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Myanmar sex education monthly angers traditionalists, thrills young

by Shwe Yinn Mar Oo

AFP-JIJI

With its glossy pages of pouting models and racy romance tips, Myanmar’s first sex education magazine has got the usually demure nation hot under the collar as it cashes in on newfound cultural freedoms.

The magazine Hyno has sparked fevered debate since hitting Myanmar’s bookstores in November, becoming a must-read among the young and curious just a few months after the end of direct censorship in the previously junta-ruled country.

Perhaps tame by western standards, Hyno’s photo spreads of scantily clad women and columns espousing “bedroom secrets” and “the benefits of cuddling” — as well as the more cryptic “modern lies before marriage” — have raised eyebrows in conservative Myanmar, earning it an adult rating.

But its editor brushes off accusations that the monthly publication is too risque for the country, or in any way as salacious as Playboy magazine — as critics have alleged on Facebook.

“This magazine is a combination of sex education and entertainment,” Ko Oo Swe said, adding that the red label on the front page warning it is for over readers over the age of 18 has stirred the unfavorable comparisons. “Issues about sex remain hidden in Myanmar. Our society is becoming more open, but I think sex education is still weak.”

Hyno — which translates as “enchant” or “hypnotize” — is the first magazine of its kind in the nation and is proving very popular despite the relatively pricey $3 cover price at bookstores and street stalls. Its debut follows the abolition in August of Myanmar’s stringent prepublication censorship system, which had seen officials scrupulously flag photos or articles deemed distasteful to public morality, as well as those raising dissenting opinions.

But Hyno has raised the stakes so much that some bookstores refuse to stock the magazine, saying its aim is to titillate rather than educate. Ominously, the Ministry of Information sent a letter to the interim press council registering its unhappiness with the “unethical” lifestyle magazine.

Despite the uproar, Hyno’s young readers believe it could play a major role in raising awareness of sexually transmitted diseases and, in the longer term, shifting rigid social mores as Myanmar pulls itself out of decades of isolation.

“For those who are quite old-fashioned, (sex education) is a very shameful thing,” said Yoon Lae Khin, a 20-year-old student. “My mother understands there are things we need to know, but it is difficult to talk about sex in front of my father and siblings. So we need to get this awareness from magazines.”

Medical professionals have joined Hyno’s corner, saying it is high time the country talked about sex.

“Young people do not have enough knowledge, so problems occur such as underage pregnancy, pregnancy before marriage and infection with HIV/AIDS and venereal disease,” said Khine Soe Win, a youth development project officer with the Myanmar Medical Association.

“Old-fashioned people turn their noses up in disapproval” of sex education, he added, criticizing them for judging the issue by the yardstick of “a culture they don’t understand.”

His comments were echoed by Ne Win, a doctor working for the U.N. Population Fund in Myanmar, who believes a modern, progressive media can fill the void left by the country’s reluctance to promote sex education.

Yet while its editor says Hyno is here to stay, a battle is brewing with those who view it as a threat to decency. Mg Mg Lwin, manager of the Innwa Book Store — one of Yangon’s leading bookshops — refuses to stock the magazine despite fielding a barrage of inquiries, mainly from women, about its availability.

“Even if someone gives me those magazines to sell at my shop, I will not accept them,” he said defiantly.