Malaysia and Safe Sex

As a conservative Islamic society, Malaysia frets over teenage sex and the spate of unplanned babies left on doorsteps by unwed young mothers.

But according to a survey by Durex, the condom maker, the nation lags far behind in the youthful sex stakes. Indeed, the median age of first sexual experience is at 23 the highest of all 37 countries in the survey. At 23.7 years the country’s youth are more than three years behind the lead country in early sex – Brazil at 17.3, Colombia, at 17.4 and New Zealand at 17.5.

So not only are Malaysians slow to get started having sex they, are also quite cautious about it, with no less than 54 percent using condoms for their first experience, a higher than average percentage according to “Face of Global Sex Report 2012”. By contrast among the most carefree are the New Zealanders, only 32 percent of whom use condoms in their first sexual experiences.

(Malaysia is also probably the world’s biggest single producer of condoms, churning out 2 billion condoms a year from a 3.6-hectare site in Johor, with 1,000 workers operating production lines for a company named Karex, which makes the protective sheaths for a variety of different condom companies. Karex has two more production lines, one in Klang and a second in the Thai border town of Hatyai, producing another billion or so.)

Indonesia youth rank even lower than New Zealanders, with first-experience condom use at just 27 percent but with first experience at 23.6 years. The circumstances of their first experience were probably very different from those in New Zealand and will have changed over time. The percentage of those using condoms the last time they had sex is now 54 percent in Indonesia, close to Malaysia’s 57 percent though still behind Thailand at 69 percent.

While New Zealanders start early with unprotected sex, the Brazilians start even earlier but also have the highest rate of first time condom use. With its long history of female emancipation and high level of births out of wedlock, New Zealanders clearly believe condoms can take the fun away.

Malaysians on the other hand have the lowest among Asian countries of unplanned pregnancies other than Korea. Indeed, the survey clearly shows that east Asia is a huge user of condoms with very high levels of use in first time sex in countries such as Taiwan, Japan and Korea and continuing high rates thereafter – other than in China.

Those with an aversion to condom use should head for the Czech Republic which at under 40 percent has by far the lowest rate of use in last sexual experience, and not to Canada which has the highest at almost 80 percent.

Despite the sex tourism to southern Thailand and elsewhere, Malaysia also reports a relatively low incidence of experience with Sexually Transmitted Infections – 78 percent have had no such experience. Among Asian countries only Taiwan, India and Indonesia do better although surprise surprise, France and the United Kingdom both report lower instances than Malaysia. Brazil has only slightly more at 76 percent.

Easily bottom of the infections league is Turkey where almost 50 percent have had some experience with Russia not far behind and China making a poor showing compared with Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Quite how accurate answers may be to the various questions cannot be assessed. The 27,000 respondents varied in age between 18 and 64. Not surprisingly given the spread of HIV awareness and the availability of condoms, younger age groups were more likely to use them for their first experience. So, according to the report, men were more likely to use them than women. This imbalance implies, though the survey is mute on the topic, that many men’s first experience was with a sexual professional, not a wife or steady girlfriend. Overall those reporting they used condoms first time the majority were with a steady partner not spouse.

The survey covered not between 500 and 2,000 people in the countries assessed. Results excluded the 14 percent who said they were virgins – but the published results do not elaborate on the relative prevalence of virginity across countries and age groups. It did however not a correlation between income and condom use with the lowest income groups least likely to have used them.

Previous surveys by Durex have shown wide variations in the frequency of sex and levels of satisfaction. On one of these measures Malaysia came out well, with 76 percent reporting sex at least weekly just behind Brazil at 82 percent and Russia at 80 percent and China at 78 percent but far ahead of Hong Kong and Singapore at 62 percent and Japan at a miserable 34 percent.

In terms of enjoyment, 38 percent of Malaysians reported being satisfied with their sex lives, a moderate level well behind India at 61 percent but ahead of Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan at just 15 percent. Very generally the data suggest an inverse relationship between levels of economic development and frequency and enjoyment of sex – a useful antidote to GDP fetishism.