Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Despite the government’s crackdown on illegal sex publications, which was supported by Catholic Church authorities, it is obvious to any careful observer that informal sources of sexual information - television talk shows, soap operas, radio-phone-in programs, and different kinds of adult journals and magazines commonly found in metropolitan and other urban areas - are widespread in the Philippines and cannot be controlled by either the government or religious authorities. [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2001 |~|]

“In 1972, President Ferdinand Macros declared martial law and proclaimed a new sociocultural reform, the “New Society,” which purported to reduce crime, enhance land reform, and augment economic stability. During this period, the government also approved a program, and directed that formal sex education be taught in all levels of education. Sex education courses were offered, starting at the elementary level in science and biology (human development and population). The high school equivalent to the tenth grade in the American system and college courses included elementary basic-level biological information plus discussion of family planning and separation - divorce being illegal. The information on legal separation (de facto separation) was more in-depth in the public schools because of its high incidence in the lower class as compared to the middle and upper classes (professionals), who sent their children to private schools. |~|

“In the 1980s, the medical schools supplemented the courses on human sexually with seminars and an international conference in which the author was one of the main speakers. In the 1990s, the government sponsored kindergarten classes. Research on population control, sexually transmitted disease (STD), premarital sex, sexual harassment, and AIDS are ongoing.” |~|

History of Sex Education in the Philippines

Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “For some 425 years, Spanish colonial rule afforded the Filipinos little political freedom and individual dignity. This began to change in the 1880s, when a multi-talented physician,Dr. Jose P. Rizal, broke through political, racial, and sociocultural barriers. At that time, only a few colleges offered limited science and social courses, and absolutely no sexuality or health education. In 1898, when Americans colonists replaced the Spanish, Filipino society became increasingly Westernized, specifically Americanized. However, there was still no formal sex education or published material on the subject. Sex education was completely limited to information about pregnancy and childcare passed on by word of mouth among the women in families.[Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2001 |~|]

From 1946 to 1968, there was rapid population growth, but still no formal sex education. What was not taught in the classrooms, the students would learn from their families at home and in the streets, although this information was often distorted, incomplete, or outright erroneous. In 1969, in an effort to reduce the world population, the United Nations, through the World Health Organization in cooperation with the Filipino government, instituted a family planning and birth (conception) control program. In 1970 to 1971, this author was one of the principal instructors and trainers in the family planning program in the suburban and rural areas. The program consisted of teaching basic biology, conception/pregnancy, and the different options for contraception, but mainly the “pill.” Although the Catholic Church was overtly opposed to contraception, particularly the “pill,” the church covertly supported this education in order to reduce the family’s burden of child rearing because of poverty. In 1970, the educational (college) system was rocked by a widespread explosion of “students unrest.” The college administrations finally settled and included in their curriculum science courses, such as expanded public health, that included information on sexually transmitted diseases and limited information on human sexuality. |~|

“During this era, sex education was left to the biology teachers, both in high school and college, who gave very limited information as part of the classes in the biological sciences. In a few cases, when the teacher decided to do so, this instruction was more or less a description of the reproductive organs in plants and animals, with perhaps some references to the role of the ovaries and testes in human reproduction. Explicit mention or pictures of the male and female genitalia were unacceptable and forbidden by custom.” |~|

Pornography in the Philippines

In the 2001 Time sex survey 48 percent of males and 24 percent of females said they had watched pornography in the past three months and 47 percent of males and 33 percent of females said they needed external stimulants to get aroused. When asked if ever had cybersex, nine percent of males and five percent of females said yes.

Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “In 1946, when the Philippines became a republic after 48 years of American colonialism, American and foreign magazines started to pour into the country. Pornographic magazines were illegal, but the rich and some devoted collectors managed to import literary exotic pieces (erotica). By the 1960s, changes were visible in the social attitudes and private interests of Filipinos. Women’s magazines are now found everywhere, in homes, hair salons, physician’s offices, and in businesses. And in almost every issue, there are articles about sexuality and eroticism. These articles also cover a variety of subjects, such as contraception, the influence of a healthy sexual life on physical and mental well-being, and how to improve a marital relationship. [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2001 |~|]

Although there are no precise data on the production and commerce of pornography in the Philippines, there is no doubt about its widespread distribution and availability. The gradual blurring of the distinction between pornography and other forms of erotica has led to some level of social acceptance of pornography and opened new markets. In public debates, the anti-pornography position is weak, and pornography is often presented as a form of sexual liberation. Even some Catholic moralists have recognized that pornography can help couples to improve their sexual lives, as long as it does not replace the “natural” (romantic) sexuality. |~|

Three types of Filipino magazines deal with sexuality and eroticism: 1) Magazines dealing with sexual issues, but avoiding pornographic images and full nudity, (e.g., Superstuds, Gossips, Intrigue, Expose, Teen Stars, and Soap Opera Stars). They are moderately to expensively priced, have quality printing, and are directed at informing a public that accepts a scientific (although popular rather than academic) language. Sex Forum magazine, published by a lawyer in the mid-1980s, provided sexual information reviewed and approved by the author of this chapter. Among the topics discussed in Sex Forum were techniques to enjoy an intense sexuality, to make your bedroom a more erotic place, to renew sexual passion without changing partners, safer sex practices, and ways of taking care of yourself without handicapping your pleasure. 2) Magazines of literary and sexual humor, with pornographic texts, advice columns, letters, and partial or total nudity (e.g., Tik-Tik, Playboy, and Penthouse). 3) Magazines and packages of playing or picture cards, clearly pornographic and devoid of artistic quality, some with scatological content. In reality, a wide range of pornography and erotica is readily available, with distribution handled by regular newsstands, video shops, porno shops (major cities only), and mail-order services. |~|

From the economic point of view, the most important sector of the Filipino pornography market is the sale of videocassettes, fueled by the wide distribution of videocassette players-recorders. In the 1960s, before video players, rich couples viewed adult films with an eight- or super-eight-millimeter portable film projector in the privacy of their own homes, or at some occasional college students’ “stag parties.” Videocassettes offer the possibility of greater privacy, and cater to the needs of middle-class and even poor men, women, and couples. Most of the pornography is produced abroad and imported for rental through video shops and typical newsstands. The legal situation seems to favor the newsstand as the primary channel for the rental/sale of these cassettes. Video shops, however, offer the advantage of greater anonymity and the higher technical quality of the cassettes. The sale and distribution of these pornographic materials are illegal. Although enforcement of the anti-pornography law is weak, sometimes it will produce a dramatic example. In April 1999, a 61-year-old Filipina grandmother was arrested for selling pornographic tapes on the streets of a metropolitan city. |~|

Filipino pornography also comes in the form of “Live Sex Shows” arranged through special parties held in motels or hotels. The movie UHAW (Sexual Hunger), a soft-core film in the early 1970s, was the first erotica production with the lead female role played by a former national Philippine beauty queen. Hard-core videos, although poor in quality, are also homemade, but lack the better quality of American and foreign imports. The advent of the Internet has brought a wide variety of sexual information and visuals, including local Web sites, like sex maniacs (manyakis,, with a modest monthly access fee. |~|

The author’s informal survey of consumers of pornography indicates that about 85 percent of the males and 15 percent of females are sexually excited by such films. Females prefer erotic films where sexual acts are embedded in a narrative context, whereas males are more easily aroused by simply viewing mere nudity and sexual organs. Female consumption of pornography seems to take place in the context of the couple, whereas for men it is more linked with solitary sex. Generally speaking, there are indications of an increasing trend toward increasing consumption of soft-core (clean) pornography by educated, sophisticated, and professional couples. |~|

Sexual Dysfunctions, Counseling, and Therapies in the Philippines

Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: The Philippines is a conservative society in which definitions of sexual dysfunctions often mirror the changing attitudes towards male and female sexuality. Thus, in the 1970s, inhibited or absent female orgasm (anorgasmia) was not considered a problem in a context where female sexuality was linked almost exclusively with procreation. Premature ejaculation became more of a problem in the 1980s with the emergence of the myth of simultaneous orgasms, promoted by the Western media, and the idea of heterosexual sex as spontaneously pleasant, which taken together created a new set of pressures, expectations, and tensions. Finally, the growing public rejection of the conservative attitude of the Church linking emotionally stable sexuality with orgasm might reduce the tendency to treat alternative expressions of eroticism as sexual dysfunctions. [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2001 |~|]

Prior to the mid-1950s, Filipino physicians had no better knowledge or understanding of human sexuality than the sophisticated Filipino citizen. Both could, but seldom did, read Kinsey’s works and Masters and Johnson’s book Human Sexuality. Even after some sexuality education was introduced into medical training, the information they received was prejudiced and biased. The departments of obstetrics and gynecology in the public health and urology section taught the pathologic aspects of genitourinary (sexual) organs and reproductive mechanisms, but refused to consider with the same vigor or objective the sexual behavior of healthy males and females. In my interviews with medical students and young doctors during my periodic visits to the Philippines in l984, this author perceived that two years later, the physicians still did not feel comfortable discussing healthy sexuality issues. Some of these doctors even felt personally offended, especially in being asked to deal with the “sexually oppressed” minority social groups, such as the aging, homosexuals, and the mentally and physically disabled (handicapped). |~|

Gynecologists, psychiatrists, urologists, and general practitioners often have limited knowledge when people come for advice on sexual problems, such as frigidity, impotence, ejaculatory dysfunction, painful sex, sex during pregnancy and after delivery, consequences on sex life from drug/alcohol abuse, sex among the aged and physically handicapped, and sexual surgical procedures. Although their scientific information about sexuality is limited and incomplete, they perceive that science and common sense conflict with their ideologies and cultural-religious beliefs. The internal battles between these two opposing patterns of thinking and behavior only add confusion and distress to ignorance. |~|

In 1990, this author initiated the creation of sexuality programs in major Filipino universities and medical schools. Sexual Rehabilitation of the Spinal Cord Injury Patients (Leyson 1991), by this author, was introduced, along with other resources, and quickly became popular among medical and paramedical personnel along with judges, lawyers, and teachers who are increasingly more aware of their need for advanced education on sexual topics/issues. |~|

Sexual Counseling and Therapies

Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Prior to the 1960s, the management of sexual dysfunctions was based mostly on folklore and “witchcraft.” In the 1970s, management was a mixture of traditional folklore and medical science. In the rural areas, marital dysfunctions (sexual and reproductive) were treated with exotic concoctions and herbal remedies. In the urban areas, impotence was mainly treated with psychotherapy, occasional anti-depressants, and hormones. Premature ejaculation was managed by psychotherapy. In 1998, the most common male sexual problem was impotence, followed by premature ejaculation, decreased libido, and infertility. Premature ejaculation was managed by anti-depressants and psychotherapy, with perhaps some behavioral sex therapy. Impotence was treated with non-specific vasodilators, sex therapy, and, for those who could afford it, penile prostheses. Libido disorder and infertility were treated with psychotherapy and pharmacological remedies. Among women, the most common sexual problems were painful intercourse (dyspareunia), vaginal spasms, and inhibited orgasm (dysorgasmia). Occasionally, older women complained of a decrease of sexual desire. Dyspareunia was treated with psychotherapy and sex therapy. The other sexual dysfunctions were grouped into one disease and managed with sex therapy and pharmacological remedies. [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality , 2001 |~|]

From 1995 to the present, sexual dysfunction management is almost the same as in the United States and Europe for those able to afford it. Most urologists and gynecologists have taken additional training in sex education and therapy. A few American- and European-trained sexologists have opened offices in major cities. With the infusion of new ideas and discoveries in sexology, management of sexual dysfunctions consists of behavioral therapy, sensory amplifications, advanced psychotherapy, and sex therapy. Modern impotence treatment includes erection vacuum devices, oral and intra-urethral medications, intrapenile injection medicines, and solid and inflatable penile prostheses, as well as sexual performance medications like Viagra. However, some herbal remedies for impotence, infertility, and libido disorders have also been revived. The Church and NGOs with social services offer premarital and marital counseling, although the official Catholic position still maintains the traditional female role of motherhood and perpetuates a generally more passive attitude towards sexuality and pleasuring even in marriage. |~|

Sexual Counseling for Emigrant Filipinos

Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “Sexual counseling and therapy from Filipinos who immigrate to other countries presents some unique problems. The “Filipino Blend,” which represents the majority of Filipinos, is the result of racial diversity and genetic pooling involving over 1,300 years of infusions from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Indochina, India, Borneo, Java, Spain, and the United States. The profound psychological and cultural result is a Filipino self-concept of being powerless and inferior. This perceived sense of dependency on the benevolence of envied Western masters detracted from the development of a strong national identity and solidarity, perpetuating a subservient mendicant role and passive resistance. A different generation of Filipinos immigrating to the United States and Canada are subjected to a variety of traditional and Westernized cultural and ethnical (values-communication styles) conflicts. [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2001 |~|]

This clash of values and behaviors may result in a cultural psychodynamic conflict, a kind of cultural baggage, which may include any or all of the following: 1) The primacy of family and small-group affiliation over the individual, a strongly held value that inhibits free expression of dissent and tends to detract from the creativity and autonomy that are highly prized by Americans. 2) A strict adherence to gender-role stereotypes and patriarchal family structure that goes against the egalitarian norms in the American family. 3) A primacy given to smooth interpersonal relationships that conflicts with the American ideal of openness and frankness. 4) An attitude of “optimistic fatalism” or bahala na, that is opposed to American beliefs in future orientation, careful planning, and the drive for excellence and economic development through determined effort. 5) A sensitivity to slight and criticism, which springs from an exaggerated need for self-importance, amor propio, and often leads to withdrawal and/or vengeance, in direct opposite to the American style of directness and sportsmanship. 6) A fear of hiya (devastating shame) that often inhibits competitiveness. This concern over face-saving is fostered by the use of ridicule and ostracism in child training. 7) The practice of delicadeza, or nonconfrontational communication, most evident among females, that is ineffectual in Western societies, where directness is appreciated and competitiveness is encouraged. 8) Utang nang loob, or reciprocity of favors, that derives from a sense of gratitude and belongingness, is incongruous in societies that give primacy to individualism and the “bottom line.” 9) A strict adherence to Catholic belief on virginity, abortion, contraception, and homosexuality, which can nourish a self-righteous judgmental stance that is out of place in a pluralistic society with emerging alternative lifestyles. |~|

The stress of immigration and acculturation have extracted a heavy toll on Filipinos, which can result in psychological and/or sexual dysfunctions and symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, and paranoia. These adjustment disorders may show up in family and marital conflicts, extramarital affairs, embarrassment from inadequacies in work situations, estrangement from the Filipino family, and even divorce. Unemployment and underemployment weigh heavily on the Filipino male’s sense of his own masculinity, and he frequently takes his frustration out on his spouse and children. Filipino women may internalize their frustration against male dominance by developing symptoms of depression and/or arousal or orgasmic dysfunctions. |~|

Santa Rita (1996) emphasized the need of professionals providing sexual and relationship therapy for native and émigré Filipinos to understand the psychodynamics, and cultural and ethnic background of the Filipino personality and their families. The therapist should try to discard the “cultural baggage” of the Filipino colonial mentality by utilizing alternative Filipino cultural norms and practices in the therapeutic role. Such role playing can be used to suggest alternative, more functional ways of interacting as individuals within a family and as a family in a changing Filipino culture or in a different culture. |~|

These stage scenarios might include: 1) A scenario for role playing Lakas ng loob (assertiveness) may be used to contrast mahinhin (self-effacing) and long-suffering, passive behaviors of Filipinos with assertive behavior. Assertiveness is an alternative to playing the martyr, which exacts such a high psychological price in the form of depression and other medical symptoms. 2) Tinikling (a bird in a bamboo trap) is the traditional Filipino dance simulating how a bird skips and jumps its way through clashing bamboo poles. This dance can be used to remind the family that like the bird, Filipinos can be resilient and resourceful, and thereby escape whatever traps the colonial masters might concoct. This resourceful dancing-bird image suggests an alternative to maintaining amor propio (need for self-importance) and hiya (shame) at all cost. These traits are so often exaggerated in both Filipino men and women that failures and disappointments often lead to depression and adjustment disorders, including arousal and erectile dysfunctions. 3) “God helps those who help themselves” is a study theme that can utilize the religious theme of “actively working with God” through one’s labor and accomplishments to “glorify” Him. This biblical view suggests an alternative to Bahala Na (fatalism) that may result in lack of initiative and impedes economic and social mobility. 4) “In my father’s house, there are many mansions” is another basic religious theme common among Filipinos that can be used as an exercise in “hospitality”-welcoming one’s fellow human beings. This thesis of “Christian welcome” may help Filipinos become more accepting of other people’s beliefs and lifestyles, especially on very emotion-laden issues like contraception, abortion, premarital sex, homosexuality, and bisexuality. |~|

The marital and psychogenic sexual dysfunctions of immigrant Filipinos stem from their sense of vulnerability over their perceived, often acutely subordinate status as a minority in a pluralistic society that reminds them of their colonial history. Culturally sensitive therapeutic approaches are important in order to neutralize the Filipino family’s low image of self and provide the family and the individual an opportunity to discover its inner strengths and resources including the gaining of self-respect (Santa Rita 1996).

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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