Sunday, September 23, 2007

I am not a sex guru

FOR the first time in my life, I understand Manny Pacquiao.

After the boxer recently became a columnist, he has had to parry worse hits from any Mexican ring foe when even fans doubted he was writing the columns attributed to him.

I’ve never been able to sit through a fight, but I winced from similar punches after I accepted the invitation of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) to join the Sept. 18 forum on “Sex and the Journalist.”

I had an inkling of the theme’s suggestiveness when my student asked me, in a rather quizzical tone, when and where would be the forum where I would be discussing my sex life.

I’d like to think her face registered utter relief when I clarified that the discussion, one of the activities lined up for Cebu Press Freedom Week, sought to probe how media covered the topic of human sexuality, not sexual calisthenics.

Yet my student was not alone in this misperception. My editors ribbed me, one asking if my “erudition” on marital dishonesty stemmed from personal experience.

Two former classmates I met after the forum asked me how “that sex thing” went. But before I could arrange my thoughts, my college chums bombarded me with many solicitous questions about my present state, fearing perhaps that I had either become a Cebuana Deep Throat (of the Happy Hooker/Xaviera Hollander, not Watergate, fame) or was about to launch a new career as local sex guru.

I know, Manny. Believe me, I know.

When I showed up early at the forum, I met one of my idols, Dr. Margarita Holmes, whose honest, smart and humorous discussion of sexuality in her newspaper columns in the 90s opened my eyes to a way of thinking and feeling about sex that was not a patchwork of uptight upbringing, repressed education, romantic myth and pornographic excursion.

Though married for 15 years and having two sons, I still found myself scratching my head when Margie asked me for the Cebuano word for “sexuality”.

When Fr. Fidel Orendain, a co-panelist, arrived, we found ourselves swapping a few terms—“panghilawas,” “iyot,” “kayat,” “ger-ger”—that left us Cebuanos feeling dissatisfied. Not only do the terms refer only to the sexual act, not sexuality—which the Vatican defines as the “intimate nucleus of a person,” not just the biological function and reproductive system—three of the terms that immediately came to my mind are part of street slang, used certainly for negotiating commerce on the streets and brothels but never mentioned in front of children or parents.

Although I have no formal, deep grasp of Bisaya, it still struck me that I could only fall back on the crudeness of slang to answer Margie.

For language is everything. Language does not only communicate information and ideas but it reveals attitude and predispositions.

For my sharing on print journalism’s coverage of sexuality in the forum, I had reviewed my paper’s archives and Internet sources. I decided to stress that print journalists can redeem their sensationalism of sex by rescuing reportage and journalese or reporting jargon from sexism and stereotyping, as well as conducting explanatory reports to probe and inform the public on crucial issues like adolescent reproductive health, sexually transmitted infections and even the rights of solo parents.

But Margie’s one question undid me. Why does “sex” conjure only the randy (full of sexual desire) and salacious (extreme interest in sex)?

I was titillated but also instructed after reading Margie’s columns and listening to “Verboten,” the popular radio program of broadcaster and educator Dr. Filemon Alberca, also a co-panelist in the KBP forum. Like Margie, lambasted for corrupting the young in the 90s, Alberca was tainted by his program’s association with the forbidden and the prohibited in the 80s.

Yet, sandwiched by Margie and Dr. Alberca during the Sept. 18 forum, I recalled the “life-lesson” I absorbed from these two sex gurus.

It is not the clinical psychologists, journalists or moral guardians that should have the last say on sex. Only a person fully alive to his or her being—that “intimate nucleus”—can be the true guru. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 23, 2007 issue

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