According to a recent report published in the Los Angeles Chronicle, there are approximately 160,000 Cambodians suffering from HIV/AIDS and even more at risk of contracting the fatal disease.
Men seeking to quench their sexual cravings outside the home often seek the help of prostitutes, exposing themselves or sex workers to various sexually transmitted diseases. Returning home, married men inevitably have sex with their wives, exposing both her and any future offspring to the disease. Although Cambodia is making a concerted effort to educate the masses about the dangers of unprotected sex and the destruction HIV/AIDS can reap on a family, many libido-lead people are unwilling to heed the warnings.
While it is recognized that adults engage in sexual intercourse, it must be acknowledged that teenagers and sometimes children are experimenting as well. As young people mature, they are inundated by mixed messages from friends, family and the media about what they should do or be. People from the provinces who flood the capital looking for work often receive their sexual education on the streets, indulging in urban prostitutes without recognizing the dangers of their fly-by-night encounters. Their fiery loins are kindling to the country's already flaming industry.
Approximately 80,000 to 100,000 sex workers are employed in Cambodia, according to the Ministry of Planning's 2000 Cambodia Human Development Report. In Phnom Penh alone, close to 17,000 prostitutes make their living selling sex, with 30 percent of the workers under the age of 18. Throughout the country, there are less then 300 brothels, but the number of venues offering sex for entertainment is said to be on the rise. Guesthouses, nightclubs, massage shops, cafes, beauty salons, and certain restaurants are said to have sex on the menu. Although many prostitutes are seasoned pros, there also is a large market for young virgin girls.
HIV/AIDS is a burden on the future of this steadily developing country. Health experts say that preventative measures must be taken by both sex workers and their customers in order to stem the tide of sexually transmitted diseases. Rather than stigmatizing victims of HIV/AIDS, sufferers must be treated with compassion and understanding. Intolerance or indifference can lead to ignorance, which often incites further infection.
Since there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, the practice of safe sex is crucial to reducing the spread of new infections. People in Cambodia are primarily exposed to the disease after engaging in unprotected sex. Health experts say the safest behavior is to abstain from sexual intercourse, but they recognize that this practice is unrealistic for most adults. In a quickly changing society, both young and old are experimenting, many even before they are joined in marriage. To educate active parties, the government and NGOs to laud the merits of condoms and other safety precautions have launched informative campaigns. Education, they say, is the key to Cambodia's healthy future.