All posts by: Ana Santos

Ana is a journalist by education and now by profession, after taking a few detours in the corporate world of banking. She is also a sexual health rights activist as a matter of choice and passion.


As an independent journalist and foreign correspondent covering sexual health rights and women in armed conflict, Ana has received media grants from Newsbreak, Probe Media Foundation and the Philippine Press Institute to cover population and development issues. Recently, Ana also took on the post of Associate Editor for Illustrado, a Dubai-based lifestyle magazine for overseas Filipinos.


In 2009, Ana founded Sex and Sensibilities.com (SAS), a website that promotes positive sexuality in the context of informed choice among young women.


“Happy Even After”, a spin-off of SAS, is a candid and sometimes humorous look at the perils and pressures of solo parenting in one of the two remaining countries in the world where divorce is not legal.


My Family Picture

I was given my first journalism award last week. It was the first time I was recognized for my work in public health. As any awardee would do, I thought back to the people who made this possible for me and thanked them.

There were the usual mentors, grant funders, respondents and colleagues to thank, but I knew that another person deserved an equal place on this roster: our Yaya Remz.

Actually, my daughter stopped calling her “Yaya” some years back and started calling her “Ate”. Because that’s what she is to my daughter—an older sister  who takes care of her, watches over her and when I’m not around, prods her to study and do her homework.

To me, I joke that she has become my “wife”—or at the very least, my alter ego in a parallel universe. I bring home the bacon, she manages the house and well, kid. I am the envy of many friends who have begged me to find a twin Super Remz for their own household.

Once, before leaving for her annual vacation, Remz told me she found a relative to be her “reliever”. I didn’t think of asking her to do that, but when I realized with great terror that I didn’t know where half the things were in the house, I was glad she thought of it. When Remz asked for permission to have her reliever over a few days before she left so she could orient her on daily tasks, I knew she wasn’t just our housekeeper. She was a “keeper” period.

In the 7 years that she has been with us, she has taken on more and more responsibilities. She checks on homework, gets to know teachers and coaches, texts me to remind me about coming due dates and approaching Parent Teacher Conferences. She has come to anticipate my needs and that of my daughter’s with uncanny precision. But more than that, she has  seen my daughter grow up from toddler to kid and now, to what my daughter proclaims herself as: tween. Remz and I have cheered at football games, have spent many sleepless nights worrying when the Little One was sick and have collectively (can you say that even we’re just a twosome?)  stood up to bullies.

On many occasions, she has shown that she is as invested in our success and well-being as any family member would be.

I know with great certainty that I would not know what to do without her.

I also know that in ways she may not have realized, Remz was an invaluable part in my getting this award. It was because I could entrust my child to her that I could focus on other things at hand–like bringing home the bacon.

As a token of my gratitude, I took both my daughter Reesey and Ate Remz out to a simple lunch to celebrate my award. I asked the server to take our picture as I realized that we have never had a picture together. It has always been either her taking a picture of me and Reesey or the other way around.

I looked at the picture in the camera. It wasn’t the best picture, truth be told.

But it was our first picture together. And to me, it was a picture of my family.

Ana P. Santos is a former banker turned freelance public health journalist. Her series of stories on HIV in the Philippines was Runner Up for Best Investigative Report in the recently concluded 2011 PopDev (Population and Development) Media Awards. She is also the publisher of Happy Even After: A Solo Mom’s Journal.

According to Ana, the Happy Even After journal was harder to put together than any investigative report she has ever written. It has set her off to look for awards for solo mothers or publications related to solo parenting. You can read more of her work at www.anasantoswrites.com.

Sex in Switzerland: How the Swiss do it

SWITZERLAND — On a recent trip to Switzerland, I stayed at a friend’s apartment which was a welcome respite from having to stay in another box of a hotel room.  It also allowed me another benefit:  watching “regular” TV and not being limited to channels that are pre-screened by the hotel.

I was pleasantly shocked by what I saw on TV, almost continuously.
In the middle of the afternoon (maybe even in the morning), there was all this sex and nudity on TV.

And I’m not even talking about the subtle stuff we normally see: the slow music (usually from horn instruments), kissing, exposed neck and shoulders rubbing together and then–before we get too excited–zoom out!  Everything else is left to the imagination.

I think the most daring scenes I ever saw was Miranda revealing one boob to her neighbor and Charlotte showing one boob to an overzealous sailor during Fleet Week, but in Switzerland, they were at it in broad daylight, in the middle of the day, on regular cable TV (not pay per view) going at like bunnies, and in such splendor, and at times, with much bravado.

There was sound–oh, was there sound! There was certainly no absence of grunts, moans and heavy breathing.  There were various positions, some even acrobatic, and to complete the whole caboodle– there was nudity. Yes, boys and girls, only genitalia remained hidden.

May be I shouldn’t have been shocked to see such things in Switzerland. This was after all the sight that greeted me at the bathroom of the Geneva  Airport.

Vending machine for condoms and tampons. One pack costs CHF1, roughly around Php50.

Isn’t that such a kind reminder to have a “safe” trip? : )

In the souvenir shops, there were stuffed vibrators for sale and just about every usual souvenir from cups, mugs to calendars was decorated with explicitly sexy illustrations.

Stuffed vibrators that pledge monogamy: “I vibrate only for you.” And yes, they do actually vibrate.

With sex being so omnipresent, just oh, so casual, I felt compelled to research more on the sexual attitudes and behaviors of the Swiss—the nation that is known for being neutral (Swiss history), precise (Swiss watches) and calculating (Swiss banks).

Here are some interesting discoveries:

DRIVE-IN SEX BOXES:

In Zurich, where prostitution continues to be a major problem, sex-boxes have been installed by authorities so that sex workers and their clients can do business discretely hidden from the public eye. A statement issued the police read: “We can’t beat or stop prostitution, but can try to control it.”

SWISS KIDDIE-SIZED CONDOMS

Hotshot Condoms have been created specifically for 12-14 year old boys.  Hotshot costs about (£4.70 ) for a pack of 6 and were produced after government research showed that more 12-14 years olds were having sex compared with the 90s, but were not using sufficient protection when having sex.The study, conducted on behalf of the Federal Commission for Children and Youth, interviewed 1,480 people aged 10 to 20 and found that the average condoms on sale were often too big for these boys, leaving them and their partners, at risk for unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection.

Hotshot Condoms are produced by Lamprecht AG, a leading condom manufacturer in Switzerland.

SWITZERLAND IS NAMED ONE OF THE 10 PLACES IN THE WORLD TO HAVE SEX IN 2011

Offtrack.com names The Swiss Chocolate Train as one of its “major panty droppers” for this year.  In your chocolate-induced friskiness, you can ahem, ride the Swiss Chocolate Train from the Swiss town of Montreux to Guyeres for just USD22.

SWISS LUBE

They not only have knives, banks and chocolates branded as “Swiss”, they also have lubricant.  Swiss Navy Lubricant boasts of being the Rolls Royce of lubrications with a “more natural touch and feel–like you are not using any lubrication at all.”

It even has a patented leak proof bottle design with single hand pump for easy one-hand application. They’ve thought of just about everything, haven’t they?

Of course, being the SASsy girl that I am, I had to check out the related teen pregnancy rates and incidence of HIV and AIDS.

 

SEX EDUCATION STARTS YOUNG

 

In Switzerland, age of consentis 16 and mandatory sex education is taught in school starting age 10. There is easy and inexpensive, if not free, access to safer sex information and services for the youth.

 

SWITZERLAND HAS THE LOWEST TEEN PREGNANCY RATE IN WESTERN EUROPE AND ONE OF THE WORLD’S LOWEST RATES OF ABORTION

 

Guttmacher Institute published a study in 1993 as part of the Swiss Multicentre Adolescent Survey on Health, 5% of 1,726 sexually active adolescents (15-20 years old) in a group of 3,993 had ever been pregnant. This study confirmed Switzerland as having the lowest adolescent fertility rate in Western Europe.

 

A 2006 article in the Washington Post, which quotes a Swiss healthcare practitioner reaffirms this.

 

According to Pierre-Andre Michaud, chief of the Multidisciplinary Unit for Adolescent Health at the University of Lausanne Hospital in Switzerland, “Switzerland has one of the world’s lowest rates of abortion and teen pregnancy.”

 

The article goes on to say:

 

A 2001 Guttmacher Institute report, drawing on data from 30 countries in Western and Eastern Europe, concluded: “Societal acceptance of sexual activity among young people, combined with comprehensive and balanced information about sexuality and clear expectations about commitment and prevention childbearing and STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] within teenage relationships, are hallmarks of countries with low levels of adolescent pregnancy, childbearing and STDs.” The study cited Sweden as the “clearest of the case-study countries in viewing sexuality among young people as natural and good.”

 

HIV INCIDENCE IS LOW

 

According to 2009 data available on Avert.org. Switzerland has a 0.4% adult HIV prevalencerate.  In terms of actual number, this is estimates about 18,000 people living with HIV.Here’s a snapshot of the HIV and AIDS in Switzerland according to the Swiss AIDS Federation:

 

  • In Switzerland there are currently about 25,000 people living with HIV and Aids
  • From the start of the epidemic to the end of December 2009, more than 9000 cases of Aids have been notified. Nearly 6000 people have died of the consequences of Aids.
  • In 2010, 609 new positive HIV test results were notified. Of these, 25% were women.
  • Approx. 44% of all infections are due to heterosexual contacts

 

To put this in perspective and to compare it to the Philippines:

 

Switzerland

Philippines

HIV Incidence

25,000

7,031

Population

7.6 million

92 million

 

Source for HIV incidence in the Philippines: DOH HIV Registry as of June 2011 

 

In terms of number, Switzerland may have four times more PLHIV, but their population is 10 times less than ours.

 

This led me to conclude either one of two things. One, may be the Swiss are so open about talking about sex more and therefore have less time to have it. Or two, sex was just made so available, that after awhile, it was like my reaction to seeing yet another couple on top of one another on daytime TV. I simply said, almost exasperated, “Again?!” and just changed the channel to watch something else.

 

Single… again or Hopeful?

Filling out forms is always a problem for me. None of the choices listed for status– single, married, separated, widowed–seem to apply to me.

I’m definitely not married anymore as I’ve finally already gotten my annulment. Because I was once married, by default, I’m not exactly ‘single’. Neither am I ‘separated’. Under Philippine law, legal separation is simply just the division of assets of a couple; meaning you and your spouse are still considered married, and therefore may not re-marry. And though the death of a marriage always brings with it a level of emotional pain and loss as the actual physical death of a spouse, I am not ‘widowed’.

My friend, who has been annulled for the last 7 years is someone I consider way ahead of the game compared to me. I asked her what box I should check. She advised me with unflinching certainty, “You should check single! An annulment means that the marriage never even happened.”

Hhmmm…. Never really happened…kind of hard to deny that when I have an actual living souvenir of the marriage that supposedly never was in my daughter. I don’t think my friend faces this same dilemma when filling out forms; she doesn’t have children from her past marriage.

Though I suppose that the fact that there are now more civil status choices available is already an improvement.

Nine years ago when I first became a solo parent, there were only two choices – you were either single or married. It was like any other status was simply not recognized. If you deviated from single or married, you were considered an abberation.

Those who have been solo parents for a longer period of time will tell you about the discrimination that they have encountered in the most unlikely places and the little everyday things that rub salt into the stigma of being a solo parent.

There were the churches that turned away baptisms if the parents were unable to present a marriage certificate. (Since where do people have to be married to have kids?) There were schools that refused admission to children because their parents were divorced or worse, never married.

As a solo parent, you never really know where you belong because while you are single, you have the responsibilities and obligations that will never allow you to live a typical carefree existence. You’re a hybrid, who at school events or children’s parties, can’t help but feel the isolation amidst the presence of all the dual parents.

Perhaps the rising incidence of single parenthood and its different permutations – widowhood, adoption, OF parent–has made the addition of these new civil status boxes: widow and separated–necessary. May be now people are realizing that other parent segments deserve their own civil status and recognition.

Relaxing of certain laws has also made it a bit simpler to be single parent and somehow indirectly deflect the blame on the innocent children who are unfortunately, collateral damage.

There has been the recall of the law where children who are traveling abroad with only one parent must first secure permission from the
other parent secure and then clearance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Then there is the Solo Parent Welfare Act which gives benefits and privileges to solo parents. Also, the term “solo parent” is defined as “a parent left alone with the responsibility of parenthood”, which may include death of a spouse, physical and mental incapacity of spouse as certified by public medical practitioner, imprisonment, among others. This liberalizes the definition of a solo parent and doesn’t limit the circumstance resulting to parenthood only to a failed marriage, or in some cases, none at all.

Small steps, but steps in the right directions.

Maybe at some point, there will be a box that will be appropriate for my civil status. I don’t know, maybe something like “Single…again”, or “Hopeful”.

In the meantime, with the help of the process of elimination, I have decided to check “single”. I don’t pay much attention to it anymore.

I realized that a bunch of little boxes are just that—a status.

This article was originally published in the Parenting Section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2009.

Religion gets in the way of safe sex

Manila, Philippines — With the unprecedented rise in the number of HIV infections this year, health officials are hoping that the Pope’s recent statement about condom use will help promote it as an effective way of preventing the spread of the virus.

In this year alone, the Department of Health HIV/AIDS Registry recorded 1,417 new infections for the period January to November. It is the highest number of HIV infections recorded in a single year since the epidemic was first discovered in the Philippines in 1984.

A 2008 assessment of the AIDS Medium Term Plan (AMTP) of the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) stated that “MSMs present the biggest threat of an accelerated growth in the spread of HIV in the country.”

Condom use a struggle

The Philippines has the lowest condom use in Asia and according to the National Demographic Health Study of 2008, condom use stands at a dismal 2.8%. Other methods like withdrawal which involves unprotected sex is much higher at 9.8%.

Health experts have been struggling to promote condom usage among the youth as a means of protection against STI and HIV and have met a strong adversary in the Catholic Church and other pro-life groups.

The Catholic Church adamantly opposes any form of modern contraception saying that they are abortifacients that promote promiscuity.  With over 90% of the population being Catholic, the Church’s teachings have a strong bearing over the public’s perception and the social stigma that surrounds condoms.

Raynald [not his real name], 20, said that he is embarrassed to purchase condoms because of the looks that he gets from cashiers. “May be it’s because I appear too young to them, but the way they look at me — you just know they are judging.”

This is part of the reason why health experts are hoping the Pope’s statement on condom use will help sway public perception.

“It is definitely a welcome statement” said Ferchito Avelino, Director of the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC).  “I am positive that it will have an impact, especially in STI prevention, though maybe not to prevent pregnancy.”, Avelino said.

Grasping at straws

But for other members of the Catholic hierarchy, nothing has changed.

Melvin Chan, executive secretary of the Family and Life Commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the official organization of the Catholic hierarchy clarified, “A group of Filipino priests just got back from the Vatican and clarified [the statement] with the Holy Father himself. The Pope clarified that in light of their profession, male prostitutes can condom use as a sign of moral responsibility and possibly the start of his conversion.”

“So, you see, nothing has changed. We were in fact commended for upholding the fight to protect the sanctity of life from its start.”, concluded Castro.

Elizabeth Angsioco, chairperson of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) refuted this, “There is a CBCP Manual that specifically encourages the use of condoms between sero-discordant couples to prevent HIV transmission to the uninfected partner.”

Castro claimed that this clause was incorrect and was struck out in the latter versions of the manual.

Not a moral battle

Jonas Bagas, chairperson of The Library Foundation (TLF Share), an NGO that promotes sexual health in the context of human rights said, “Rather than focus on what the Pope says, we need concrete interventions as the HIV problem is an urgent one.”

The Philippines has long been seen as a low prevalence country, but the 2010 Global AIDS report showed that globally, infection rates have gone down by 19%, whereas in the Philippines, it on an unprecedented upswing.

“The global trend is that countries are driving down the rate of infection or at least controlling it. In the Philippines, it is the opposite.”, said Bagas.

“We need to take the discussion to a public health framework; not where it is dictated upon by some sort of dogma. “, Bagas said.

Bagas and other RH groups are pushing for the passage of a Reproductive Health Bill as a way to address the HIV and AIDS problem.

If passed, the RH Bill will legislate the procurement of condoms and other contraceptives and make them a part of the list of essential medicines in hospitals. Age appropriate sex education, which is absent is most schools curricula, would also be mandated starting grade 5.

The RH Bill is currently undergoing plenary debates and RH advocates are hopeful that it will be passed by the first quarter of next year.

The Philippines is the only country in the South East Asia region where there is no national law on reproductive health.

###

Image: Some rights reserved by Autistic Psycho

Pro-life president Eric Manalang on the Pope and condoms

When I was assigned the article, “Religion gets in the way of safe sex”, for IRIN News (the humanitarian news and analysis agency of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), my editor reminded me to get the point of view of religious and pro-life groups to ensure a balanced report.

In the context of the unprecedented rise in HIV infections in the country, I was to get  the reaction of public health officials,  HIV/RH activists and religious groups on the pope’s statement on condoms and if its impact on the reproductive health debate, if any.

I called Pro-Life President Eric Manalang for a comment and he asked me to email my questions first before giving a reply. I obliged and received a reply from Mr. Manalang the next day.

The story, “Religion gets in the way of safe sex” did not make it to IRIN News, but apart from here on ProPinoy.net, it was published on SexAndSensibilities.com. I informed Mr. Manalang, that  his reply to my e-mail would be printed in full — as per his request —  on both websites.

Below is the email of Mr. Manalang, which has not been edited (save for formatting and punctuation) or cut.

Dear Ana,

Thanks for calling.This may or may not be the interview you may want,you will notice as you read on.

Nothing personal but it  seems awkward for you  and almost impossible for me to get a fair result from this interview (your boss has an agenda am sure), seeing  that IRIN, a part of UN, already has made certain conclusions with regard to RH, population agenda and poverty and the HIV problem , as well as infers at the very least a certain media bias already as to the “focus only on  the Condom portion ” of the statement by the HOLY FATHER (with much of secular MEDIA misleading many Catholics and non-Catholics).

HIV is a problem of promiscuity, abstinence and faithful family life is the key values needed. Look at Thailand vs. Philippines on HIV vs. condom promotion.Where is the HIV epidemic? In Thailand!

Kindly yourself, Catholic or not,  consider that The POPE did not change any existing teaching nor commandment,it is the secular media that translates it to meet its liberal/left leaning agenda, PDI included, when it comes to fighting and destroying  objective morality and decency.

No population, no economy because no producers and no  consumers. Simple truth. Poor people are the source of growth in an economy, not the wealthy.

WE, THE  REAL CATHOLICS,  LOVE THE POPE!

There are TEN COMMANDMENTS not less nor more. Bad morality brings bad policies,what else can we expect ?

The UN, a supposedly unifying international body is now a “TUTA” ( pardon my taglish) of the USA and EU and many fabulously funded Foundations (Packard,Ford,etc) whose agenda is to depopulate countries like the Philippines. WHAT!!?? Is the UN unifying for or against HUMANITY? RH using health as a convenient smokescreen lie is  to mislead the poor that children are burdensome.

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

A war against our women’s wombs has been launched. Scary indeed. But we fight!

Stop corruption not the population! Build schools, more teachers, more real health facilities for survival, not RH, abortion fronts. Empower the poor with education,education education.

If you’re in need of an interview, just ask the PLCPD. Maybe they will be happy to oblige with lies and falsities from selected data and RH  biased experts for the MDG.

Funny how many of  the progressive blocs of Akbayan, Bayan Muna, feminists, environmentalists, etc. have sided with the enemy, a.k.a imperialist USA, in pushing the over population myth agenda and so interview them as well. Hypocrisy betrays consistency.

I hope you kindly understand the  point clearly.

Knowing that this short piece may not land on the IRIN news, I kindly require that if printed it be done in whole,or not at all. I reserve my right to it.

Of course STRICTLY,for LOVE and LIFE and FAMILY.

Merry Christmas to you  and your love ones Ana..MABUHAY!

God bless,

Eric

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Trishhhh

Single. Mother. Fabulous!

by Ana Santos

I love being a single mom.

Of course, at the start, I did not always feel this way. I was 27 and so while my friends were starting to enjoy perks of the corporate world or busy planning their marriages, I was leaving mine.

I felt older than my 27 years and found that no one could relate to me. In an old blog post, I wrote: “I was a prodigy of some sorts. I was neither here nor there, I was an outcast among the couples, newlyweds and newborn parents.”

I had never in my life felt such isolation.

I had no one to go to who knew how I felt, or what it took for me to leave a marriage and all the promises of a lifetime with it.   I remember that the process of healing started only when I willed it to start.  And only when I realized that I would be miserable only as long as I allowed myself to be.

Fast forward to 10 years later, other girls still ask me: how you do you do it?

What surprises me now is that guys are asking me the same thing. Not because they have become  single dads, but because their friends – some, in alarming number — have become single moms.  Some are surprised that in their mid-20s, they and their friends still don’t know better.

And what surprises me even more is that there still seems to be little in terms of support for single parents.  Sure, there are things like the Solo Parent Law, but the things that really matter to single moms on a daily basis like managing finances, finding a good yaya, legal rights and simply just maintaining your sanity are still missing.

I found myself again jealous of other countries with sophisticated and efficient welfare and health care systems that were sensitive to the needs of single parents. So, like a lot of things that I decided to do in my life out of envy and jealousy,  I decided to put together a workshop called “Single. Mother. Fabulous!”.

I, together with fellow writer Karen Kunawicz, will talk about single motherhood. You can bet that Karen and I will tell it like it is and talk about both the warm, fuzzy joys and the knee buckling travails that are overwhelming in equal amounts.

This is a free workshop for single moms to talk and learn from each other’s experiences. Our partner, The Body Shop, will conduct a demo on how to put on make-up in the least amount of time because that’s the one thing single moms never have enough of.  And if there’s one secret to surviving single motherhood, it’s that you need to look good before you feel good.

I am still thinking about making this a building block series covering other topics like legal assistance and rights, creatively managing finances, finding the right yaya and yes – even the often dreaded territory of dating again. It will really depend on the response to this first workshop.

I will end by saying that in the years that I have made a life for me and my daughter, I have come to know a certain happiness and contentment.  There were many people who openly showed pity and disdain, but there were far more people who helped us and gave us their unwavering support.  It’s time to pay it forward and reach out to other single moms who are just starting this journey.

There is clear line that separates being alone and being on your own. Knowing this difference is the key to making your own happy even after ending.

The “Single. Mother. Fabulous!” workshop will be on Sunday, November 14, 2010, 9-11am at the 2/F of Starbucks Ortigas Home Depot. This will be a FREE workshop, but slots are limited, please reserve a slot at 0927.307.9608. This is a trademark event of Sex and Sensibilities.com, because single moms are the SASsiest of them all.