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!