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Rethinking Social Sex Talk With Young People

Conversations on ‘sex’ in many homes are largely non-existent. This is despite the fact that we come from a largely pluralistic community, with some who view themselves as liberal, and others more conservative; with those who embrace pre-marital sex, albeit usually privately and those who ascribe to the idea that sex is a ‘duty’ reserved for consummation of the union of marriage.

The story of sex itself has been written by various actors; including culture, tradition, school education and religious beliefs. We hardly talk about actual sex with young people.

The first time an adult ever spoke to me about sex, I was in standard four, in an extra curricular class called, “family planning”.

That was around the time when the story of sex was being told through the dissemination of HIV information. Essentially, what I learnt from that class was that good girls don’t have sex, but also, that sex is something that ‘happens to girls when they are older. I also learnt that when girls have sex, they immediately fall pregnant and have to drop out of school and their peers laugh at them, and leave them behind and the girl lives ruefully ever after and the boy rides off into the sunset with a virgin’. This horror story was followed by a demonstration on how to put a condom on a wooden penis. A demonstration we giggled through, naughtily.

In secondary school, we were taught about sex during Guidance and Counseling class and I remember the teacher saying, “if you know anyone who is either having sex or doing drugs, come and report them to me.” So sex, like drugs, was a bad thing, that when you did it you would get into trouble. The narrative remained the same. That sex leads pregnancy, a life with HIV and social shame with the highest moral repercussions for women. Sometimes, we were spoken at about self-pleasure, or masturbation. But sex was always something naughty to be ashamed of, and which we cannot speak about with adults unless the adult brings it up.

As we got older, our collective social panic on a life with HIV has decreased extensively, because ARVs are readily available. We are more aware of our autonomy and agency over our bodies and the bodies’ desires, responses and arousals, I have realised that we speak a little bit more differently and openly about sex and intimacy. We have become more conversant on sex that we recognise that it can often be used to mask violence like when rape is called ‘rough sex’. In other words, we have become acquainted to the potential of violence in sex. But because of the ways we are taught

sex, it is not an easy acquaintance. It is also not easy to realise and call out indecent assault.

There are various reports that have shown that the rate of teenage pregnancy has steadily risen over the years, with young girls becoming pregnant from as early as pre-primary. In 2016, it was reported that the fertility rate of girls between 15-19years is 51 births per 1000 women. For that same year, a UNFPA report showed that there were six drop outs of 16,536 in pre-primary, 271 of 315 261 in primary school, 1194 out of 116068 in junior secondary and 477 out of 57203 in senior secondary school. 

I think the approach should move from the expectation that the school does enough to educate children on sex, sexual behavior, experiences and attitudes, as well as choices of how, where and with whom to become sexually involved.

Pearson Hired, an e-textbook for teacher educations, says that young people are faced with so many sexual decisions: whom do I date? When should my partner and I become sexually intimate? Should I initiate sexual relations or wait for my partner to approach me? Should my partner and I practice contraception? If so which method? Should I use a condom to protect against STI, or insist that my partner does? Should I be tested for HIV? Should I insist that my partner be tested for HIV?

We often approach our sexual decisions based on our value systems and sexual standards, regard had to various factors. And even as adults we find it so challenging to make what we believe are the right choices.

I often wonder if the story of sex were told differently, if that would shape how young people interact with sex and if that would impact the rates of girls dropping out of school, due to pregnancy. Many girls don’t become pregnant out of choice, or will, or desire. Perhaps, all young people want is pleasure. If we admitted that, and engaged with it from that level, would this impact the ways in which we address and deal with indecent assault and rape, knowing that it is never the victims fault? Would it aid in an open dialogue about safety and safety in sex? Of course it’s not so simplistic. But it’s worth a try.

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