal, and India placed 3rd, 4th, and 5th, respectively.

Madusha Dissanayake

The data does not reveal the websites Internet users visit after the original Google search, so it is largely unclear if people are looking at pornography or simply trying to access information. It is likely, however, that people are accessing a mixture of porn and info.

The searches peaked in August and December, months where children are on school holidays, which leads most to believe children and teenagers are significantly involved in the issue.

But what is it about developing South Asian countries, and especially Sri Lanka, that makes them prime global googlers of questionable content?

Myriad sexuality and health experts, as well as academics and doctors, worry that the data reveals heretofore hidden truths about Sri Lankan culture and educational systems, not least of which is the pervasiveness of a sexual repression.

Whereas most Western, as well as several East Asian countries have undergone varying degrees of sexual liberation over the years, Sri Lanka, and South Asia in general, is lagging behind in this regard. Social and sexual conservatism is still prevalent, if not ubiquitous, in society.

“Sex is, to a great extent, taboo in Sri Lanka. Parents are not open with their children about the issue, and it is rare for families to speak about sex,” said Dr. N. Kumaranayake, a clinical psychiatrist at the Kiribathgoda Government Base Hospital.

Lack of openness on sexual issues

Dr. Ajith Karawita, consultant in STDs and HIV medicine at the Anuradhapura Teaching Hospital, argued that the expression of sexuality is very much controlled in Sri Lankan society.

“It is very difficult to express one’s sexuality to another person or with another person, so young people are turning to the Internet for both pleasure and information. There is little space for this expression, and society is keeping it that way,” he said.

Because young people are behind many of the Google searches, as experts surmise, it follows that parents might not be doing enough to educate and inform their children about sex and sexuality.

Kumaranayake highlighted a troubling behavioural pattern in Sri Lankan parents that hinders them from fully engaging with their children: authoritarian-type behaviour.

“Authoritarian-type behaviour is such that parents provide their children with material goods and instruct and discipline them. But they are not emotionally close with their children and do not aim to be,” he said.

Madusha Dissanayake, Director Public Affairs, Policy and Advocacy at the Family Planning Association, also critiqued parents for not fully understanding their children’s knowledge base on issues related to sex and sexuality.

“We think children think the way we think and sometimes, know some of what we know,” she said, while adding that this disconnect further inhibits emotional bonding between parents and children.

A lack of emotional connectivity can, according to Kumaranayake, lead to stress and anxiety in children, which they then seek to rid themselves of. Furthermore, because they cannot talk to their parents or elders about sex, kids and teenagers turn to peers and the web for information and, shall we say, demonstrations.

Dissanayake also noted that adolescents face a particularly confusing situation, as they are programmed to repress any sexual urges by both their parents and society.

“The culture we live in leads parents to think it’s not right or decent to think or talk about pleasure. Children and teens get sexual feelings that feel good, but the rest of society says these feelings are bad, so they don’t know what to think or do,” she said.

This confusion is compounded by the brain and personality development that children undergo between the ages of 10 to 18. During these critical years, kids have poor impulse control and decision-making skills, and they often cannot control their emotions or desires, according to Kumaranayake.

The cut-throat and nature of Sri Lankan school life and jam-packed schedules, certainly do not help the situation. Stress is, according to the experts, one of the central factors that leads children to access sexual content on the web.

“15-year-olds spend their lives in school and at tuition classes that leave little time for relaxation and entertainment. There is not a lot of time available to share feelings or hang out with friends, so they are turning to these newer forms of entertainment that are easily accessible,” Kumaranayake said.

Though those consulted for this article expressed slightly varying takes on the roots of this issue, they all agreed that curiosity and want of information are central to any explanation of the matter.

“We see curiosity, frustration and interest among children and adults about the notions of sex and sexuality. And we definitely have an issue where people need to receive correct information that they currently are not getting from their parents or schools,” said Dissanayake.

Trouble with Sex Education

Parents certainly play a role in educating their children on sexual matters, but schools should also shoulder a good portion of the burden. Unfortunately, sex education courses are not currently performing their tasks properly.

At fault for hindering sexual education is a combination of poor teacher training, a lack of access to classes, and the widespread culture of shame surrounding discussions of sex and sexuality.

Dr. N. Kumaranayake

“Even though the classes are designed to provide a lot of information on sexual and reproductive health, few teachers really follow the curricula. I think teachers’ individual perspectives on sex and their attitudes and beliefs hinder the whole implementation of the courses,” she said.Dissanayake pointed out that much of the curricula is not being taught because teachers are embarrassed when or incapable of instructing students on issues relating to sex and sexuality.

“So many sex education teachers are shy and embarrassed when discussing the subject they are supposed to teach. They don’t talk openly about it and often tell children what they believe rather than scientific facts,” said Kumaranayake.

That teachers do not always conduct lessons based on facts, adds to the propagation of sexual myths, which further confuse children and lead to poor sexual health practices, he further noted.

It is no secret, moreover, that many of the teachers are not properly trained, but this, according to Dissanayake, is a secondary issue, since she thinks that teachers would still be too shy to teach the material that they have learned.

“Even if teachers have had some intro or training in sexuality education, I don’t think many would feel confident enough to teach the information in the correct manner. Perhaps they would go over the two reproductive systems, but they would most likely not cover correct sexual health and protection matters or discuss healthy relationship,” she said.

Adding to this problem is that most schools teach an abstinence-centric sexual health and education curriculum that rarely, if ever, covers the details of contraception.

But even the rare school that boasts a competent sexual education programme might not teach many students due to the fact that the classes are no longer compulsory for older students.

Sex education not mandatory in schools

Karawita said that many children take courses that include some sexual education in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. Dissanayake stated that health courses in most schools are not mandatory and that many students receive next to no sex and sexuality education.

“Unfortunately many students go through school without learning about these important matters, and then they are expected to get married and have a fabulous life. That’s not usually how things go,” she said, while advocating for improved instruction in building and maintaining healthy relationships.

As long as there is a culture of shame surrounding sex, young people, who do not receive adequate schooling in sex and sexuality, will continue to look to the web for information and pleasure.

It would be better, the experts said, if students got their information from reliable sources rather than the Internet, which, as we all know, is rife with misinformation. That being said, students can still glean information from the web.

“This phenomenon stems from factors in our society, and only through engaging with society will we be able to properly educate the people on sexual health issues,” said Dissanayake.


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