Every time I get an idea for a quick post, google proves me wrong.
I wanted to write about the Love Shacks I saw in Cambodia. This was going to be a quick post about an interesting tradition. Instead, I found myself reading articles about modernization vs. female sexual agency.
The Kreung tribe in northeastern Cambodia have a tradition of building their teenage kids Love Shacks. These are small one room huts that are built on stilts (the boys’ are higher) where the teenager lives alone.
When I was visiting Banlung, Cambodia, I saw a display love shack along with an informational sign. The photo accompanying this post is the one I saw. Here’s the sign:
Boys visit the girls and they talk, fool around, or have sex. All of the articles I read were clear that how far things progress is up to the young women. Usually, they will want to be “in love” before having sex, though they may have more than one such boyfriend at any time. There’s no value on virginity, no association between with moral purity.
The whole purpose of the Love Shack is for the young women to become experienced so that they can choose the husband that suits them the best. The Kreung elders say that this is practical and works. They note that divorce and sexual violence are so rare as to be virtually nonexistent in the tribe.
What really struck me about the practice was the view of young women as competent decision-makers. Not only do the women make decisions for themselves (as opposed to seeing young women as in need of protection and guidance), but they also make decisions in the relationship (as opposed to that role being for the men, with the women’s role to apply the brakes).
I am extremely interested in the Kreung parenting philosophies and practices that lay the foundation for this mindset. For this practice to work as it does, the parents are clearly doing something right regarding teaching about gender roles, consent, and agency.
Of course, the practice is quickly disappearing.
As the Kreung become increasingly exposed to western and Khmer (mainstream Cambodian) culture, they are beginning to take on a moralistic view on sex. They are also beginning to see women differently and see women being treated differently. The latter has not been good for the young women.
Fears around HIV have also meant that the goings-on in Love Shacks are within the realm of public health. NGO’s now encourage the use of condoms rather than relying on cocktail of alcohol and centipede.
Reading about the Love Shacks reminded me of the tendency to view others through our own cultural lens.
I think this is especially true when it comes to courtship and marriage (like I wrote about here).
Of course, so many of the popular articles I read about Love Shacks really focused on sex. One article even called them “Sex Huts” in the title and subtly implied bad parenting or even sexual exploitation. Really?
Check out the links below to learn more about the Love Shacks.