Today’s Jamaica Observer on-line forced me to recall a discussion which years ago kept several of my friends locked in discussion for many months. It seemed then that the conversations in every group – no matter the permutation- would reach the point where someone would ask: “Why women can’t have sex on the first date without someone bashing them?”
The ‘with-it’ women argued against “old-fashioned sexist ideals’ as they agitated for equal rights with men. “We are working for ourselves; we are in careers similar to men, we are independent, why can’t we screw men on the first date if it feels right.”
Those taking the moral high ground would quote the Bible only to be slapped down by others citing the very Bible as support by using the story of David and Bathsheba or other Bible heroes who had concubines. It was usual for this Bible discussion to be doused by someone who would simply say: “Why intellectualise, if he looks hot, and I feel hot why not out each other fires.”
Of course, comments about sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies would be thrown around and these would lock horns with arguments about condoms. A winner could never be declared but this was never, I think, the point of the debates.
Those views roamed through my brain as I read the passionate plea of the chairman of Jamaica’s National Family Planning Board (NFPB), Dr Sandra Knight: “… for sex to become a part of a context where it’s not a man-meet-woman-and-go-to-bed situation …
“where (Jamaicans) are thinking about (their) families, and thinking about a mate with which to have a family.”
I asked myself, how many people having casual sex are thinking about a life partner? Aren’t they either satisfying an urge or having sex for transactional reasons? To find an answer, I tried hard to remember the details of those past fierce and friendly debates that revolved around the right time to have sex. This mental search produced flashes of friends and acquaintances, who bravely confessed with smug smiles to enjoying sex-at-first encounter with someone they didn’t care to see again. It was just satisfying a primal desire.
Today, some of them are married with children and are now preaching from that moral high ground. They even scorn the ‘third date rule’ which media reports suggest that western cultures use to determine the ‘sex date’ or the appropriate time for a new couple to ‘go all the way’.
I agree that anyone who took a path, they later recognised as dangerous, is likely to encourage others to avoid that route but I believe such guidance should be laced with empathy, or it is likely to be rejected.
I can’t help but wonder whether we are too self-righteous in our approaches, to reap the full potential of our programmes.
To me, the Gleaner story is not only a Jamaica story but a Barbados story, a Caribbean story. Therefore I look at the many messages promoted by my mother’s and grandmother’s generations which were aimed at taming the sexual behaviour of the then ‘wuffless (worthless) young people.’
These elders dished out condemnation and advice although the village held many examples of a man having two or more families at the same time: one at the house where he slept with his wife or recognised partner and one or two more in homes where he did not spend a whole night but was the chief financial and sex provider as well as the father of several children. The ages of these children bore evidence that as one woman was hugely pregnant, he was doing his best to impregnate one or two others.
Seeing this, the message from those older folk was hypocritical and I wondered if that affected its potency? All these things, I pondered.
In Jamaica, the 2012 HIV/AIDS Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviour Survey showed that 53 per cent males and 23 per cent females surveyed had sex for money or gifts since the last survey in 2008.
Poverty has encouraged transactional sex; a woman would give someone ‘a piece’ in exchange for money, food or some favour needed to properly provide for her children. I do not know the Jamaica situation intimately but in Barbados, there are now some cases of young people -boys and girls selling their bodies to buy the latest gadgets; popular brand shoes and bags. The buyers are not people of their own age but older men and women, some in church and others in dance halls. Our messages are usual towards the sellers but what about the buyers? A market need both supply and demand to flourish.
Is it about poverty? To me it is about the definition of poverty. The United Nation Development Propgramme defines poverty by income per day but under peer pressure, poor is seen as not having those things that are owned by the ‘average’ person. It is somewhere entangled in that mess of “longing to belong” and thrives in our materialistic world, where overpriced brands and unnecessary show pieces can be used to judge a person’s worth.
We therefore need to relook our message to ensure that they are compatible with today’s realities; that when we speak we do so with sincerity and empathy.
This sincerity must lead us to target men in our programmes with as much vigour as we target women rather than to behave as if women are the only gatekeepers of our countries’ morals. I say so I note Dr. Knight’s concern that more Jamaican young women were lowering their standards to sleep with multiple males in exchange for material possessions. This statement in light of figures that show 23 per cent of women compared with 53 per cent males were having transactional sex.