Author: Vy Yaro - The presenter of Love9 looks at why Valentine’s Day in Cambodia is the perfect time to talk about sexual and reproductive rights.

Valentine’s Day is extremely popular in Cambodia. But the celebration isn’t always a happy one. Here’s why.

‘Valentine’ in Khmer is ‘songsar’, which can roughly be translated as ‘sweetheart’ or ‘someone I want to marry’. To call your partner your ‘songsar’ hints at something more than just a cute expression of commitment; it implies an expectation of sex. And in Cambodia, Valentine’s, or ‘songsar’ Day has been blamed for a rise in young women being pressurised into unprotected sex or assault by their partners.

When I first heard about this trend, I was shocked. If I had a partner, there would be no way I would pressure them into doing something they didn’t want to do. For me, Valentine’s Day is about respecting the people I love.

Last year I shared the love on Valentine’s Day by giving flowers and chocolates to my mother and sister.

A radio show about sex

This year, I’m marking Valentine’s Day by presenting a radio show about sex, and aiming to encourage people to talk about it.

Love9 is the only radio and TV show about sexual and reproductive health for young people in Cambodia. This is important – talking about sex is still a taboo for many people in Cambodia – leaving many in the dark about what to do in situations where sex is involved. The show is hugely popular, with nearly 500,000 followers on Facebook, and twice as many views on YouTube.

Its popularity makes me very happy. We believe that the more young people speak openly about sex, the more information they’ll have to make the right choices to protect themselves, and their sweethearts.

The programme is presented by a young team (I’m just turning 23 myself) using music, drama, comedy and light hearted discussion with celebrities and guests to get young people talking about issues such as contraceptives, sexual orientation and consent.

Our upcoming episode looks at the pressures young people face to have sex on Valentine’s Day (watch the film below); and how parents can have a role in advising their children about sex and contraception – something that is still very unusual in Cambodia.

We’re not about telling parents and children what’s right and wrong on our show. We want to let ‘songsars’ know that they have options on Valentine’s Day. If they don’t want to have sex, they shouldn’t be pressured into it. And if they do choose to have sex, they should do so safely.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Cambodia.

Image credit: BBC Media Action

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