WE WERE high school freshmen then. The day before summer vacation was to start, my seat mate Sam handed me a small, thin package. “It’s for you, Ben,” he said. “Open it when you get home.” Wrapped in intermediate paper and placed inside a red plastic bag, it was evidently a video compact disc.
An animated film, like “Toy Story,” maybe? I asked him.
“Just watch it when nobody’s around,” he said. But why? I wondered to myself.
Nonplussed, I ran to the lone room on the second floor as soon as I got home. I took the VCD out of my bag, removed its wrap, and noted that it had some scratches and had no title or picture on either side. I inserted it in the player and saw that it was working. I was all by myself and was thrilled at the prospect of seeing Buzz Lightyear in action.
But it was not “Toy Story” or any other film of the same genre. I saw foreigners. Man. Woman. Naked. Loud sound. Moaning. Sex act…
I turned off the VCD player as quickly as I could, guilt overwhelming my consciousness. What did I just see? I asked myself. I couldn’t move for a few minutes. While blankly staring at the ceiling, I placed my right hand over my heart. It was beating rapidly, as if I were in a marathon. I thought of my parents, my brothers, my sisters.
In our household, as in most other Filipino households, talk about sex, sexuality, and pornography is taboo. It seems to be embedded in our culture to not mention or discuss these topics in the open. They are deemed dirty and dark, unfit for discussion. But isn’t there a disconnect between what we think we believe and what we do?
Go to any commercial area these days in Metro Manila and you will see a different kind of commodity being sold. Yes, you will see fish, pork, or beef presented in a fashion to attract customers in the wet market, but you will also see pornographic DVDs arranged by category on wooden tables stationed in front of fast-food outlets and restaurants: Asian, American, Latin.
In some instances, the trade in such DVDs occurs just a few meters away from a police station. It’s as if this trade is an accepted part of reality, and police authorities have no business hindering this dark business from prospering. But more than what we witness in the real world, there are porn sites galore in the internet, not to mention the occasional pair of naked breasts popping up out of nowhere.
According to Pornhub’s 2017 data, the Philippines leads the world in time spent watching porn, at 13 minutes and 28 seconds on the average. And yes, the Philippines has been acing this category for a number of years now.
We read news reports like this without blinking an eye. But do we ever ask ourselves where our values have gone?
David Segal wrote in “Does Porn Hurt Children?” (New York Times, March 2014): “‘One of our recommendations is that children should be taught about relationships and sex at a young age,’ Professor Horvath continued. ‘If we start teaching kids about equality and respect when they are 5 or 6 years old, by the time they encounter porn in their teens, they will be able to pick out and see the lack of respect and emotion that porn gives us. They’ll be better equipped to deal with what they are being presented with.’”
This recommendation is of a piece with what’s written in Proverbs 22:6 (King James version): “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
About a year ago, then Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial announced a plan of action to block pornographic websites in the country as part of efforts to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS, especially among the youth. This move could have reduced the risk to Filipino adults and children posed by unsafe sexual activities resulting from exposure to porn. But it did not push through.
Humans are not designed to lust after porn models or actors online or in porn DVDs; we are designed to fall in love with one individual with respect and sincerity under God’s guidance. Our body structure and emotions support this. While scientific evidence on the gruesome effects of porn continue to be studied, the safest step to take by young people is to shy away from it to prevent possible addiction to it. If Filipinos take pride in calling ourselves a Christian nation, let’s live by its standards. We should not patronize porn and treat it as part of our lives. Let us make a stand.
Up to this day, I wonder what my seat mate Sam’s intentions were that afternoon when he handed me the porn VCD. If I would be given a chance to talk to him again, I’d tell him how I momentarily froze in shock at what I was seeing. I’d ask him why. But with all the questions, one thing is certain: It’s not supposed to be like this. Because we are not born this way.
(This piece had first appeared in Young Blood, Opinion, Philippine Daily Inquirer on January 14, 2018. Two days later, Thailand’s “The Nation” republished it.)