Colombo, Gender, Human Rights, Identity

These Sri Lankan whores! Serve them right!

Name and shame the whores that act in pornographic films online. Their seedy grainy stuck-between-teeth pictures plastered across newspapers will be the deterrent for other whores who have the same idea.

Designate parks for young people to canoodle in (but ensure someone watches over the canoodlers for we don’t want them to canoodle with naked noodles, for that would be a travesty of our cultural norms and mores).

Our children are getting abused. Our teenagers are getting pregnant. But we don’t need sex education. This is a Western concept. “If we promote our culture and practice the morals norms and values there is no need for sex education.”

These news stories among others, including sex education in international schools, these last few weeks have been interesting for us who work in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights. If we do not pursue the discussion though, discussions around sex in the media could lend to superficial reactions that no doubt were among the reactions to the stories outlined above.

“What is our country coming to?”  “What has happened to our country?”

These same comfortable questions that we have asked forever, now applied to the latest sordidness however is not to further the discussion beyond forgetting about these issues until they reappear in the next report. We may love to talk about sex in Sri Lanka, but we do it mostly behind smudgy window panes, inside dark almirahs and under desolate bridges. When we discuss it in public we approach it less candidly, and necessarily gravitate towards the negative. We don’t seem to be able to have discussions on how sex can be natural, healthy, or that people actually do have sex for pleasure (no, it’s not a myth). No, if we talk about sex from the perspective of it being natural, healthy and pleasurable (god forbid!) it will lead to pre-marital, extra-marital, post-marital, just plain un-marital and therefore immoral sex. This is also the apparent concern with sex education, i.e. sex education which includes discussions around safe sex, are implicit, if not explicit exhortations to go forth and fornicate.

“What is our country coming to?”  “What has happened to our country?”

There are probably a few additional mutterings that express a harsher sentiment: “These whores! Serve them right!” I have heard this from relatively young (mid 30s) men who went to school with me when discussing the oppressive name and shame strategy for aspiring porn stars. Others have wondered at how all their nocturnal trawling on the internet hadn’t turned up these celebrated and now much maligned clips. (Censorship perhaps, despite using proxy servers.)

Celebrated… who celebrates clips of Sri Lankan girls and women performing oral sex and copulating like porn stars at the behest of their lover cum director?

  1. The lover cum director.
  2. The lover cum director’s friends.
  3. Those who enjoy porn productions where girls are either forced/cajoled by their lover cum director to act, or better still tricked into displaying herself and performing in ways she thinks will please her lover (unaware he is also a cum director).
  4. Sri Lankan (and Sri Lankan born) internet porn trawlers who enjoy watching their girls next door and boys down the street perform.
  5. Foreign internet porn trawlers who enjoy watching dark skinned girls and boys perform.

This is not to suggest that some of those who performed in these productions were not compensated for their time and skills. In fact the Vikalpa article on the implications of the name and shame strategy speaks of sex worker rights. And they are right. Sex workers must have rights. Since 2006 I have been associated with the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) and their logo and motto is self explanatory.

I think we would all agree though that rights for sex workers in Sri Lanka are perhaps not very high on the list of priorities. They are a marginalized conveniently forgotten group although they do provide an invaluable service; the opportunity for men or women to release their sexual frustration. It is not clear however that the women and girls that have been filmed having sex are sex workers. And perhaps the rights we need to advocate for now are not the rights of a sex worker, but the right to not have your face plastered across newspapers of this country and be called a whore/man-whore.

And we are quick as a culture to reach the judicious conclusion of whore. The BBC article that speaks of parks for young lovers by the parliament begins with an account of the arrests earlier this year in Matara and Kurunegala of young people who were holding hands, cuddling, and perhaps even kissing – all under the gamut of canoodling – in public spaces. These poor girls and boys, some of them still in school were generally labeled as whores. No mark was burned into their skin but the overzealous police (BBC language) left them in no doubt that their actions had violated our mores and were an insult to our culture. How would you feel if you were picked up by the police for canoodling with your partner in public and being morally condemned?  Would you feel like a whore?

What a wonderfully awful word. How evocative. How many girls and women that are compelled to partake in the near 1000 illegal abortions a day in Sri Lanka are made to feel like whores? How many young girls that have become mothers without a key to the wedlock have been called whores? None? Some? Who dares stand in judgment? Family, family friends, the doctor that performs the procedure, friends, teachers, teachers’ friends, lover’s parents, lover’s parent’s friends, lover… what do we think of these transgressors of our culture?

“These whores! Serve them right!”

Also let’s be honest in what we do think and not be patronizing or piteous. No sad shakes of the head are necessary. If we do think “These whores! Serve them right!” then let’s say just that! The reluctance to say what we feel, often lends to confusion and stagnation, for no one knows how best to proceed towards a solution (if indeed a solution is warranted) for no one knows what the other really thinks.

Do you think we are ready for comprehensive sex education in schools? Are we ready to do everything that is required to achieve this? This includes ensuring that the teachers in schools are trained, given skills, and made ready for this onerous task. But if we think we don’t need sex education in schools, let’s just say that! Let’s stop pretending that it is a good idea. Stop developing mediocre curriculums under the sword of offending sensibilities that remain on shelves anyway and are hardly taught! If they are taught, teachers either leave out even more information and assure the kids that it would not be an exam question (immediate relief to our rote learning conditioning), or end up using another more comprehensive curriculum to supplement it. If we just say “No” other solutions to rising teenage pregnancies and near 1000 illegal abortions a day can be explored without us floundering in the quick sand of comprehensive sex education in schools.

But let’s agree that something needs to be done. The Daily Mirror article suggests that either the secretary to the Minister of Education, or a source from the Family Health Bureau (incorrect syntax in an otherwise cogent article leaves room for the confusion) believes that “sex education is not the answer to problems in our degrading society.” Fine, so what is the answer to these problems in our recognized state of degradation? Moral teachings? To follow on with that suggestion, can we speak of morals without speaking of what is other than moral? Is uninformed morality truly moral? How do young people choose to protect themselves if they do not know what they are protecting themselves from?

What about comprehensive sex education for young people outside of school? What about the National Youth Service Counsel taking the lead in organizing sex education for young people of an appropriate age, in addition to campaigning for parks? These have the potential to be frank and open sessions that deliver accurate and comprehensive information. Information that can prevent unwanted pregnancy and subsequent illegal abortions, which going by the statistics in the Daily Mirror, need to be addressed!

Call young people who experiment or have sex before marriage whores if you like, but serve them right. Ensure that youth friendly services are just that, youth friendly services where they can have access to accurate and comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health and rights. For example this means factual explanations of HIV transmission and prevention, rather than moral. These youth friendly services cannot degenerate into club rooms to play carom, or gardens for badminton. Those are called recreational centres.

These whores! Serve them right!

And while we are geared for discussions around how morals and values alone will lift us from our recognized state of degradation, let us always remember that morals and values that are pragmatic will endure. In fact, the passing of the Casino Business Regulation Bill may have need for the application of pragmatic morals and values. And where Casinos go, sex workers usually follow. The discussions around sex worker rights may not be too far away.

These whores! Serve them right!

  • longus

    My impression is that Sri Lankans are not born out of sexual reproduction, but rather as a result of parthenogenesis!

    The subject of sex makes even the ‘seasoned’ old women blush and ‘dirty old b..s’ feel ‘uneasy’, in spite of being one of the most depraved nations in the world!

    A good indication of becoming a progressive nation and ‘the miracle of Asia’!

  • Lal

    Those “whores” could be our daughters, mothers, sisters and/or even our wives. They are human beings! Have some respect for humanity. If you like sex enjoy it. If you don’t just ignore it. No one has the right to tell how to live one’s life. It is the national shame that a learnered (doubtful??) judge odered to publish identities of those alleged to have engaged in sexual activities. Sack the judge. No one has the right (leagal or otherwise) to defame another human being. Shame! Shame! Shame!!

  • sampath

    At least the newspaper editors took a conscious decision to refrain from publishing the pictures. The only paper which published them was the Lakbima (Sinhala) paper – which ironically is run by gambling mogul MP Thilanga Sumapthipala. Kudos to the editors for standing up against the cops and courts !

  • Bimbisara

    Hmm, Ancient ceylonese kings and henchmen practised polygamy. (anthahpura).Even ordinary Sinhalese brothers shared single wife under Binna system. Sigiri girls were too semi naked. Thanks to western colonies we have mongamous society. Society changes and cultural mixture inevitable with modern technology and ease of communication. Govt should have decent legislative mechanism to prevent youngsters exposing to these,but not retrospective charges what is happening now. It is pity that rich and influential people can enjoy everything in life but ordinary people have to obey the law.

  • Hans Billimoria

    You say, “What is our country coming to?” “What has happened to our country?”

    The 4 War Lord Millionaire Brothers and their family of 300+ have taken over the HOLE country…LOCK…STOCK…& BARREL!

  • Janaka Gunarathne

    It is a shame that we have picked up the Victorian chastity as a Buddhist norm and venerating it superficially , while monks and priests rapes children in worshipping places. Fathers rape daughters. Still we cannot openly discuss sex. How pathetic and narrow minded are we?
    Sex is a human right as long as they do it without hurting and consented.

    What is wrong with that? where are our doctors who should provide scientific opinions? America used to be like this sometime back until doctor Kinsy brought up the topic.
    Look at thailand, It is a buddhist country yet very sexually acctive? Porn is good, sex is good. Leve people who enjoy them alone. Only thing this is going to bring out is bunch of suicides, Bad publicity to country. We are getting worse than a Muslim country.

  • Tom Dick and Harry

    I think the message should be ” practice safe sex ” and if possible have condoms available freely for use by all and sundry . This will result in not having unnecessary pregnancies as well as people not catching deseases such as Aids and other VD’s , because no amount of preaching or draconian laws are going to stop people from indulging in sex . It is a natural act . simple as that . so let’s be pragmatic and move forward . By the way Didn’t a religious leader , some 2000 years ago say, ” Who ever person who hasn’t sinned can cast the first stone’ when an angry mob brought before him a whore (sorry to use this term, but in context only) to be stoned to death ?

  • Avanka

    yar no! who needs whores when Sri Lankans have children( and child monks ( to be happy with. yes, down with women whores as they may actually enjoy it and thats very wrong, no

  • Sohan Fernando

    Tom Dick and Harry said:
    “Didn’t a religious leader , some 2000 years ago say, ” Who ever person who hasn’t sinned can cast the first stone'”

    But I think you may have missed out part of the whole context. I.e., Jesus ALSO told that woman to “go and sin no more“; those words make it clear that Jesus DID consider the woman’s actions to have been sinful; the reason He forgave her was because she had turned away from her sinful ways (for whatever reason).

    So let’s not make the mistake (and hopefully that’s not what T D and H meant) of “conveniently” taking Jesus’s words to be an “OK” to the sin.

    I agree with T D and H that Jesus WAS reprimanding other people for taking a “holier than thou” attitude against the sinner. So I agree: calling her a wh*re and treating her as scum, is not what they — or today we — are called to do. But if one is accepting the authority of His Bible’s teachings to support THIS point, then I think it’s fair enough that one should also accept its overall teachings about sexual morality. Such teachings are, among other things, firmly against extra marital sex and firmly places sex as part and parcel of — and only of — a married man and woman. And since porn aims at causing titillation by what OTHER people are “doing”, porn is most certainly contrary to Biblical morality.

    (And yes I’m aware that my phrasing in the sentence before the last, opens up yet another can of worms, off topic! Nevertheless, like it or not, that’s the Biblical teaching on that matter.)

  • Good article. Sexuality Education, Porn websites, Love parks and Virginity became the most popular topic among news papers, magazines and many blogs in Sri Lanka during the last and this week. Almost all the Sinhala and English news papers have covered at least a single article pro or against sexuality education during that time. But unfortunately many of them talked about only morals and values instead of real figures and data about what we are facing today.

    Many of us personally shared those articles among our networks and posted and created discussions in Facebook. Actually some people see this discussion as an isolated issue while some people reviewed political agenda behind the whole case. Other than individual comments made by few Civil society activists none of the Civil organizations made a statement or talked to press regarding above issue.

    End of the day many of our organizations (working on Sexual and Reproductive health) have to be politically correct (for authorities). So we have to be silent in front of the politically incorrect (for people) agendas.

  • The Mervyn Silva

    Oh my God in the heaven what is happening to the country?!!!

    What do yu think the Santa Caluse is going to say when he is coming to the Sri Lanka side this year? Whore! Whore!! Whore!!!???