Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines, Population

ASIA: Youth Turning to Premarital Sex, But in Different Ways

Ranjit Devraj

TAIPEI, Nov 28 2001 (IPS) - Urban lifestyles and liberal attitudes are compelling Asian youth toward premarital sex unmindful of associated risks, according to studies presented here Wednesday by researchers at a conference here on ‘Asian Youth at Risk’.

Parental attitudes, schooling and employment all play key roles in these changes, according to the researchers.

But there are clear differences between men and women in the way they are influenced by access to regular and X-rated movies, as well as other factors such as urban settings, schooling and employment, reported Corazon Raymundo from the Population Institute at the University of Philippines.

“Female risk for premarital sex is increased by watching television and X-rated movies, while protection is afforded by other media exposures like reading newspapers and watching movies regularly,” Raymundo said.

On the other hand, both ordinary movies and strictly-for-adult movies increase the probability of young men engaging in premarital sex, she reported from studies based on Filipino adolescents.

A liberal father who approves risky behaviour can increase the odds for premarital sex for males but produce quite the opposite effect on his daughters, she said.

Women are generally sexually-motivated as an expression of love while men are motivated by pleasure. Likewise, girls are more likely to abstain from sex in view of religious beliefs, were Raymundo’s other findings.

Having some college education or planning to have college education lowers the probability of having non-marital sex substantially among Filipino and Thai women, according to another study.

In contrast, the same factors increase the probability of non- marital first sex among Taiwanese women, according to this study conducted in the three countries by a team from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded Asian Young Adult Reproductive Risk AYARR) project, which also covered Hong Kong, Indonesia and Nepal.

To a large extent, two indicators of early transition to adulthood — leaving parental home at an early age and leaving school at an early age — increase risks from non-marital first sex among women.

Urban exposure generally increased the risk of having non- marital sex for both men and women. But among Thai men it lowered the risk, while it had no effect on Taiwanese men.

In all three countries men’s first sexual experiences were predominantly non-marital.

Among women aged 15 – 24 who have had sex, about 30 percent had non-marital first sex in the Philippines and Thailand but the proportion was 70 percent in Taiwan. Hong Kong showed results similar to Taiwan, but marital unions occurred earlier there.

More than 90 percent of Filipino women and more than 98 percent of Thai women who have had sex by age 24 are married, but only two-thirds of Taiwanese women who have had sex by that age are married.

Expectations that women should be sexually inexperienced at marriage persist in most countries — and responses from both young males and females in Thailand and Philippines confirmed this.

Anchalee Varangrat from Mahidol University in Thailand said although premarital sex is uncommon among Thai youth, there is concern that increasing numbers of youth are experiencing sex too early as the country becomes more ‘modernised’ and as the family institution loses power.

Indonesia and Nepal contrasted with the other countries because of the tendency toward early marriages. Early marriages before 18 among women is common feature in rural Indonesia and among both urban and rural women in Nepal.

The majority of Indonesian and Nepalese youth who married early think they married too early, and substantial proportions of them said they did so according to the wishes of their parents.

Shyam Thapa, who heads the well-known NGO Family Health International (FHI) in Nepal, said women with primary-level education are now marrying at a much lower pace than women with no education. But the two groups seem to have similar pace when it came to motherhood.

According to Thapa, who led the AYARR study in Nepal along with Vinod Mishra, mass media has had a positive effect in informing youth about various risky activities and social and health issues.

On the other hand half of all urban youth in conservative Nepal learned about puberty and related physical changes on their own. This was true more of women than men.

“The data suggest that urban youth are generally receptive to receiving information on sexuality and reproductive health through mass media, which therefore has great potential in reproductive health campaigns and intervention programmes,” Thapa said.

Minhaz ul Haque, programme officer with the Population Council in Pakistan, said television programmes needed to be intelligently designed and could easily send out messages with a negative impact.

Haque cited a television play aired by government television that showed a woman solving problems that cropped up in a love relationship that developed in college. “It showed the woman as stronger, but viewers in Pakistan disapprove of love affairs developing in colleges,” he said.

One Asian country that reported zero risk from premarital sex was Jordan, where a study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University in the United States showed little opportunity for this because the social costs of ‘deviance’ are very high in the Islamic country.

“Premarital pregnancies are extremely rare and the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) less than 0.2 percent,” said Juan Schoemaker, who presented the study.

Schoemaker said there were serious challenges to reproductive health interventions for youth in Jordan because of a conservative environment in which anything related to sexuality was taboo.

“It is difficult to assess the current situation regarding sexual behaviour and there are no monitoring instruments in a country that is in the middle of the Middle East,” he said.

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