University X: A darker side of sexual culture, and some answers

Lack of education can lead to unsafe attempts at ending pregnancies, as in O.’s case. This situation can also lead students to stumble into potentially violent sexual situations. It can also cause them to create or passively observe these situations due to a lack of knowledge regarding respect for others’ sexual boundaries. According to Pionati, students have reported that the date rape drug Rohypnol is common in the campus town. Young female students, she says, are especially susceptible to sexual violence.

“They don’t know how to protect themselves against STDs, but also against places that may not be safe,” said Pionati. “They don’t understand the nuances.”

Pionati ties women’s involvement in sexually dangerous situations to a lack of sexual knowledge and cultural unwillingness to talk about these issues.

“Many of our younger women don’t know how to protect themselves, which I believe is very closely tied to your topic of safe sex… if sex is not discussed, or sexual practices are not discussed” people cannot protect themselves, said Pionati.

Pionati also indicates that in Morocco being alone in a room with a man is tantamount to giving consent culturally, if not legally, for any sexual actions that take place later. The majority of sexual violence survivors that Pionati counsels, she says, are female. She indicates that only the minority reports violence since young women are often afraid that their parents will find out and the women will be blamed by family and the police.

Y. recalls a night he spent in an urban riad (Moroccan guest accommodations) with three Moroccan male students and three female exchange students. The women planned to sleep in two enclosed rooms, while the men decided to occupy couches in the living room. For two hours, one male student attempted to coerce a female to sleep with him. This behavior led Y. to drive back to Ifrane with the women and another male friend rather than spend a night in the same space as the offender. He described this type of coercion as common among young men.

“’If you don’t follow it, I’ll be insistent and insistent until you follow down and do whatever,’” said Y., characterizing the way he believes many young men think.

H. also recalls a story he heard from other male students about an exchange student who was raped by four males at an off-campus apartment. He believes the man who rented the apartment went to jail but is unsure about consequences for the alleged rapists.

Y. also described a situation where friends brought a prostitute to a campus town apartment. One began physically abusing the sex worker, despite her initial protestation regarding facial injuries. Rather than helping the woman, Y. and his friends left her with the friend.

“We tried to stop him, but the guy was too drunk to even think, so we just took off, left them alone,” said Y.

Pionati says that foreign students, especially, must understand that sexual norms in Morocco are different than in other regions, especially in the West.

“It’s different, and I think it’s only fair to let people know that,” said Pionati.

To educate students on issues of consent and safe sex on campus, Pionati recommends passing out literature regarding safe sex targeted toward married people, as this respects cultural norms and is less likely to be banned.

Y. calls for more student testimonies.

“When you just hear about people’s testimonies, real people bringing up their experience – a person, for example, having HIV and talking about safe sex – I’m probably sure that 99 percent, if not a hundred percent, of people in this room, will start caring more about having a condom rather than sex,” said Y. “They’ve seen the real case, what she’s been through, and they don’t want to be in her place.

M. recommends sensitization regarding contraception.

H. believes adamantly that university-level sexual education can decrease sexual risk-taking.

“I think (a sexual education course) would help, especially for freshmen,” said H. “I think it’s better to make it as a common course for freshmen, first semester, because they came from high school and they don’t know a lot about college life.”

O. agrees. She would like to see sexual education in high school and middle school, but believes that society needs to change as well.

“Just being open to talking about it also helps,” said O. “It wouldn’t matter if you put it in the school curriculum if they can’t talk about it in front of their parents, or if they can’t talk about it in front of somebody.”

AIDS awareness weeks, which already happen at University X, aren’t enough to raise rates of protection among students. To create an effective sexual education course, high schools, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, need to focus on reducing one or more behaviors that can lead to unwanted pregnancy and/or STIs, reinforcing a clear stance on certain behaviors, adapting material to students’ cultures, underlining the unacceptability of unprotected sex and addressing social pressure and barriers. Effective programs, according to the CDC, last for 14 or more hours and work best with small groups of students. If University X can tailor an effective sexual education course to their student population, they may help students avoid the negative consequences of unprotected sex.

School administrator Abdelhamid Lotfi believes in the possibility of introducing a sexual education course at University X.

“The more you know about anything, the better off you are,” said Lotfi. “There is no reason why (a sexual education course) shouldn’t be offered to students.”

According to him, the course should be developed by a cross-section of Moroccan society and integrate conservative and liberal perspectives, which, he indicates, are not that different from each other, given, he says, that both are concerned with public safety.

“If you read (conservative people’s discourse), you realize that they mostly talk about almost the same (sex-related) things (as liberal people),” but with different terminology, said Lotfi.

He also stresses that a well-designed course could include concepts based on Islamic teachings as well as new values based on universal human rights.

“By not talking about our own experience with the issues, we tend to make people believe that the issues have never been addressed, or have always been addressed in a very negative way, not taking into consideration the fact that sexual education – any education, in fact –has to go along with what’s taking place in the social environment,” said Lotfi. “(Sexual education) is not so much ideas, it’s also adapting to a changing socioeconomic environment.”

To bring a sexual education course to campus, Lotfi says students must initiate conversations with the university department in charge of Academic Affairs.

In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo declared that reproductive rights, including access to reproductive health-care services and sexual education, are fundamental to the full realization of human rights. As in the rest of the country, University X makes divers contraceptive methods available to students. If it wants to protect its students, however, it — and the students themselves — must also turn an eye to their sexual education.

For more of this story, visit:

University X: Sexual education, abortions and bringing taboos into the open at a Moroccan university.

University X: Members address the campus’s sexual rumor mill.

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