Premarital Sex (PMS) and Moral Panic
Discussion paper presented at a meeting, "Family Planning New Worlds organized by
the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health of the John
Hopkins Center for Communication Programs. December 10, 2002.
I thank Dr. Laurie Zabin for presenting alternative frameworks to analyze adolescent
sexuality and drawing away from the usual perspective that casts the adolescent as the
problem, spurred by his (and increasingly, her) raging hormones. Her paper shows how
important it is to problematize the way societies interpret the sexualities of young people,
and to seek new ways of understanding these sexualities in the context of history and
I wanted to elaborate on Dr. Zabin's points, using examples from Asia (mainly the
Philippines) to talk about the dilemmas and pitfalls that come with social conservatism,
often expressed through an invocation of a mythical past when adolescents were asexual,
obedient, compliant. In doing so, I want to show that conservatism is not limited to the
moralizing of religious fundamentalists; in fact, the more dangerous forms of social
conservatism are the ones we carry unconsciously, part of all too pervasive social
ideologies that we pick up through our families and educational institutions.
Specifically, I wanted to talk about "PMS , a term which I first heard from Filipino
demographers. It was a term which initially puzzled me since I came in from work on
reproductive health and thought of PMS as premenstrual syndrome. As things turned out,
PMS was "premarital sex , said with much dread and loathing almost as if they were
Tomorrow, in fact, there will be a press conference back home where the latest figures
from the latest national youth survey will be released. I was supposed to be part of the
press conference but this Baltimore meeting was set earlier so I had to decline.