Research Findings on Valentine’s Day in Phnom Penh in 2008-09

Abstract 1: YOUNG PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT VALENTINE’S DAY IN PHNOM PENH IN 2008
(A Qualitative Study)
[pdf in English]
[pdf in Khmer]

This study explores a new phenomenon related to love and sexual relationships among young couples on Valentine’s Day, and aims to understand their perspectives about their parents’ attitudes toward Valentine’s Day. 16 young people in Phnom Penh aged 15-24 years old, 11 males and 5 females, completed in-depth interviews with peer interviewers about what they did with their sweethearts on the recent Valentine’s Day. The transcripts were analyzed in relation to the objectives.

The findings reveal that young couples did not understand clearly the origins of Valentine’s Day, now popular among wealthier young people in urban areas of Cambodia, but they recognized that it comes from foreign cultures via the media. The results show that more than half of the interviewees in the study were happy to engage in sex on that day and at least a few of them lost their virginity. Although most reported using condoms, reflecting increased awareness of sexual and reproductive health issues, several instances of coercion were also reported. There seems to be a general lack of parental understanding about their children’s sexual activity and a corresponding lack of open communication.

Behavior change with regard to condom use is complicated by the delicacies around expectations of trust between sweethearts. Understanding about sexual rights is less clear however, with several of the interviewees reporting they pressured or felt pressure to engage in sex on that day.

Attention should be given to issues around sexual consent, and SRH and HIV programs among young people should target interventions before and on Valentine’s Day in accordance with this
study’s findings.
By Tong Soprach, MPH
Independent Researcher
Phnom Penh, January 2009

Abstract 2: LOVE AND SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS: EXPERIENCES AND PLANS OF MIDDLE CLASS YOUNG PEOPLE REGARDING THE UPCOMING VALENTINE’S DAY IN PHNOM PENH IN 2009
(A Quantitative Study)
[pdf in English]
[pdf in Khmer]

A Cross-sectional design was chosen for this descriptive quantitative study on the upcoming Valentine’s Day in 2009. Thus, cluster sampling was used primarily for administrative convenience. The questionnaires are separated into four categories of the population aged 15-24 years old and wealthier young people (n=458) in Phnom Penh: young males in a couple, young males not in a couple, young females in a couple and young females not in a couple. Because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter of this study, self-administered questionnaires were used.

These Valentine’s Day quantitative study findings give more quantified information to the 2008 qualitative study, which recognized that middle class young people (n=458) do not understand the background of Valentine’s Day. Approximately two third (61.6%) of them have known only the festival coming from Western or European culture, but nearly a third (29.7%) of them stated that they didn’t know or gave a broad answer (World or no idea). More than half (52.2%) of them indicated that they heard from media, business advertising, calendar and so on. While, more than a third (37.1%) of them knew through their friends, and 10.6 percent of them knew nothing about Valentine’s Day. Due to the misunderstanding of the Valentine’s Day history, middle class young people use this festival to involve themselves in sex. This current study was therefore designed to seek to answer the research question:

Do middle class young people in Phnom Penh plan to be sexually active on the upcoming Valentine’s Day?

In the results, 12.4 percent of all respondents answered that they expect to be able to have sex on the upcoming Valentine’s Day, and more than 14.3 percent of young people in a couple answered that they expect to be able to have sex with their sweethearts on that day too, and a few couples plan not to use a condom. Meanwhile, More than a third (39.5%) of the young people in a couple surveyed (n=38) stated that it will be the first time for them to have sexual intercourse. And the other two thirds (66.6%) of young males in couple (n=25) will pressure or force their girlfriend for having sex using many devices, if they do not agree. And at least seven percent of young males who answered that they expect to be able to have sex are open to being involved in Bauk on the upcoming Valentine’s Day.

Even though more than half (59.8%) of all interviewees mentioned that they agreed that it is normal and their personal right to have sexual relationships between young people and are therefore more likely to be aware of sexual reproductive health, they are consequently probably at high risk of non-consensual sex, committing suicide, contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV and AIDS if they will be able to have sex on the Valentine’s Day festival. On the other hand, approximately two thirds (63.8%) answered that their parents or anyone in their family were more likely to not talk about sexual issues in the past 3 months. More than half (53.7%) of them thought that their parents or anyone in their family don’t know what young people will be doing on the upcoming Valentine’s Day.

Attention should be given to issues around sexual consent, and sexual reproductive health and HIV/AIDS programs among young people in urban areas of Cambodia should target interventions before and on Valentine’s Day in accordance with this study’s findings.

By Tong Soprach, MPH
Independent Researcher
Phnom Penh, February 2010

Please download the two reports in English and Khmer