We often take it for granted that, in Australia, we are able to talk about sex and sexuality openly. There are countries overseas, however, that prohibit open discussion about sex and sexuality, fearing that it will lead to moral decay. Cultural and religious beliefs can also contribute to social anxiety around the topic, with sex being viewed as a private act between a man and a woman in a heterosexual marriage. Any interpretation outside of this is seen as a deviation from the norm. This can create an environment whereby young people do not receive positive and thorough information about sex, sexuality and sexual health.
Differences in cultural attitudes toward sex and sexuality can have an impact on recently arrived migrants, including international students. Living in a society that is more accepting of sex can be confronting for these students, especially for those who come from conservative countries. Moreover, for same-sex attracted students, the desire to explore, and celebrate, their sexuality can go against their cultural and religious beliefs. Such internal struggle can have a damaging effect on their mental health. It is common for these students to feel alone and isolated. Some believe that they have to choose between their culture, religion, and sexuality.
Internal conflicts coupled with little to no education about sex, sexuality and sexual health can put them in a vulnerable situation. Some rely on their sexual and romantic partners as a source of information. The problem is, not all of their partners can provide them with the proper information. Furthermore, some students are experiencing guilt which can prevent them from accessing services and seeking support.
One way to counter these problems is by creating an environment where international students can seek information about sex, sexuality and sexual health, free of judgement. Meld Magazine, an online magazine for international students, dedicated their September issue to talk about sexual health. The “Sextember” issue provides a perfect opportunity for international students to find out more about the topic anonymously. Support groups such as Gay Asian Proud provide a safe space to celebrate sexuality and receive education about STIs, HIV and safe sex. Melbourne Sexual Health Centre is also a good place to receive information and medical services relating to sexual health, free of charge.
All of the above demonstrates that not everything need be lost in translation. Through various service providers, international students are able to seek information and support. This can help them to navigate their sexuality with cultural and religious beliefs, as well as empower them to make an informed decision for a better health outcome.
The “Sextember” issue of Meld Magazine is currently online. Visit www.meldmagazine.com.au/2013/08/sextember-bring-sexy-back