On Ammon today, an interesting article featured a Yarmouk University professor who protested AIDS awareness posters posted by the Ministry of Health that asked “Have you practiced anal sex, oral sex or vaginal sex?”. I’ll let you do the reading but to sum it up, Dr. Azzam’s argument is that the posters promote promiscuity or, at the very least, promote sexual relations outside the marriage, especially by asking such questions that assume students have engaged in such activities. He also argues that such media campaigns are designed to achieve the agenda of some “special parties” more than increase health awareness, and that AIDS is not the biggest problem facing our youth today and thus shouldn’t be given that much attention. Naturally, the professor ends by saying we should be focusing on the bigger “moral crime”, which is sex outside the marriage, claiming that such posters only normalize these “crimes”.
If you’ve been outside lately, you’ve probably noticed the Ministry’s AIDS campaign scattered throughout Amman in the shape of posters, billboards and buses covered in advertisements. It’s the one that features the picture of a tattooed arm shooting up, because, you know, people who have tattoos are probably heroin users, and stupid heroin users at that.
The cliches and stereotypes aside, I was actually surprised by the campaign. Mostly because it felt like the government was acknowledging the existance of AIDS in Jordan for the first time, and on a national and public level. So I tip my hat to those who felt it was time to start publically combating its spread and raising some awareness.
But back to our dear professor here.
While his arguments may sound a bit absurd (at least to me), I do have to acknowledge that they are representative of the majority, and that that majority would indeed agree with him. I won’t be surprised to see those posters disappearing soon, from the campus grounds at least. Nevertheless, his arguments emphasize a common and perhaps growing problem in Jordan: sexual denial.
Social conservatives seem to be living in a bubble that denies the existance of any sexual activities outside the norms of marriage, when in fact, I would wager that a growing portion of our population (the majority of which is under 30) are engaging or have engaged in such acts. No, not just in West Amman. Sex is widespread throughout Jordan and most of this country’s youth know it.
Such denials are a cause for concern, simply because denying these realities means denying greater problems: like AIDS. Rejecting the premise that more and more young Jordanians are engaging in sex is like closing your eyes to the elephant in the room in hopes that it will go away. It is the same bubble of denial that causes people to be surprised that homosexuality exists in the country and that it’s bigger than most think. It is the same bubble of denial where upon a recent case of someone trying to register the first official gay organization at the Ministry of Social Development, suddenly became the talk of the town.
It is the same bubble of denial that the Jordanian government has been stuck in for a long time, and it resulted in sweeping the issue of AIDS and sexual education under the rug. Even if some in government did acknowledge it, they wouldn’t dare suggest raising awareness about AIDS or safe sex simply because it goes against social norms. Mind you, such decisions have probably cost lives, and policy makers should be aware of that. I am hoping that this latest campaign is indicative of a wider policy shift that will trickle down from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Education.
So I’m forced to naturally disagree with this professor. This is a big problem that faces our youth today. They are an emerging generation of young people who have no knowledge about sex because someone thought it would be immoral to teach them. Aside from the growing problem of AIDS, sexually-transmitted diseases and even abortions, the lack of sexual education that stems from such denials does take its toll, even within the boundaries of marriage. Lack of sexual knowledge when it comes to contraception means that there is a lack of family planning, bigger families, increased poverty, increased unemployment. Lack of sexual knowledge means that Jordanian women, for the most part, know next to nothing about sex and Jordanian men get all their information through pornography, an equation that I doubt leads to a healthy marriage.
Lastly, the professor, like many who have echoed his arguments, claims the sex outside the marriage is un-Islamic and indeed prohibited by all three of the monotheist religions. While this is true, we should also be pointing out that Islam is perhaps the most liberal when it comes to sexual education and sexual awareness.
So I guess the question many conservatives should be asking themselves is: why aren’t they?