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Sarika 1 Wiriya Sarika COMM 4345 Dr. Rollie 24 April 2012 Cultural News Analysis: Soccer or Sex?

Thai Teens Ponders Puzzling choice Cultural perspectives vary greatly among, or even within cultures. Self-awareness is indeed an important factor when looking into different cultural lens. Being aware of the other cultures’ norms and traditions is crucial, so does not judging others based on our own worldview. Premarital sex is indeed a sensitive subject that is hard to bring up in an open discussion, but it is treated differently in different places. In Thailand, where teen pregnancy rate is increasing every year, talking about it does not seem like their first priority. Thailand’s high context and collectivist culture means that they are likely to leave many things unsaid, and basically would not air dirty laundry in public. The article “Soccer or Sex? Thai Teens Ponders Puzzling Choice” on MSNBC, written by a Thai journalist, discusses possible root causes and solutions of the problem. This paper will cover how Thai family and religious context shape the Thais’ perspective on premarital sex, their strong values and beliefs that might answer many questions regarding premarital sex as an issue. The article argues that Thailand’s increasing teen pregnancy rate is mainly related to the Thai conservative culture of preaching abstinence, strong religious belief against abortion as a sin, the high context culture of not discussing such topic, the failure to acknowledge that premarital sex among teenagers is a problem and the lack of proper knowledge given to teens about how to avoid pregnancy. The government’s approach to divert teens from their sexual urges to sports seems to the author as just another way to avoid dealing with the actual problem.

Sarika 2 The author also claims that the Thai officials “have a total lack of understanding about the lives of teenagers and the importance of sensible sex education” (Bunluesilp, 2012). Thus, they do not acknowledge the fact that Thai teens are sexually active in great numbers. One of the first factors to consider is that the Thai culture is structured with a high power distance, meaning they value superiority and do not question their leader’s orders. Thailand is a monarchy, being ruled by the royal family who runs through bloodline. The royal family is the highest above all, and law could convict one if they were to criticize the royal family (Corben, 2011). Parents have absolute power over their children; teachers are superior to their students, male are the leader of the family, and most importantly, seniority. The elders are considered the most important of the family, and honoring their ancestors is an important practice among the Thais. Since premarital sex is seen as a taboo among the conservative Thai culture, its open discussion is extremely rare. According to the article, 250,000 Thai teens are getting pregnant each year. Their age is one of the main problems because most of them are too young to even provide for themselves, let alone taking care of a kid. Teenagers who got pregnant are also pressured by their parents to marry the father of the child, basically giving up the women’s future. If their relationship with the father of the child was to fail, the kid is likely to be left in the hands of the grandparents of the mother side. The men somehow can move on to have a fresh new start, but it is not the same case with the women. Being a high context culture, which means many things are left unspoken, the Thais are not comfortable discussing the topic of pregnancy and sex even within the family. The result is the pregnant teens are left confused, lost, and on their own. The author stated in the article that, “Instead of teaching teenagers how to avoid pregnancy through the use of contraception, they preach abstinence” (Bunluesilp, 2012). Thai officials (whom are mostly Thai conservatives) use

Sarika 3 sports to lure teenagers out of participating in sexual activities. In the recent national exam, students were asked what would they do if they have a sexual urge and one of the choices seems to be extremely irrelevant to the subject – call a friend and go play soccer. Though the results were that students chose the option to “talk to your family,” the author believed that they just chose this answer because it is what the adults want to hear but not what they would actually do. Thai families are still mostly traditional and patriarchal, with the expectations for children to have the utmost respect for their parents, mainly their father. Thai teens engaged in premarital sex knowing that it is wrong. They would keep it from their parents because expressing the fact that they are sexually active would come with unbearable consequences and embarrassment. Being a pregnant teen in Thailand is more difficult than it would be in many countries because abortion is not considered an option, mainly due to its religion context. Thailand is a Buddhist country, approximately 95% of the population being Buddhist. The Buddhist believes that abortion is a sin as it is taking away a life. In accordance with the article, abortion is only legal in the case of “rape, incest or underage sex, or when the mother’s physical or mental health is at risks” (Bunluesilp, 2012). However, even if the mother were able to undergo legal abortion, she might not be able to stand the society’s judgment from everyone including the doctors and the nurses themselves. Conclusively, getting abortion is almost not an option to even be considered for pregnant teens. There are illegal abortion clinics in Thailand but safety and sanitary are the least they care about. Some teen mothers ended up abandoning their children in a trash dump or on the bus. One of the girls interviewed by the author revealed that she did not know what to do when she got pregnant so she ordered abortion pills online. It is such a paradox that the Thais are opposed to abortion because they think it is wrong to take a life of the fetus but would rather let the child be brought into the world and likely to be abandoned or wrongly

Sarika 4 treated by their mothers. Nowadays, it seems as if the reason teen mothers do not consider abortion is not because they think it is wrong, but because they are fear of shame. They have no problem abandoning their children anonymously. However, the limit of choices and the shame to even consider abortion force some pregnant teens to keep their child even though they are at the least capable ability to do so. The author’s main thoughts are clearly presented in this article from a younger and modern Thai perspective, though there are arguable matters from the conservative Thais. The author believed strongly that Thai teen pregnancy is a problem, that the Thai officials are not taking the problem seriously, and most importantly that the culture and beliefs are what making the problem even worse. The author pointed out in many ways that the best way to reduce the pregnancy rate is to openly discuss the issue and provide substantial sex education to Thai teens. The author also expressed a subtle anger towards the reference to soccer that is has nothing to do with preventing pregnancy, that the officials are just avoiding the reality. The conflict, however, is stated in the article. The conservative Thais believe that the reason to Thai teen pregnancy issue arises from the media and modern influences such as films and the use of social networks. Also, the fact that they believe that sex is such a sensitive topic to discuss, any changes are unlikely bound to happen. One could argue that the older Thais might not understand the lives of younger Thai teens but from a different perspective, it could be that the Thai teens just plainly had an altered value from the older generations. Thus, the argument of teens having affected by modern influences are not to be overlooked. The author realized that the Thai culture had been greatly altered, and that the strategy and the view regarding teen pregnancy might need to be adapted. However, it is the older generations conservative Thais who need convincing, and this might just not be enough to make a case to alter their values and beliefs.

Sarika 5 Thailand’s cultural identities are so strong that they are what define the entire society’s worldview. As a collectivist culture, the people are united with the same thought against certain things such as premarital sex and it is unlikely that it will ever be accepted as a norm. Though the younger Thais do not see premarital sex as a threat, when they actually have to make the big decision on their pregnancy, they choose to follow what the society sees as right and avoid being shamed by the group. This explains why the way the Thais deal with teen pregnancy seems to be patterned, and it is mostly just doing what the other in-group members would do. One of the Thai teen mother interviewed in the article who found out that she was pregnant when she was just sixteen years old, was so terrified of the though of abortion and decided to keep the child knowing she was not ready for it. Ultimately, the girl’s parents ended up looking after the baby, just as discussed earlier in this paper. The girl even mentioned that she feels as if the kid is her little brother, not someone she gave birth to, because she had no role as a parent whatsoever. Thai family and religion contexts might be considered as the contributors to teen pregnancy problem, but they are not the only things to take the blame. The Thais need to conform to the group could be the origin of everything else that follows. The author’s perspective on this article seems to be valid. Indeed, teen pregnancy is a problem. Whether or not the culture is prepared for it, things need to be changed. However, it is important to acknowledge which perspective we are looking at the problem from. Every culture have different values and norms, some could take generations to be changed, or some even not possible at all. For instance, some cultures that are facing teen pregnancy problem might wish they had preached abstinence and not be to open about sexual discussions. Since seniority is a privilege in Thai society, it might be difficult for the perspective to be shifted to what the author proposed. Very few people in such a collectivist culture would want to break the custom and

Sarika 6 start discussing how to have safe sex or avoid pregnancy through contraceptives. The Thais could be well aware of teen pregnancy problem, but just because how their culture is structured, it does not mean they need to talk about it. Values and beliefs are taught from within the smallest but most important unit of cultural foundation: the family. Parents teach their kids what is right or wrong, and shifting the way they talk about sex might not only make parenting harder for the Thais but there is no guarantee that it will actually solve the problem of teen pregnancy.

Sarika 7 Works Cited Bunluesilp, P. (2012). Soccer or Sex? Thai Teens Ponders Puzzling Choice. MSNBC World News. Retrieved from http://worldnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/19/11284979-socceror-sex-thai-teens-ponder-puzzling-choice Corben, R. (2011). Thai Court Sentences Man to 20 Years for Insulting Royal Family. Voice Of America News. Retrieved from http://www.voanews.com/english/news/asia/southeast/ThaiCourt-Sentence-Man-to-20-Years-for-Insulting-Royal-Family-134391668.html