Myanmar’s first sex education magazine polarises nation

(YANGON) With its glossy pages containing pouting models and racy romance tips, Myanmar's first sex education magazine has got the usually demure nation hot under the collar as it cashes in on its newfound cultural freedom.

‘Hyno’ has sparked fevered debate since hitting Myanmar's bookstores in November, where it has become a must-read among the young and curious, just a few months after the end of direct censorship in the former junta-ruled nation.

Perhaps tame by western standards, Hyno's photo spreads of semi-clad women and columns advocating "bedroom secrets” and "the benefits of cuddling" have raised eyebrows in conservative Myanmar, earning it an adult-rating.

But the magazine’s editor, Ko Oo Swe, brushes off accusations that the monthly publication is too daring for the country, or in any way as erotic as ‘Playboy’ magazine as critics have claimed on Facebook.

"This magazine is a combination of sex education and entertainment," Mr Ko told AFP, saying the red label on the front page warning it is for over 18s has stirred the unfavourable comparisons.

"Issues about sex remain hidden in Myanmar. Our society is becoming more open but I think sex education is still weak," he added.

‘Hyno’ – which translates as "enchant" or "hypnotise" – is the first magazine of its kind and is proving very popular despite its relatively-expensive price of US$3 (S$3.70) sold at bookstores and street stalls.

Its debut follows the abolition of Myanmar's stringent pre-publication censorship which had seen officials flag photos or articles deemed distasteful to public morality, as well as stifling dissent.

NO SALE AT SOME BOOKSHOPS

But since censorship was scrapped in August 2012, fashion and lifestyle magazines have started to push the boundaries with their content – without official approval.

‘Hyno’ has raised the stakes so much that some bookshops refuse to stock the magazine, saying its aim is to titillate rather than educate.

The Ministry of Information has in response sent a letter to the Burmese interim press council registering its unhappiness with the “unethical” lifestyle magazine.

The ministry accuses ‘Hyno’ of breaching its licence as a fashion publication by printing “sex-related articles and photos that are not appropriate for Myanmar's culture”.

"I even saw some comments on the internet saying how shameless the editor is to print such magazine," said Ko Oo Swe, who insists he has “stuck to the cultural rules” and urges people to refrain from criticism before reading the magazine themselves.

Despite the uproar, ‘Hyno’’s young readers believe it could play a major role in raising awareness of sexually transmitted diseases and, in the longer term, shifting rigid social morals as Myanmar edges out of decades of isolation.

"For those who are quite old-fashioned, it (sex education) is a very shameful thing," said Yoon Lae Khin, a 20-year-old student, who is also a volunteer for the Myanmar Medical Association (MMA).

"My mother understands there are things we need to know, but it is difficult to talk about sex in front of my father and siblings. So we need to get this awareness from magazines."

UNDERAGE PREGNANCY, DISEASES

Medical professionals have joined ‘Hyno’'s corner saying it is high time the country talked about sex.

"Young people do not have enough knowledge so problems such as underage pregnancy, pregnancy before marriage and infection with HIV/AIDS and venereal disease occur," said Khine Soe Win, a project officer for a youth development programme with the MMA.

"Old-fashioned people turn their noses up in disapproval" of sex education, he added, criticising them for judging the issue by the yardstick of "a culture they don't understand".

His comments were echoed by Ne Win, a doctor working for the United Nations Population Fund in Myanmar, who believes a modern, progressive media can fill the void left by the nation's reluctance to promote sex education.

"Our activities are not as strong as media coverage which can reach hundreds of readers in a short time," Ne Win said.

While its editor says ‘Hyno’ is here to stay, a battle is brewing with those who see it as a threat to decency in modest Myanmar.

Mg Mg Lwin, manager of Innwa Book Store – one of Yangon's leading bookshops – refuses to stock ‘Hyno’ despite fielding a barrage of enquiries, mainly from women, about its availability.

"Even if someone gives me those magazines to sell at my shop, I will not accept them," he said.



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