By Janina Santos, Sex and Sensibilities.com Youth Correspondent
The problem is, whenever somebody says the word “vagina”, Filipinos tend to faint, if not simply drop dead.
Picture this: a kid running around with an inflated condom, a teenage girl knowing perfectly well how the birth control pill works. Their parents would probably have a heart attack. Sex is taboo in the Philippines. People do not like talking about it, and when they do, they speak of it in hushed voices, behind a cupped hand.
In contrast, when Thailand’s former senator and 1994 Ramon Magsaysay awardee Mechai Viravaidya says “vagina”, he opens his mouth and enunciates every single syllable. When Kun Mechai talks about sex, it is in a funny, in-your-face way that would make you take him seriously and think yourself stupid for branding something as biologically natural as fornication taboo. He is the kind of guy who would happily give out inflated condoms to pre-schoolers and to sex workers, coupled with his no-nonsense words of wisdom: “don’t leave home without it”. He advocated for the education of ordinary citizens like floating market vendors and taxi drivers on the know-hows of contraception. He even got Buddhist monks in the game by asking them to bless family planning devices before giving them out (imagine that happening here; the CBCP will probably curse us all with fire and brimstone). In fact, it is this attitude toward the idea sex and contraception that earned Kun Mechai the title “Condom King”.
Kun Mechai almost single-handedly curbed the population growth by actively promoting, educating, and empowering men and women to have control over their bodies and their futures. He saw to it that contraception devices were available even in Thailand’s version of the sari-sari store. He organized vasectomy festivals and motivated the men to be more involved in family planning. Thailand’s population explosion was halted in its tracks, and from 41 million in the 1970s, Thailand’s population rose to only about 61.5 million in the 2000’s. To fight AIDS and the discrimination of persons iving with HIV (PLHIV), he personally handed out rubbers in the Thai’s red light districts with his companions wearing condom-embellished miniskirts and baseball caps. These efforts were complemented with programs for PLHIVs to attain economic stability. There were an estimated 7 million Thais saved from HIV because of these out of the box ideas.
During the Condom King’s recent talk at Mulat Pinoy’s “Beyond Condoms: Nation Building and the Youth” at the University of the Philippine’s College of Engineering Auditorium, he gave out a memory stick with an unmistakable resemblance to a penis to a girl who openly claimed that she was mortified by condoms. Talk about a hands-on approach to the problem of embarrassment.
Handing out what is fondly called the “dick stick” is just one of the many humorous– serious ways of how Kun Mechai makes his point. It is obviously effective in Thailand. But just how relevant are his methods in a sex phobic society such as the Philippines?
Some say it won’t be possible by a long shot, because many people here, particularly those who belong to the institutions hell-bent on keeping mum about sex and sexual health, go into convulsions if we even suggest talking to high school kids about safe sex.
Foaming at the mouth, twitching violently, the works. But as Mr. Condom says, these people only rent the country, we own it. He himself had to go up against the conservative thinking of Thai society to push through with his ideas. If Thailand can do it, why not the Philippines?
It starts with the young, Kun Mechai said. Make the youth realize that sex is not something bad, but is an innate interest of every human being. This kills the stigma attached to sex, and opens the kids’ minds to it.
The kids would be easy, but what about the adults, though?
I have a proposition: Why don’t we all start by opening our mouths and saying this word slowly, relishing each syllable, really wrapping and rolling it in our tongues.
C’mon, say it with me: va—gai–nah.