[Dash of SAS] Sexual Health: Why should you care?

Ana P. Santos
Sexual health refers to how you would take care of any other part of your body. Until we think of it this way, we leave out the young girls who are vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies.

“But why do we need an RH (Reproductive Health) Bill? Isn’t that just for poor women?”

The question was posed to me by a student from an all-girls school where I was invited to give a talk. Her question was not marked by sarcasm or disrespect, but with sincere inquisitiveness.

“We can always go to the drugstore to purchase condoms and pills. Why do we still need an RH Bill?” was her follow up question.

Her line of questioning pretty much sums up one of the biggest misconceptions about the RH Bill – that it is only for poverty-stricken women who would rather spend the little cash they have on food than condoms.

I asked the young girl in front of me, who could not be more than 20 years old, “Do you have at least one friend who is pregnant or got pregnant without meaning to?”

It was a dangerous question, one that could have worked against me, but I knew the numbers were on my side. With 4 babies born every minute in the Philippines or one in every 15 seconds, statistically, it was highly probable for her to know or be related to someone who had had an unintended pregnancy.

“Yes,” she answered.

“Isn’t that an RH concern?” I gently asked.

Then I went on to extrapolate that her friend is probably a lot like her – educated, well-informed and smart, but still got pregnant without intending to, and from this line of thinking, she was able to arrive at her own conclusion, “And she isn’t poor….”

She then told me that she and her friends all knew about condoms and pills, but weren’t sure how to use them and were too shy to ask anyone about them. And if asking was already difficult, buying was even more embarrassing.

Alienating

It’s easy to understand why this young college student thought and felt this way.

The face of RH has become a familiar one by now. It is usually a woman carrying a child in her arms, while one or two cling to her skirt. She and her children call the slums home. She cannot afford to buy condoms or pills because it would mean giving up a meal or two.

It is an image that a young, relatively affluent college student like the one standing in front of me would not be able to relate to. It is an image that reinforces a false notion and tells her, “Now, this won’t happen to you. You’re not like that.”

But it does happen. Studies show that teen pregnancies in the Philippines are on the rise and have increased as much as 70% over the last 10 years.

And speaking as a 5-time grandmother to nieces and nephews who began having children at an early age (the earliest at age 14), I saw firsthand how a mistimed pregnancy impacts the life of a young person.

The face of sexual reproductive health is children having children, women who die due to pregnancy-related complications, couples (married or otherwise) who have one pregnancy too many, and those who are living with HIV.

Sexual RH concerns are all around us and yet, the discussion on matters of sexual health, (with the term itself shrouded by “reproductive health” and used interchangeably with “family planning”) is either political or religious, and thus, tends to alienate many. In short, it alienates, rather than engages people in positive discussions.

Sexual health is not two words

Sexual health is thought to be either titillating and prurient like the half-naked bodies plastered on highway billboards or clinical like the brochures that show genitals eaten up by sexually-transmitted infections.

It’s as if sexual health is to be regarded as two words, which are mutually exclusive: sexual or health.

But sexual health is not two words. When put together, sexual health is one word referring to how you would take care of any other part of your body.

And until we are able to think of sexual health in this light, we leave out the young girls who are vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies.

We leave out the men who would like to be part of, and take equal responsibility for, the bodies, and life decisions of their partners.

And we leave out every person’s equal right to choice. – Rappler.com

Join us for “Sexual Health: Why Should You Care,” a free public forum which will discuss why sexual health is relevant to everyone, regardless of age, sex, gender. The forum will be sponsored by Young Public Servants (YPS), Sex and Sensibilities.com and Mulat Pinoy. It will be held on July 7, 2012, at 1:30-6:00 pm at the Filipinas Heritage Library along Makati Avenue, Makati. For media inquiries, please call Sex and Sensibilities.com 0917.820.7277

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