In Malaysia, talking about safe sex online sparks criticism as cultural taboos persist

Social media has become the go-to platform for many young Malaysians to learn about sex. — Picture from AFP and Pixabay
Social media has become the go-to platform for many young Malaysians to learn about sex. — Picture from AFP and Pixabay

PETALING JAYA, March 9 — It’s not easy talking about sex in Malaysia.

Health research officer Nuraini Rudi would know that. 

She regularly shares information about safe abortion on her Twitter page and receives backlash for doing so. 

Bound by conservative values and cultural taboos, sex education remains a sensitive topic in Malaysia and many people are kept in the dark about matters like contraception, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and consent.

Nuraini became a staunch advocate for reproductive rights after attending a sex education workshop that asked participants what they would do if they were faced with an unwanted pregnancy.

Nuraini found herself unable to answer and began empathising with women who lack access to safe abortions.

Since then, she’s worked tirelessly in the reproductive health sector to spread awareness about contraception and safe sex.

Sadly, this revelation was not well-received by all of her peers.

“Of course, I experienced backlash from my circle of friends, religious teachers, and family.

“Most of them said I should try other careers that are ‘safe’ and can still help people, but I saw this experience as motivation for me to move forward,” Nuraini told Malay Mail.

 

 

She admitted that many people are often shocked that a Malay Muslim woman with a headscarf would have the guts to openly speak about sex, let alone a topic as controversial and polarising as abortion.

Slowly but surely, she’s managed to open up the minds of those around her to be more receptive of sex education and many have also reached out to her for advice on reproductive health.

“I’m a Malay girl with tudung who has been fighting for reproductive health for six years.

“There’s a need for me to be in this field, a field that makes people feel uncomfortable, sensitive, and is often seen as a ‘grey area’.”

Meanwhile, Ilmu Seks, a Twitter account is dedicated to providing comprehensive sex education in Malay.

The page constantly faces criticism from social media users who insist that abstinence is the only permissible form of contraception and accuse Ilmu Seks moderators of “promoting sin”.

An admin known as Shayne emphasised the need for Malaysians to stop viewing sex education as a way of encouraging sexual activity but rather as a preventive measure against STDs and unwanted pregnancies. 

“Make mistakes, learn from them, learn to accept reality or at least agree to disagree. 

“When we have more open dialogues on sex, we enable more voices to express their concerns and people can exchange ideas and help each other out,” he told Malay Mail.

Ilmu Seks discusses a range of conventionally taboo topics with their 15,000 plus followers. — Screengrab from Twitter/Ilmu_Seks
Ilmu Seks discusses a range of conventionally taboo topics with their 15,000 plus followers. — Screengrab from Twitter/Ilmu_Seks

Modern-day sex educators

Malaysian youths are turning to social media in the search for answers about sexual health as many parents and teachers continue to shy away from the topic.

Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia (FRHAM) executive director Syirin Junisya Mohd Ali said a study conducted by FRHAM found that teachers, particularly male teachers, expressed a fear of being labelled as “sex teachers” and possible repercussions from parents.

She also cited a 2012 study that found that only five per cent of Malaysian respondents aged between 20 and 23 stated that their teachers taught sex education clearly in schools.

“In this context, and coupled with the data that young people are in need of knowledge, it is social media that they turn to, specifically social media influencers who have a wide reach and followers. 

“They can seek information privately and ask questions without being judged and discriminated against,” said Syirin.

A study by FRHAM found that teachers have fears about teaching sex education due and how it will impact their reputation with conservative parents. — Pixabay pic
A study by FRHAM found that teachers have fears about teaching sex education due and how it will impact their reputation with conservative parents. — Pixabay pic

Ilmu Seks admin Shayne also shared how being mistreated by a prejudiced doctor at a government hospital only further fuelled his drive to debunk myths and misconceptions surrounding sex.

“The doctor did a physical examination on my private parts in front of many nurses and asked me to go to a private clinic to do a HIV test, all based on assumptions she made without properly taking an accurate history of my health. 

“That traumatised me and I felt discouraged to visit any more doctors after that.

“I only managed to find proper treatment after a month of pain and suffering from the symptoms,” he said.

His co-admin Erin added that traditional gender roles and patriarchal values need to be separated from sex education.

Women, in particular, experience difficulties seeking help for matters related to sexual health due to a pressure to comply with patriarchal standards of purity and abstinence, she said.

Questions about safe abortions and avoiding unplanned pregnancies are some of the most common ones directed at Ilmu Seks, along with queries about sexual myths (such as getting pregnant from oral sex), penis enlargement, and premature ejaculation.

 

 

However, Syirin cautioned people to be vigilant and fact-check information to be safe in case social media influencers inadvertently convey misinformation to their followers.

She added that it was especially important for young people to receive comprehensive sex education in school and from their parents to go alongside any knowledge that they obtain online.

This is needed if the country wants to see an end to baby dumping and teen pregnancies.

“The most critical thing for change is the political will to acknowledge young people need information about contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

“Though it may not sit well with the adults, they need the information to allow them to protect themselves better and make better decisions for themselves.”

Then-Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh had said the ministry was collaborating with non-governmental organisations to produce videos on sexual awareness for children and teenagers.

Malaysian AIDS Council president Bakhtiar Talhah also said in December last year that sex education was needed now more than ever to prevent the spread of STDs like HIV.

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