Sex, drugs and the young Pinoy

By Danton Remoto
Remote Control
Views and Analysis section

Are Filipino teenagers having more sex than their elders? Are they safe when they do it? Are they getting married earlier? What gives them their high? These questions and more are answered by the book Youth in Transition: The Challenges of Generational Change in Asia, edited by Fay Gale and Stephanie Fahey.The Philippine essay is done by Joseph H. Puyat of the Department of Psychology, University of the Philippines. Happily, Professor Puyat reports that more and more Filipinos are delaying their marriages. That would be good for maternal health and lesser children mortality rate for the country.

“As of the year 2000, around 73 percent of males between the ages of 20 and 24 are still single. For females, the proportion is about 57 percent. Ten years ago, the proportion of men who have never been married is 63.3 percent, whereas for women it is 45.5 percent. The figures are significantly smaller for women, which indicates that the women in our country tend to marry much earlier than men. Twenty-one appears to be the average marrying age (Ericta, 2003).”

If, to paraphrase the golfer Tiger Woods, you’re coming from another angle, then the study done by the UP Population Institute seems to bode bad news. A series of nationwide surveys called the “Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS)” shows that today’s young people “are becoming more and more liberal with regards to their sexual attitudes and behavior.”

Blame it on media, the Internet, pop stars, Hollywood films or that old, reliable “peer pressure,” but it seems more and more young Pinoys are open to issues, if not the practices, of sex and sexuality. The most recent YAFS study in 2003 indicates that “18.3 percent of the youth agree to live-in arrangements, while about 15 percent find pregnancy without marriage acceptable. Some 11 percent reported currently having live-in partners and about 23.5 percent admitted having had premarital sex.”

An earlier YAFS study (1996) showed that those who engage in premarital sex are boyfriends-girlfriends who did it — no, not in motels, for these are out of the range of young people’s budgets. They do it right in their homes, when the parents are out and the housemaids are, right on cue, out of the house, perhaps in the malls watching a film with their own dates. So it’s now rarely done in cars, in cinema houses (yuck) and in motels, as it seems to have been during our time (according to my male classmates, right).

And who had sex with whom? The 2003 YAFS study shows that “of those who engaged in premarital sex, 11 percent said they did it with same-sex partners and 3.3 percent claimed they did it on their first, single date.” The 11 percent for same-sex partners jibes perfectly with the 10 percent that the Kinsey Report claims is the percentage of Americans who have had same-sex encounters. The 10 percent is also pegged as a figure that cuts across countries and cultures, which means that, generally, 10 percent of any population is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

When asked how the sexual encounters occurred, “many said they either wanted it to happen (40.5 percent), or that it just happened and that it was not their plan for it to happen (31.6 percent).” And as with the earlier YAFS study, most of the young people in the 2003 study claimed having sex with their boyfriends or girlfriends (70 percent). And why on earth did they do it? For that old, reliable reason: love. And that thing that killed the cat: curiosity. And the final thing that dear, old Sigmund Freud said is as urgent as hunger and thirst: lust.

The next finding should shock the bejesus out of our high-school counselors, nuns, priests and parents. It should also raise the red flag about a possible rise in sexually-transmitted diseases. Listen: “Many of those who engage in premarital sex do so while in high school. Asking around about contraception and actually buying contraceptive devices such as condoms will undoubtedly arouse parents’ or other adults’ curiosity and suspicion. Because of this, the majority of those who engaged in premarital sex do so without any form of protection. For the small percentage who claimed to have used some form of protection, they cited withdrawal as among the more frequently employed methods. So if the YAFS I study (1984) pegged premarital sex at 12 percent and the YAFS II study (1995) pegged it at 18 percent, the figure for the 2003 study has risen to 23.5 percent.

In short, premarital sex is on the rise, something that we have observed but which now carries concrete, statistical proof. I always tell my students I don’t encourage premarital sex, but if you do, then the next best thing is to know how to protect yourself. But if the parents and the guardians — and most certainly, the schools — fail to offer intelligent information about sex and sexuality to the young, then they will get it from their peers, or in actual practice, from their sex partners. It’s like the blind leading the blind, in more ways than one.

But the worst is yet to come. The Filipino youth, like all young people around the world, have a strong sense of curiosity. But this curiosity also leads some of them to explore and experiment with risky behavior. The YAFS data show that 90 percent of those surveyed believe that smoking, drinking alcohol and doing drugs impair one’s health. However, this knowledge did not stop them from dipping their toes in these waters.

“Close to a half (46.4 percent) of the respondents has tried smoking and of this number, about 45 percent continue the habit. Likewise, around 70 percent have tried drinking, while 11 percent have tried using prohibited drugs such as marijuana, shabu (crack) and the designer drug ecstasy. Even more distressing is the finding that the young adults who engage in risky behavior are also the ones engaging in other high-risk behavior (Raymundo and Cruz, 2003).”

The conclusion is stark and dark: “It seems that quite a number of young adults are allowing themselves to be exposed to multiple risks at the same time.” These are the risks of pregnancy, sexually-transmitted infections, sexual addiction, drug addiction and, in the later years, the onset of cancer.

As parents and guardians, we are enjoined to stop this dark plague from eating up our young people. One thing we can do is get to know our children’s friends, and encourage them to visit our houses, most especially when we are there. That way, we get to know the company our children keep. Also, if we cannot teach them sex ed, then by all means, give them books that explain, in clinical but informative ways, all about the birds and the bees and the consequences thereof of cross-fertilization. Tell them to enjoy their health while they are still young, and this includes not doing anything that will impair it.

One reason my classmates stopped smoking in college was because of our Chemistry teacher. During lab one day, she trapped cigarette smoke in a jar, showed the black traces clinging to the jar, and then said: “These black traces cling to the jar, which is like your lungs. The longer you smoke, the deeper and the blacker are the traces, like tar around your lungs. Until one day, your pink lungs turn into the color of asphalt.”

I think that stopped one generation of Ateneans from ever smoking again till kingdom come.

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