My vagina. My identity. My pandora’s box. My private space. My secret place. My purse.
I have had a tumultuous relationship with my vagina before I was awakened to the truth in my mid-twenties that it was just another one of my precious organs that needed as much love and attention as all others. How was a 15-year-old me to know that being mindful of my vaginal health should feature on the same to-do-list as a visit to the optometrist to get new glasses when my eyesight began troubling me and being dragged to the dentist to wrestle a pestering toothache?
Where in my sphere of contact was I to get access to information and advice about what it meant to have blood come out of my vagina? I was just taught how to wear what looked like an unfinished diaper until the bleeding stopped and vehemently warned to avoid any contact with boys – even a handshake or a pat on the shoulder.
Why didn’t anybody teach me that my vagina was an organ that needed to be protected not because it was a sacred flower that was to be kept untouched until marriage but because preserving its health would secure me a healthier life and a bright and thriving future free from diseases like cervical cancer and HIV?
Unlike many teenage girls my age, I got “the talk” from my father. Albeit fascinating and humorously animated, like many other girls I walked away from the brief chat frowning, with a head exploding with questions that I dared not ask lest I raise suspicions that I was dangerously curious about sex. Luckily – for my parents anyway – I was too much of a nerd and so-called “weirdo” to be intrigued enough to even experiment with sex at an age when I was in no way equipped to deal with any of the consequences.
But what about the girls who have different stories to tell? What about the unloved girl who fell in love with a boy who engulfed her with enough adoration – genuine or deceptive – to convince her that having unprotected sex was proof that she loved him? What about the young woman who is too shy to describe her sexual health challenges with her doctor for fear of judgement and knows nothing about the different parts that make up her vagina? And what about the woman who is afraid to suggest the use of protection during sex?
Granted, we can’t snap our fingers and witness the change we so dearly wish for in African women’s agency to address sexual and reproductive health issues. And yes, there are countless platforms to have such conversations. But we cannot afford not to pursue such discussions especially in our intimate spaces. And this I say as a 29-year-old woman who still has many questions to ask and things to learn about my vagina, my identity, my pandora’s box, my private space, my secret place and my purse.