Valentine’s Day is not….

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….National Lose Your Virginity Day.

Photo by A Journey of A Thousand Kilometers

It’s always really interesting to see how secular holidays are re-interpreted in different countries and cultures.  I remember giving away Hershey’s kisses and cool handmade cards to my besties as a kid.  For others, it may be a purely romantic holiday.  Some just forget about it and go about business as usual.

But in Cambodia…Valentine’s Day has a completely different meaning.  Tungai Bon Sangsaa (which means Day of the Sweetheart) is more or less “National Lose Your Virginity Day.”  This means that many young people see it as an excuse to have sex.  It also means that many young girls are pressured to have sex as a sign of love to their supposed sweetheart.  This, of course, happens everywhere that Valentine’s Day is celebrated.  But in Cambodia, it can pose a number of problems for gender and development.

To respond to this – the government has actually put a number of regulations on V-Day this year.  Namely the market for any goods or incentives for young people to engage in V-Day activities – including banning youth under the age of 18 from taking short term rooms at guesthouses and prohibiting V-day vendors from selling anywhere near schools.  Which explains why I was a bit puzzled while searching for a kitschy V-Day gift today.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has even aired radio and TV-spots advising young women that “One bunch of flow­ers does not mean we have to have sex with our boyfriends.” But these strategies don’t really tackle root issues in a society where sexual relations remain taboo and not discussed openly.  You can read more about Cambodia’s Valentine’s Day regulations at the Phnom Penh Post and here.

So does all of this mean the government is taking the battle against “inappropriate” interpretations of Valentine’s Day seriously? There must be a better way to encourage safe sex and the development of a healthy, educated and empowered youth.  Strategies like the war on Valentine’s Day are just scraping the surface of sexual equality, sexual health and gender in Cambodia.


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