Saturday, February 28, 2009

High-tech sex

Sunday March 1, 2009

High-tech sex


There can only be bad news when one’s intimate photos or videos are circulated on the Internet and via mobile phone. So, why do many still allow themselves to be caught with their pants down?

EVEN as Bukit Lanjan assemblyman Elizabeth Wong tearfully defended herself against career-breaking private photos and allegations of a sex tape about a fortnight ago, a video clip of a couple getting dirty in an X-ray room of a Kuala Lumpur hospital was making its rounds on the Internet and the mobile phone network.

The video reportedly was made as a “remembrance” of their passionate moments together. How it got out was unclear.

The expose came on the heels of a nude photo “scandal” involving a nurse in Penang. The 28-year-old, who took the naked pictures herself, claimed that a close friend stole the pictures from her laptop and shared them with her spurned suitor, who then posted them online.

The act of filming one’s intimate moments and photographing one’s naked glory is nothing new. What is taken in private, unfortunately, has a propensity for showing up in the public arena, and in a conservative society like Malaysia, this often has severe consequences.

As seen time after time, these indecent exposures – regardless of whether they were accidentally or intentionally leaked – have decimated many a reputation and destroyed lives. Yet, why do many still allow themselves to be put in such vulnerable positions?

Dr King: ‘What is erotic to one person would be offensive to another.’

Secret desire

“Maybe secretly many people want to be a porn star. It is happening worldwide and even in Australia, you see it happening more and more,” renowned Australian sex therapist Dr Rosie King, says, albeit half jokingly.

Dr King believes the phenomenon can be linked to two trends: technological boom and media fads.

“The technology now is so good and accessible that everyone can be a photographer or filmmaker. We don’t have to have the picture or film developed. In the past, for example, people would need sophisticated equipment to make a video.

“And with the media trend worldwide, people desire excitement and want to be extraordinary, even for a moment. Many are becoming obsessed with fame – everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame.

“You can see this on TV as we intrude more and more into people’s private space,” says Dr King who was in town recently to share the findings of the Asia-Pacific Sexual Health and Overall Wellness (AP SHOW) survey commissioned by pharmaceutical company Pfizer. True, you don’t need to look at the ratings to see how popular reality shows are; they are everywhere in our mainstream consciousness.

According to technology market research firm GfK Asia Pte Ltd, the demand for digital still cameras in the region grew in 2008 by 118% while the sale of camcorders increased by 105% in spite of the tougher market scenario.

The growing accessibility of mobile phones with camera and video recording devices (there are 26.2 million mobile phone subscribers in Malaysia according to Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission records) and video sharing sites like YouTube have driven the demand for “personal” content further.

However, says Dr King, photographing or videoing their sexual intercourse is not something that people would typically do.

“I think only a minority are doing it, not because it is unnatural but because many have more common sense. They are aware that there are those who do it for nefarious reasons including exploitation and blackmail. And even if both partners can be trusted, the pictures and videos can so easily fall into the wrong hands – you don’t want your children to see them, or your neighbours and relatives.”

Dr King notes that people have used visuals for sexual stimulation and personal gratification for decades.

“I don’t know if it can help to solve a sexual problem but many people do it for fun and pleasure. In the old days you rely on the mirror; some hotels have mirrors on the ceiling and facing the bed. Now that has been replaced by the camera.”

Paul Jambunathan, consultant clinical psychologist at Monash University Malaysia and Sunway Medical Centre concurs.

Jambunathan: ‘Many studies show that people can get sexually stimulated from pictures and videos.’

“Many studies show that people can get sexually stimulated from pictures, videos or even watching themselves get naked in the mirror. There are those who get sexually aroused by their imagination and others from a memory of their sexual intercourse. In this case, what is the difference between a memory and videotape?” he asks.

Jambunathan nonetheless admits that it depends on the socio-cultural norm in the country. In Malaysia, most people will view filming their sexual activity as immoral and even perverted.

Dr King agrees.

“I don’t think that it is immoral to take your partner’s or your own pictures and videos. The thing about morality is that it is personal, even though it is shaped by one’s socio-cultural context. What is erotic to one person can be offensive to another,” she says.

Acknowledging that Malaysia is a conservative society, Dr King, however, promotes a middle ground where one can uphold moral values as well as be comfortable with his or her sexuality.

Citing Australia’s case as example, Dr King says there has been a positive shift in the public perception of sex.

“People in Australia are more open and relaxed about sex. This is good; I am not saying that people should be more promiscuous but I would like to see more people being more confident and comfortable with their sexuality,” she says.

Andrew Khoo, the co-deputy chair of the Human Rights Committee with the Malaysian Bar Council, agrees.

“We live in a prudish society where sex is concerned, which has given rise to a voyeuristic culture in the country. When there is a sex tape or racy picture circulated, many people would rush to check it out for cheap titillation,” he says.

This has given erotic materials a lot of currency, encouraging an underground market for illegally acquired content. Worse, Malaysian laws are too lenient to deter the culprits from invading other people’s privacy, Khoo notes.

Dr Prema: ‘Couples take photos or video footages of their intimate moments for a variety of reasons.’

According to a report in a local Chinese language daily, local sex video clips, whether taken without the knowledge of the couple or for their personal collection, are highly in demand among Malaysians. It was reported that the local videos were often obtained when owners forgot to delete them before selling their cell phones or sending them for repair. Consequently, some mobile phone retailers have made it a marketing strategy to download pornographic video clips for their customers for a nominal fee or for free.

A case that made headlines is that of Chinese-Canadian film star Edison Chen, whose private sex pictures with several Hong Kong starlets set off an Internet firestorm after he sent his laptop for repairs. The photos show Chen in bed separately with eight of the country’s best-known actresses and singers, badly damaging the careers of Chen and the women when the photos were circulated online. Last week, Chen was at the British Columbia Supreme Court hearing in Vancouver where he reviewed his testimony to be presented in a Hong Kong criminal court case.

The real issue here, stresses Jambunathan, is the infringement of one’s privacy.

“If it is two consenting adults, barring religious rulings, it should not be a problem. It becomes a problem when someone else is illegally recording you and your partner during your intimate moments or when your personal collection falls into the wrong hands,” he says.

On the rise

Another worrying trend is the growing number of high-tech sex cases involving the young.

Last year, three video clips of students from Kuala Trengganu engaging in sexual acts on their secondary school premises were widely distributed to the public via the mobile phone multimedia service (MMS) and VCDs. This unsurprisingly caused a furore among parents and the education fraternity.

Still, with a fast growing number of young adults becoming tech-savvy, this is a trend that needs to be monitored closely by the Malaysian authorities.

The phenomenon is global. As a poll in the United States last December revealed, one in five American teens had sent nude or partially clothed images of themselves to someone by e-mail or mobile phone, and twice as many have sent sexually suggestive electronic messages.

The survey, commissioned by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, showed that more than half of the 1,280 young adults aged 20 to 26 interviewed said they had received a sexually suggestive message from someone else and one in five said they had shared the racy message with a third person.

About 73% of those below 19 surveyed said they knew sending sexually suggestive content could have “serious negative consequences” but 22% said it’s “no big deal”.

Although no studies have been conducted on the trend among young Malaysians, many say that technology is encouraging a more casual hook-up culture.

“It is normal to send a sexy photo of yourself to the boy you want to get to know on the Net or through your phone. I don’t send any nude photos of myself, I know that is dangerous, but I have heard of people in my school who have done it,” says a 16-year-old girl who declines to be named.

Dr King believes that sex education can equip the young to deal with the rise of high-tech sex.

“It has been proven that ignorance will encourage the young to experiment, so the authorities need to address this, especially with the growing accessibility of technology. When one is comfortable about their sexuality, they will be more responsible about their bodies and with their partners,” she says.

Dr Prema Devaraj, programme director at Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) Penang, agrees that raising their awareness is important in empowering the young to deal with the potential risks of high-tech sex. More important, she stresses, is to instil mutual respect between the sexes.

“Couples take photos or video footages of their intimate moments for a variety of reasons. It is done in an environment of complete trust and is a private matter between the couple. When such photos are used outside the relationship without the consent of the parties involved, it is a gross violation of personal liberty and privacy. It is an absolute betrayal of trust,” says Dr Prema.

Unfortunately, as recent cases show, most of the victims are female.

Hence, to combat this exploitation of women, she stresses, there is a need to address the way women are viewed in this country and the inequality women are subjected to in relationships.

“Often society places the responsibility of what happens onto the woman – from unwanted pregnancy and HIV infections to sexual assault and high-tech sex abuses. There is very little acknowledgement of the role men play in these issues and rarely are they made accountable for their actions,” she notes.

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