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Vietnamese embarrassed to buy condoms, see them as cultural taboo

(11:28:35 AM 19/07/2014)
(Tinmoitruong.vn) - Even though Vietnam ranks first in the world for searches on sex or sexuality on Google, most of its citizens are reluctant to buy condoms.


For example, Tuan, a fourth-year male student at a university in Hanoi, was afraid to step into a pharmacy to buy condoms. Wearing a helmet and facemask, he spoke very softly to the salesperson at the pharmacy, just enough for her to understand what he wanted.


He very quickly received the condom box in a black plastic bag from the seller and hurriedly left the drugstore.


Tuan is not the only one afraid to buy condoms. The majority of Vietnamese still consider condoms a “sensitive” issue. They avoid talking about it and many people still see condoms linked to adultery and prostitution.


In a report released in March 2013, Nguyen Duc Vinh, Deputy Director of the Maternal and Child Health Department of the Ministry of Health, said that a third of Vietnamese people below 18 years old believed that using a condom is "inappropriate" behavior and 16% said condoms are for prostitutes and adulterers only.


According to a study published in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health in January this year, more than 70 percent of Vietnamese teenagers did not use a condom during their first sexual relationship. And the main reason is because they are afraid to buy condoms.


Teenagers and young people as well as married people see buying condoms at the drugstore a difficult and challenging task.


"Mentioning condoms, they would immediately think about sex. And many Vietnamese often feel shy to mention it publicly," said Mr. Nam, a 32-year-old salesman.


Even condom sellers are afraid to talk about the product. A new study published recently by RMIT Vietnam Institute showed that most of the owners of drugstores in Ho Chi Minh City interviewed by the institute said that condoms were a taboo product.


This study also confirmed that six out of 10 surveyed pharmacies put condoms in locked drawers or did not display them in prominent locations. Most sellers felt ashamed  displaying the sensitive products.


"Most retailers are opposed to sell condoms openly in the shop, for fear that this will drive their customers away," said Hai Dang, the author of the above study.


While Vietnam is ranked among the top five countries worldwide with the highest rate of abortion, and the highest rate in Southeast Asia, the majority of Vietnamese people are afraid to buy condoms.


According to Dr. Khuat Thu Hong, from the Institute for Social Research and Development of Vietnam (ISDS), Vietnamese people are afraid to talk about the issue of sex. They are also very shy talking about "related things" such as condoms or birth control pills, especially young people.


Most Vietnamese think that sex is only for married people. Unmarried people often feel they do not have “enough power” to speak about the issue. Even for married people, sex is still a “sensitive” and "difficult" topic to talk about.


According to a study by ISDS, up to 53 percent of Vietnamese respondents said that sex is simply to maintain the family line. Less than 10 percent saw sex as pleasure and personal happiness.


"When they see sex as only to maintain the breed, they are very afraid to buy condoms. Because purchasing condoms is the way people think about sex, meaning that they think about sex as personal pleasure. That makes people very afraid," Dr. Hong analyzed.


The origin of this sentiment, according to Dr. Hong, originates from the culture. Since ancient times, people saw sex as a private matter between two people, something done in the bedroom. And even in the bedroom, sex is still a taboo subject.


"Even among couples, they are also afraid to discuss about sex. They can take action but are afraid to talk about it," Dr. Hong said.


Mr. Nguyen Su, a researcher at the Institute of Religious Issues of Vietnam, noted that for Asian people in general, sex is taboo, which is different from Western culture.


When sex becomes a taboo subject, when the number of counseling centers for sexual health is far fewer than the number of abortion centers and when teachers are afraid to teach sex education, students and young people are forced to seek other sources of information.


A survey by ISDS in 2009 showed that most students said that they got information about sex from their friends and the Internet. This causes many negative consequences because information on the Internet is like a double-edged sword.


"Vietnamese people are struggling between traditional values, which require them to curb sexual life, and a new age, in which they want to be liberated, to live for themselves," Dr. Hong said. This conflict is creating a lot of paradoxes in Vietnam today.


"Sexuality is an instinctive need and it must be fulfilled. Therefore, the need to learn about it is indispensable. This is why the Vietnamese see sexuality as a taboo, but they rank first in the world for searching on the internet about sexuality," said Mr. Su.

Mai Phuong