SUE (not her real name), a 19-year-old sex worker, believes in gargling with mouthwash after servicing her clients with oral sex. She believes it’s a form of protection.

“Clients don’t like getting oral sex with condoms on. So I protect myself from getting sexually transmitted disease (STD) or HIV/AIDS with mouthwash. It’s cheap and effective I believe,” she said.

(Just so we’re clear, mouthwash after oral sex does NOT protect you from STDs.)

According to the petite teenager, she started becoming a sex worker because she needed the money.
“I come from a broken family and I need this job to support myself.”

Sue said her clients are mostly male students and businessmen.

“If I have to guess, their age ranges between 20 to 40. Some of my clients have their wedding rings on, so I assume they are married.”

Joe (not his real name), 19, is one of Sue’s clients. The student first met Sue at a massage parlour where she works at in Petaling Jaya, and he pays no heed to what people might think of his sexual activities.

“I visit massage parlours to meet girls because it’s cheap and there are a variety of girls to choose from. It’s easy access and pretty much effortless,” he said.

According to Joe, he pays RM80 for a massage that includes oral sex at the end, and if he wants to go all the way with the girl, he has to pay extra.

“It’s an additional RM100 for sex. But it actually depends on the girl. If she’s much older, then it wouldn’t cost so much.”

Secret sex life

Joe is pretty adamant that he won’t contract HIV/AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases from his regular visits to these massage parlours with “extra services.

“Of course I’m aware of the risk factors that come with unprotected sex! I always insist on putting on a condom when having sex – but not during oral sex.”

He also said he will go for HIV testing some day.

Joe believes he’s got it all figured out, except for the time he’ll have to tell his future spouse about his seedy activities one day.

“Honestly, I don’t think I can bring myself to tell my future wife. I don’t think she can take it. But since I’ve always had protection on, I believe everything will be okay.”

However, he seemed clueless about how HIV testing is done.

“I thought they swab your genital area for samples and then have it tested for HIV? That’s not it?”
Joe had no idea that HIV testing is actually done through a simple blood test.

The doctor speaks

Dr Raja Iskandar, an infectious disease consultant at University Malaya Medical Centre, looks after patients with sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and also people living with HIV (PLHIV).

He operated The Safe Clinic, a privately funded non-profit community clinic that provides services for those with STDs. Their services included screening, treatment and counselling.

Raja felt that nobody was addressing the rising number of STD cases in Malaysia, and the clinic provided an opportunity for those infected to get treatment without being stigmatised.

“They (PLHIV) are reluctant to go to clinics where they feel that they’re being judged.

“Even people in the medical sector will look at them differently, so the biggest challenge when we started the clinic was how to overcome this stigma,” he said.

However, the clinic was closed down last year due to a lack of financial support.

When asked if the safe sex habits of young Malaysians are improving, Raja said that more research needs to be done as there are currently not enough numbers to prove anything.

But based on his experience in the field, there is definitely a dangerous trend that needs to be curbed.

“There are clearly more youngsters engaging in unsafe sex. Sex education in Malaysia needs to be scaled up. It’s important because if young people enter their teenage years without any information at all, it can result in terrible consequences.

“People may say that during my generation, there was no sex education but we were brought up alright. However, there is more freedom now and youngsters are not restrained from doing whatever they want,” shared Raja.

The latest HIV/AIDS statistics show that one in four HIV infections reported in Malaysia now involve a young person aged 13-29.

And last year, over 76% of new infections involved those aged 20-39.

So clearly STD infection among young people is becoming a major concern in the country, and Raja believes these alarming statistics are caused by a lack of sex education.

“Young people mainly get HIV through sex and not through drug use. Talking about sex also seems to be tied up to culture and religion,” he said, adding that the situation is beyond his comprehension.

Be honest

Raja believes that young people who frequent sex workers like Joe should be honest with their future spouses regarding their sexual activities, because it’s their responsibility to protect their husbands/wives.

“Joe is a young and energetic guy who is sexually active, but at least he’s wearing a condom, which is the right thing to do.

“However, he should be educated on the risks associated with oral sex such as herpes and syphilis, although the risk of getting HIV is very low.”

Raja feels that actively engaging in sex is a normal behaviour among young men, but insists that they should use protection and also limit their number of sexual partners.

“The role of a doctor is only to lower the risks of unsafe sex, so I can’t judge and say that what they’re doing is wrong. Joe is already adopting safe sex, so what he does is entirely up to him,” he said.

Nevertheless, Raja encourages youngsters like Joe to always use a condom and get tested regularly.

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