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Dr Eve: 20 years of sexual rights. Yeah right!

The year was 1994. Out of the ashes of human rights abuse, I naively and unwittingly stepped into a brave new world of South African democracy, called myself Dr Eve, as Marlene Wasserman was just too cumbersome a name for a radio host to have, and waved my rainbow flags. My flags, which I carried fresh from my Doctoral training at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Human Sexuality, in San Francisco, represented equality, non-discrimination, and tolerance for the rainbow diversity of sexual expression of all South Africans.

Sexual rights and sexual health were words and concepts that were yet unknown to me and my countrymen. These concepts had begun creeping into international human rights and reproductive rights treaties and declarations and in 1978, formally initiated by the World Association of Sexual Health.

In 1994 we South Africans knew little about sex. Consider how hard the Apartheid government worked to keep us sexually ignorant, criminalised and shamed: they created sexual Apartheid acts: the Immorality Act, Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and then the Amendment to the Immorality Act.

In addition sex work, known as prostitution, was banned, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights non-existent and men having sex with men, called 'sodomy', banned and criminalised.

Sexuality education did not exist in schools and the good old NG Kerk was the dominant voice in the bedroom: "thou shalt nots" preached from the pulpit while coloured babies were born to the 'maid' in the back yards of nice whites-only suburbs. And backstreet abortions performed routinely.

I was in the right place at the right time: South Africa circa 1994… land of liberation, democracy and, by implication, sexual freedom.

Also land of HIV/Aids. As we gasped with relief that white people were not going to be killed by 'Die Swart Gevaar', and we believed that we had turned the corner to embrace the rainbow nation, HIV/Aids hit us in the face.

And because of this I believe my voice was welcomed on radio and in the media. Talking about sexuality under the guise of HIV/Aids felt comfortable and I took the gap.

I was a proud sexual South African.

South Africa's post-apartheid Constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and South Africa was the fifth country in the world, and the first in Africa, to legalise same-sex marriage. In 1996 the Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed, marital rape was criminalised, women protected under the Domestic Violence Act 1998 and children given sexual and reproductive rights and protection under the Children's Act.

Even transgender folk have been recognised in a majorly proactive manner: The Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act allows people to apply to have their sex status altered in the population registry, and consequently to receive identity documents and passports indicating their new sex. The law requires the person to have undergone medical or surgical treatment. Hormone replacement therapy is sufficient and sex reassignment surgery is not required.

And pornography was sold on every street corner!

On radio I met people's thirst for knowledge. Curiosity about "Am I normal?" was prime. From frequency of masturbation to sexual orientation to fetishes, the queries flooded me.

And that's where my life took another turn: In 1998 Viagra was launched by Pfizer. And the world woke up with a hard on.

Suddenly it was medically permissible to talk about sexuality with your health care provider... seriously?

An estimated 43 percent of medically healthy women held their hands up and said "I have no sexual desire", 33 percent of healthy men said "I have an erection problem", and even more admitted to being dissatisfied with their time of ejaculation, as the pre-orgasmic women wept with shame and relief in the corner… at last. Freud was outed for the sexual fraud he was - I have a clitoris and it needs stimulation in order for me to become orgasmic - forget the vaginal orgasm myth!

As time passed South Africa adjusted to its new coat, and we found that, in fact, the emperor is naked - despite all the progressive laws, we are a violent, infected nation of discriminating people and need to bring in human and sexual rights... pronto!

Our present day sexual rights truths include:

  • - LGBTI South Africans continue to face considerable challenges, including social stigma, homophobic violence (particularly corrective rape), and high rates of HIV/Aids infection;

  • - Gender-based violence is concomitant with high rates of HIV/Aids/STIs;

  • - Rape escalates - or is it the judicial system? Or a president who was acquitted of an alleged rape?;

  • - Reproductive health is freely available, yet the clinics are filled with healthcare providers who shame and stigmatise young women and do nothing to encourage men to attend;

  • - Pornography is misunderstood and placed in the hands of the religious and moral brigades; and

  • - Sexuality education is not comprehensive and the focus is still on fear factors of unintended pregnancies and HIV/Aids.

I ask you: what have been, if any, your sexual rights gains over the last 20 years?

Dr Eve is an internationally accredited couples and sex therapist and has a weekly slot on the Redi Tlhabi show on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk.