Sunday Times (Used by permission)
by Tan Choe Choe
• Law discriminates against men
• Is oral dirty?
Most Malaysians don’t talk about oral sex but assume everyone does it – or have tried to. Crime or no crime, many of us don’t think about what we put into our mouth in the heat of the moment. Never mind that we can get sexually transmitted diseases from it too, writes Tan Choe Choe
NINE out of 10 couples tell this writer that they engage in oral sex — either fellatio on the male partner or cunnilingus on the female — from time to time.
Of these, five are not married.
And surprisingly — or not — none of them use protection of any kind when they engage in the act.
These figures are in no way official statistics of any kind, but it gives a general idea of how Malaysians perceive oral sex.
“Malaysians are not as naïve as they’re made out to be — or some sectors of society think they are — especially the younger group.
“Many of them have liberal views on sex,” says Raymond Tai, PT Foundation acting executive director.
If the results of this writer’s informal survey are any indication, many Malaysians may be doing it without protection of any kind.
“Most people I’ve come across only think it’s necessary to use protection when it comes to vaginal or anal sexual intercourse,” s ay s Tai.
The fact that oral sex cannot cause pregnancy makes many couples feel they don’t need to wear contraceptives as they take “the fun out of oral”.
Tai says it’s not easy to target HIV/AIDS awareness messages to the public to practise safe oral sex in Malaysia .
"Because there is so much hang–ups in talking about sex, which is the main transmission mode for HIV." How do you go about advising people on how to protect themselves against STDs from oral sex, when the act itself is a crime? Under Section 377A of the Penal code, ‘any person who has sexual connection with another person by the introduction of the penis into the anus or mouth of the other person is said to commit carnal intercourse against the order of nature’.
In layman speak, it means it’s a crime for any man to engage in anal sex or penile oral sex — fellatio.
The offence is punishable by a jail term of up to 20 years and whipping, as stated under Section 377B.
“It doesn’t allow people to openly talk about oral sex. If you do, you’re incriminating yourself by the mere fact that yo u ’re talking about it,” says Tai.
Tai says if one were to look at the issue from the perspective of local media and the law, “it’s as though Malaysians don’t do oral sex — which is far from the tr uth!” And contrary to what some people may think, “oral sex is not safer sex, as STDs like gonorrhoea, syphilis, herpes and HIV can still be transmitted,” says Dr Christopher Lee Kwok Choong, president of the Malaysian Society of HIV Medicine.
“The risks may be lower, but the potential of transmission is still present.
So if oral sex is practised, a condom should still be used,” says Dr Lee.
The same applies during cunnilingus, which strangely, the law doesn’t prohibit.
Some couples use dental dams over the vulva before proceeding with the oral stimulation .
These thin squares of latex rubber are also known as Kofferdam in Europe and they’re commonly used in dentistry.
However, Tai says feedback from the public shows that many don’t use protection because “it isn't practical, is no fun and spoils the spontaneity”.
HIV transmission occur during fellatio when an infected man’s pre–ejaculation and seminal fluid gets into contact with any open sore or cut in his partner’s mouth.
“So take simple precautions – do not take oral if you have mouth sores. Tell your partner to refrain from ejaculating in the mouth,” says Tai There are smaller quantities of HIV in the pre–ejaculation fluid compared to semen.
“Couples will have to decide for themselves what levels of risk to take. Still, oral sex is by far safer than unprotected sexual or anal intercourse in getting HIV.” But the risk of getting other STDs is still there, especially if it is between casual partners, and you don’t know the history of their sexual practices.
Law discriminates against men
TO date, no one has been prosecuted under Section 377A of the Penal Code for engaging in fellatio, according to the Attorney– General’s Chambers.
“Yet it continues to hang over us, creating a lot of fear and intimidation simply because it’s so specific,” says Raymond Tai, PT Foundation acting executive director.
“It’s made a lot of consensual sexual activities between couples, married or unmarried, illegal.” He also feels the law is discriminating against men.
“If you look at the way it’s phrased, it looks as though it’s only the men, the person who inserts the penis into the mouth of another, who will be prosecuted.
“Why is the law sexist like this? It means the woman will go scot free, whether it’s consensual or otherwise.” However, Tai is quick to point out that he is not lobbying for the woman partner to be made liable.
He says many of his colleagues who are married for over 20 years have indulged in oral sex and regard it as an important component to foreplay and a healthy sexual lifestyle.
“To say it is illegal just doesn’t make sense.” Tai believes that the initial purpose of the law was to protect women from being victimised sexually by their male partners.
However, Professor Datin Rashidah Shuib of the Women Development Research Centre in Universiti Sains Malaysia doesn’t think so.
“It doesn’t seem to be the case. The element of consent or force should be taken into account,” says Rashidah.
“The law needs to be amended so that anything t h at ’s consensual should not be under the purview of the state. Only when it’s not then it should be taken care of by the law.” In January, former Bar Council president Yeo Yang Poh criticised this law as obsolete and should be repealed.
He said that if it was really enforced, “over 95 per cent of (adult) Malaysians would be put in jail”.
It is uncertain where this law originated from, but some believe it is chiefly British in origin and dates back to the Victorian era.
“It was in the Indian Penal Code and I believe our Malaysian Penal Code was based on the Indian code,” Yeo tells the New Sunday Times.
Regardless of its origin, Yeo says the law reflected the sort of moral values and perceptions of “decades ago where these (sexual acts) were seen as offences that needed to be punished”.
Yet, they remain in our statute books, despite changes in times and thinking.
“I think by and large, societies have progressed and our thinking has changed. Such matters between consenting adults are no longer frowned upon by the majority of the people today.” Citing the recent case of former Health Minister Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek who was caught indulging in oral sex with a woman, Yeo points out that no action was taken against him despite the existence of Section 377A.
“I’m certainly not suggesting that action be taken against him. I’m just saying that any such acts between consenting adults should not be policed by the s t at e .
“It ought to be removed from our statute. Singapore has done away with it.” In the city–state’s first major penal code amendments in 22 years, Singapore repealed a section of its Penal Code that criminalises “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” in October last year.
The act effectively decriminalised oral and anal sex between heterosexual couples.
“The emphasis must always be on ‘consenting adults’. These two elements — consenting and adults — are very important.
“Otherwise, it would amount to rape, although (anal sex) is currently not within the definition of rape.” Yeo, who advocates for Section 377A to be repealed, asks: “How many of our parliamentarians can say they’ve never engaged in that (oral or anal sex)?” He adds that the element of public morality is not there if such acts are done in the privacy of one’s home or room.
“Anything that happens in the bedroom between two consenting adults shouldn’t be policed by the state.”
Is oral dirty?
DEFINITELY not, says Professor Datin Rashidah Shuib of Universiti Sains Malaysia, “not if it’s between two consenting, married adults”.
Prof Dr Low Wah Yun from Universiti Malaya puts it like this: “Who are we to say whether a sexual act is dirty or not normal? “As long as the couple is agreeable and both are happy and consent to the act, then it shouldn’t be anybody’s business to say it’s dirty or not,” says Low, a psychologist from UM’s Health Research Development Unit.
Housewife Rosie (not her real name) has been married for 21 years and thinks of oral sex as “something very intimate that you would do with the one you really love and care about”.
Rosie, 49, says she does it with her husband because she wants to please him, and vice–versa.
“We started trying oral sex even before we got married and we learnt how to please each other by experimenting,” says Rosie, who has a 20–year–old daughter.
Rosie says she never thought she would do “such a thing” before she knew her husband, “but when I did it with him, it was a different thing altogether.
“It makes me feel happy that I’m able to please him.” Rosie admits she didn’t know oral sex was a criminal offence until two years ago when she went for an AIDS awareness programme under PT Foundation.
“It’s madness! All my friends do it, regardless of their creed or ethnicity. And everyone I asked didn’t know it’s illegal." Low says oral sex is part of the sexual activities that people generally engage in and there’s nothing wrong with it as long as it gives them pleasure.
“However, the concept of oral sex is very different among teenagers. They think ‘hey my teacher says I can get HIV through intercourse, let’s do oral sex instead’,” she says.
There’s no hard data to prove this, but Low is convinced that many teenagers are turning to oral sex now, which is the trend in some western countries like United States.
She says the US is also seeing about one out of every four teenage girl contracting sexually transmitted disease now.
“So it’s very important we have a more open discourse on this and educate our youngsters on the risks involved, whether it’s intercourse or oral sex.”