One fateful afternoon when I was 10 years old, I heard about sex for first time. Our fifth-grade teacher announced that she wanted to have a ‘talk’ with the girls after school.
“As you can all see, your bodies are changing, you’re growing breasts and your hips are widening,” she said. “Very soon you will start bleeding monthly. So, you shouldn’t allow any boy to touch you because YOU WILL FALL PREGNANT,” she proceeded.
For a couple of years after that, those words made my stomach churn. I shut out all my curiosity about boys. Their touch made girls pregnant!
The sex conversation resurfaced again when I was 16, with my first boyfriend. He said I had to sleep with him to prove my love. After days of thinking about it, I just couldn’t do it. Not when I was from a community that was ravaged by poverty, and I’d seen the shame teenage girls went through when they brought home a ‘consequence’.
I was determined to have a different story, one that had absolutely no ties with young motherhood. So I decided to wait. Years passed and when I finally decided to feed my curiosity and raging hormones, I wanted to do things ‘the right way’. So I asked Google, “when is the right time?” “How to make the first time special?!” “What to do on your first encounter?!”…..The works.
The guy was decent, I took my time to know him, and I made sure that condoms were used on that night, because protection, right? I still get heart palpitations when I think of how none of these measures helped me. I GOT PREGNANT. First encounter. When I missed my period and called the decent guy, the reply I got was “ah, the condom must have burst.”**
Confusion, tears, mucus, and a baby. An entire baby!
After intense self-blaming and regret, I came to the conclusion that I simply did not know any better. I lacked one thing: proper guidance. How could proper guidance possibly have changed my story, you may ask. Well, for one I would have known the clinic was the best place to start. I should have first gotten tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) with my boyfriend and received advice on contraceptives from a healthcare professional before engaging in intercourse. Pregnancy was my biggest fear at the time. I still wonder why I had little to no worry about STDs.
It is our responsibility as a nation to be blunt and truthful about sex when talking to young people in order to vacuum social ills that result from unsafe sex. It shouldn’t be a norm that parents are mum on sexual health issues.
It is important for parents to find age-appropriate ways to discuss sex. Talking about sex with children protects them from molestation and other forms of abuse. Children must be able to tell when something that is being done to them is wrong and who they should tell in such cases. This will create a safe space for them as they grow through to puberty and adolescence. We need to find ways to answer the questions children have about sex, and to listen attentively and answer as honestly as possible, in a respectful manner and without any judgment. Offering books about sex and taking kids to a professional to discuss such matters is also important because the aim is to educate. No stone must be left unturned.
For us Africans, talking about sex is often uncomfortable and regarded as taboo but it is an important and necessary talk. It can counter pressure, eradicate high numbers of teenage pregnancy and STDs.
Let us make a mark and change the narrative for the African girl.
** When used correctly every time you have sex, male condoms are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy, sexual transmitted infections and HIV transmission.