Pakistan call-in sex doctor

KARACHI:  Each Thursday, in the new studios of Health TV in Pakistan Dr. Nadimuddin Siddiqui fixes his gaze on one of the many cameras aimed at him and prepares to take a call.

“My husband doesn’t want to make love anymore, what should I do doctor?” the housewife asks over the phone.

In a nation where early sexual education is imparted in college/school corridors for the lack of a formal sexual health education course in curriculum, Health TV - part of the Ziauddin network of private hospitals - has taken the bold step of education people on the taboo issue of ‘sexual education/advice’.

Most of Pakistan’s television stations airtime comprises cooking shows, soap operas, cricket and the ubiquitous chat shows debating the country’s tumultuous political stage.

But come Thursday, for an hour, Health TV does the unthinkable: it takes questions from viewers on sex. Dr. Siddiqui is their messiah and ‘Clinic Online’ his message.

“My husband only wants to do it once a week, sometimes once a fortnight, and it doesn’t last very long,” continues the housewife, calling from Lahore.

The portly doctor seldom misses a beat with his pearly white teeth glistening in the studio lights.

“We call this loss of libido…it occurs when you have a low level of testosterone. You should work on your husband’s diet, feed him more fish and push him to exercise,” he says.

“God willing your husband will get better.”

“Sex is a very difficult matter in Pakistan, here it is very difficult to talk in open forum, in media, in any seminar. So whenever you talk about sex you should be very careful,” the AFP news agency quotes the doctor.

Mostly religious conservatism plays a part in sexual ignorance and poor health: there are numerous reports of gynaecologists refusing to examine unmarried women, who according to them should not be having sex. Health TV claims its mission is to improve health awareness in a country where access to a doctor remains poor by international standards and for people with limited financial resources.

Sex is a taboo word in the country. It is associated with immorality, guilt and shame. But Dr. Siddiqui’s show is the slow harbinger of change. His show is proving popular. Dozens of callers - from both genders - from across the country ring the show to get on air. Various issues are brought up, from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infertility to questions about performance, micro-penises and nymphomania.

Usually unaware of acceptable sexual terminology in Urdu there is hesitance in the tone of the callers, and mostly use obscure expressions to describe their troubles.

"I have developed that habit," says a reluctant female caller. "I think I am gaining weight because of it. How can I stop it?" the young caller asks, thus prodding Dr. Siddiqui to ask multiple follow-up questions.

"I have developed that sex habit, you know, with a finger. I want to stop. Is there a medicine for it?" she asks in a whisper.

Once in a while Dr. Siddiqui goes off track though most of his advise his sensible and acceptable medically.

"You should pray five times a day, refrain from watching inappropriate content on Internet and read religious literature. You will be alright."

Here lies the problem - trying to balance science and religion or try upsetting the religious vigilante and brush aside the callers concern by invoking religion. While the show is providing people a rare opportunity to speak up about their repressed health issues, the quality of advice they may be receiving remains in question.

Dr. Siddiqui however says, ‘"I can't be seen to be doing anything against Islam, or it would cause trouble.”

Myths and misconceptions prevail, even among doctors. Little wonder sexual health remains a deeply misunderstood subject in this conservative society.

Attributing the success of his show on the fact that it talks about genuine deeply rooted issues that even a conservative society faces. Health TV aims to improve health awareness in Pakistan, a country where access to a doctor is more difficult than watching a show.

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