Karachi: In religiously conservative Pakistan, a television call-in advice show is tackling an issue rarely discussed in public: Sex.
Once a week, a doctor appearing on HTV’s “Clinic Online” focuses on sexual issues, fielding questions about sexually transmitted disease, fertility and how to deal with husbands having multiple wives in this Muslim-majority country of 180 million people.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” said Faizan Syed, the CEO of HTV, a private satellite channel. “The biggest question was how society would perceive or handle it.”
The answer is surprisingly well. Before the first episode aired, Syed said producers discussed every aspect of the show, including whether to air it late at night to ensure that the audience was mostly adults and not children. In the end, Syed said they decided to air it during the day when men likely would be at work and women at home alone, making it easier for them to call the show.
The show doesn’t mirror the occasional salaciousness of American daytime television talk shows or the winking raunchiness of Dr Ruth Westheimer. Instead, the Karachi-shot show aired nationwide features Dr Nadeem Uddin Siddiqui clinically answering questions, mainly from women calling in from villages or remote areas of the country. Many women in Pakistan don’t even have a basic education, let alone a working knowledge of sex.
“We decided our prime target is the housewives, who are the vulnerable of the society compared to men,” Syed said.
Most of the women ask about impotence and infertility of their partners and how to get them to go to a doctor for a consultation. One woman described how her husband would go to his second wife for sex, leaving the first wife neglected. In Islam, men are allowed to have four wives although the practice is not universally accepted.
The caller asked Siddiqui how she could fulfil her own sexual desires. Siddiqui said all he could advise her to do was to turn to religion and prayer.
During another call, a woman described how her 29-year-old single nephew was becoming sexually aggressive with the women in the house. Siddiqui advised her to take him for a psychological consultation and arrange for him to be married as soon as possible.
But even in this show there are boundaries, as it is conscious of not appearing to promote sex outside of marriage.
Dr Meraj-ul-Huda Siddiqui, a religious scholar associated with the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, who is not related to the show’s host, said a television show discussing sexual problems and diseases is not against Islam. But he cautioned that the show must keep its content within the religious and social values of society.
Some Pakistanis, asked about the show, said it filled an important niche.
“It is a good effort to address the issues of people who live in remote areas of the country and especially women,” said Salman Ali, a banker in Karachi who occasionally watches the show.