Lebanon News

Sexual health remains taboo in Lebanese schools, clinics

BEIRUT: World Sexual Health day was marked in Beirut Sunday evening with a temporary exhibition of artworks and literature surrounding the theme. Held at the Alt City creative workshop space in Hamra, young Lebanese artists and writers were invited to submit works that dealt with the issues of sexual health and sexuality.

Rola Yasmine, a reproductive and sexual health researcher at the American University of Beirut, organized the event, entitled, Good Sex / Bad Sex / No Sex / Your Sex.

The only Middle East member of the World Association for Sexual Health youth initiative committee, Yasmine created the event in order to highlight the need for an increased awareness of the issue.

Sex education in Lebanon can be quite limited, Yasmine said, and so it was necessary to discuss this vital health in a new way.

“In some private schools there are discussions of reproductive health, but it’s very twisted. They might give you a list of sexually transmitted infections, and tell you that you’ll get your period once a month but that’s about it,” Yasmine said. “They don’t discuss the need to use condoms, and there’s nothing about relationships or feelings.”

Dealing with the issue in a less technical way is important in developing a more open environment for discussion, she added.

“In my work I conduct workshops and deal with a lot of technical information, so I felt that for a change I wanted to talk about how people feel in a more subjective way … Sexuality is so personal and so art is a good way to express that,” Yasmine said.

As well as photographs, drawings and short stories, Bekhsoos, the “queer Arab magazine,” submitted work, and “Bareed Mista3jil,” a collection of stories dealing with homosexuality in Lebanon, was on sale.

Marsa, a sexual health clinic in the Clemenceau area of Beirut, had a stall at the event, and offered free condoms to attendants. The clinic offers confidential advice, regardless of background or sexual orientation, and provides counseling and free or low-cost sexual heath tests and treatment.

Diana Abou Abbas, the management coordinator at Marsa, said this sort of event was vital for teaching young people the importance of safe sex.

“In this society people don’t really discuss sex openly so we need to teach people that it can be safe,” she said.

There is also a discrepancy between young men and women in terms of sex education, Abbas said. “If you are a young woman and you go to the gynecologist you are often stigmatized and judged. At Marsa we are trying to work toward minimizing this sort of stigma.”

Raya Haddad, a Lebanese artist, submitted two photographs to the exhibit, depicting a group of people standing naked in a room, facing away from the camera. Her work deals with gender roles and the differences between individuals.

Sexuality, she said, is “an issue that needs to be spoken about more in Lebanon, there’s very little discussion of it. People need to stop shying away from it,” she said.

Haddad also thinks there is dichotomy between how men and women are viewed in terms of their sexual experiences. “There’s much more of an expectation of how women should act … The differences between people should be embraced.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 06, 2011, on page 3.

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