Adolescent Sexuality in the Arab Region: Where the Pendulum Swings?

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Adolescent Sexuality in the Arab Region: Where the Pendulum Swings? El-Kak, Faysal

Faculty of Health Sciences, American University of Beirut, Lebanon

In the Arab Region where several political, social, and cultural issues compete to top the list of imminent needs and demands, and at a time when adolescents are rapidly growing to represent the largest generation in history, adolescence and adolescent issues and adolescent sexuality are severely under-addressed. The marginalization of adolescent sexuality and sexuality in general, in the Arab region is related to composite discourse of the religious, traditional, modern, and socio-cultural factors. In addition, globalization and human right principles have unleashed images of sexual diversities, and encouraged formation of specific sexual subcultures in large cities like Cairo, Beirut, and Istanbul (17).

Adolescence is considered to be a healthy population category. At the same time they are more vulnerable to high-risk behaviors that lead to a lot of preventable morbidity and mortality. Following ICPD, RH was to a certain extent adopted and implemented by governments through RH programs, but scarcely delivered sexuality and sexual health services to adolescents, affecting seriously the level of prevalence of STIs, HIV/AIDS, and other related problems. Within this context, a wide range of adolescent needs in information and knowledge were identified. Concerning attitudes and practices, the power of tradition in shaping adolescent perceptions of sexuality was remarkable, in addition to gaps related to school health education curriculum, constructive communication about sexuality with family and peers, and unanimous needs of adolescents to information, services, counseling, and others. The available studies on sexual behavior in relation to premarital sex revealed wide variation across countries, ranging from 7% in Jordan among people aged 15-30 to 26% males and 3% females in Egypt reporting intercourse at least once, to 52.6% of men surveyed in Lebanon reporting sexual activity before the age of 20 years. In Morocco, homosexuality and zoophily are almost obligated passages for young boys. The changing norms allowed girls to have varied forms of premarital sex and anal sex to preserve their virginity. In most of these sexual activities, condoms were not used or rarely utilized. Problems like interruption of pregnancy (abortion), and hymen restoration (hymenorrhaphy) are arising practices. Culturally and socially, the sexual behavior of outercourse (external friction of male and female genitalia, in contradistinction to intercourse) is on the rise as a practice that serves expression of sexual desires of males and females, yet preserves the hymen. The burden of these attitudes and behaviors is grave and the significance is very worrisome. It might take a long thorny way before approaching the issue of sexuality in an optimal manner, but until then it is the duty of all those involved in sexuality work to do what they can to advocate for healthy sexuality and protect adolescent from additional casualties.