The coronavirus pandemic is redefining how we traditionally understand safe sex as a method of prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, making digital safety an equally important component as more of us are going online to seek pleasure, Indonesian sexual and reproductive health and rights champion Bryant Roosevelt said during a webinar on Saturday titled, “COVID-19 and us: a Southeast Asian conversation on sex and pleasure”.
Marking World Contraception Day, global eHealth platform Find My Method and Indonesian feminist association Jakarta Feminist organised this webinar to discuss the challenges around sexual and reproductive health during the current pandemic.
Activists from the region—Roosevelt from Indonesia, Niq Maravillas from the Philippines, Catherine Harry from Cambodia, and Yadanar from Myanmar—took part in this discussion, which was moderated by Anindya Restuviani, the head of Jakarta Feminist and Hollaback Jakarta.
Safe (digital) sex
Elaborating on Roosevelt’s point about digital safety, Yadanar—who is a program analyst at UNFPA-Myanmar—stressed the importance of knowing each other’s rights and the concept of consent during a digital sexual encounter.
“We need to be careful about who we are chatting with. We should use secure platforms. And if it is a casual interaction, we should not make our identifiable body parts visible,” she advised. If someone betrays your trust, she added, remember it is not your fault but rather the perpetrator’s fault.
Access to contraceptives
Extending the discussion of safe sex to access and use of contraceptives, Harry—a feminist vlogger—shared that in Cambodia, the policy allows free access to safe sex methods to women of all ages; however, the stigma around premarital sex makes it difficult for some women to access contraceptives.
“One of the challenges we face in Cambodia is misconception and cultural barriers. Especially for unmarried women who face judgement when buying these methods. The society frowns upon premarital sex and this limits access to contraceptives,” she explained.
Yadanar shared that this is similar to the situation in Myanmar. Coronavirus, she added, has compounded this because of the disruption in the supply of contraceptives and people’s inability to go out.
Law vs. reality
In Indonesia, Roosevelt shared, the policy on contraceptives is contradictory.
“The first part of the law says everyone has the right to choose the contraceptive they want. But in the following part, it says this right is only for the legally married people. It focuses on providing contraceptives to married couples. This leaves so many groups out like young, unmarried and queer people. In theory, everyone can access contraceptives. But the ambiguity in law and judgemental attitude of certain providers make this challenging,” he stated.
Speaking about the Philippines, Maravillas said the national law calls for provision of free contraceptives to marginalised groups and adolescents. Maravillas, who works with Forum for Family Planning and Development, shared this law was passed in 2012 after 10 years of struggle.
But, she said, gaps remain due to sex being a taboo topic in the country. “This is a challenge. But luckily many non-governmental as well as governmental organisations are pushing for comprehensive sex education. And we now have new youth-focused health services. This will improve the situation,” she hoped.
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