Let’s Talk About THE TALK!

I grew up on the outskirts of the big city of Blantyre, Malawi, and was brought up in an extended family. Every night after supper we sat by the fire. I would tell my grandma how my day at school went. She always listened to everything I said, about all the things I learnt in class that day and even the jokes some teachers cracked. In grade five, I came home curious after a life skills lesson about sex and reproduction. As always, I told her what I learnt that day. At the mention of sex and the wonders that clouded my mind, the look on her face and the tone of her voice immediately changed.

“Unless you want to go bald, don’t you ever have sex, because if you do I will know, your parents will know and the whole world will know. Imagine how embarrassing it is for a girl to go bald and never have hair for the rest of her life. Your friends will laugh at you,” said my grandma.  

I always kept that in mind: my siblings and I believed sex would make us go bald. I later found out it was not true.

Throughout adolescence, I was misled to think that I would not get pregnant if I had sexual intercourse in water or if I immediately took a bath afterwards. Ignorant I was as I only relied on the little knowledge I gathered about sex from school textbooks and undetailed lessons in the classroom that only birthed misconceptions amongst my peers. I never had deep conversations about sex and sexual health with my parents, who considered it obscene and taboo. The only thing they ever said was that sex before marriage leads to pregnancy and that would be a disgrace to our family.

Now as a mother in my late teens, looking back at how naïve and misinformed I was, I wish I had more open and honest conversations about sex and birth control options with my parents. It would have saved me from the horrors of giving birth at 14. I also wish I was told that condoms are not only for adults but can also be used by sexually active adolescents. I wish I had also been told that they are widely available, and affordable, at local stores and that some health facilities even give them out for free.

In my country, different governmental and non-governmental organizations have tried to provide sexual health education to adolescent girls, yet it has been thwarted by stigma and judgment. However, these barriers can be overcome by creating a safe haven for adolescent girls to open up and ask questions regarding their sexuality, sexual health, and sexual pleasure.

This can be done by visiting schools across the country to engage with adolescent girls and conduct awareness campaigns. Forming clubs in the schools and holding discussions about sexuality and sexual health according to their age groups will ensure that the information disseminated is age-appropriate. Furthermore, to eradicate stigma and judgment by peers’ during interaction, individual cards can be handed out where a girl can anonymously write any questions she has, and after all the cards are collected, the questions can be answered to the whole group.

This activity can be followed by a lecture about sexuality and sexual pleasure to help adolescent girls understand the changes taking place in their bodies and create awareness that they should not be pressured into sex. Rather, if they are to have sex, it should be willingly and according to their readiness.

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