Grown-up sex

Teenagers are being freed of their misconceptions about sexuality. Anjana Suvarnananda wants adults to get the message too

Published on January 9, 2008

Grown-up sex

Anjana Suvarnananda

Sex is still a taboo subject among most Thais, says Anjana Suvarnananda, but that doesn't mean they don't want to talk about it. Talk about it they did at a just-completed Conference on Sexuality Studies in Bangkok, which Anjana coordinated.

Subtitled "Critiques of Knowledge and Practices in Sexuality Studies in Thai Society", the two-day gathering was backed by the Southeast Asian Consortium on Gender, the Women's Health Advocacy Foundation and Mahidol and Thammasat universities.

"Thais don't get a lot of sexual pleasure, and it's unequal between the genders," Anjana says. By "sexual pleasure", she also means an understanding of safe sex and gender issues.

The co-founder of the Anjaree Group - the country's only lesbian activist organisation - says sexuality has always been a taboo subject in Thailand. The conference went some distance to try and change that.

Anjana and her colleagues made plans for 150 participants to meet in a Thammasat University auditorium. Twice that many people showed interest, though, so the event was shifted to the Rattanakosin Hotel. There were 30 speakers.

More than 90 discussion papers were submitted, of which 24 were chosen for presentation, on topics ranging from phone sex to the titillation of the Camfrog website.

Outdated perceptions have kept sexuality in a twilight zone, says Anjana, even academics finding the subject uncomfortable.

One result has been the widespread acceptance of men freely exploring sex and women being submissive. Another is that men enjoy sex, while women tend to feel squeamish about it.

"Sexuality in Thailand has a lot to do with social constructs rather than science or knowledge," Anjana complains, and the double standards are a barrier to educating people. That leads to unsafe sex and disease, as well as ill-advised surgical procedures, as in the case of men who've decided they need a larger penis.

Many Thais, Anjana points out, still believe that masturbation destroys the mind, and that women must be passive in bed.

Perhaps most importantly, says Anjana, "People don't view sex as a form of communication between two human beings."

Projects like Path strive to educate teenagers and correct misperceptions, she says, and the conference was designed to do the same for adults - especially the rule makers in society.

"Young people won't be able to learn about this if the adult rule-makers don't agree," she says.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai

 The Nation