Assuming nothing; questioning everything

Condoms

The first time a boy asked me to have sex, I was five years old.  We were playing hide and seek, and the two of us ran off to hide in a bush.  We were so excited because we had found this spot, that we thought was so hidden, we wouldn’t be found.

But it turned out my friend, who was six years old, was getting a few ideas from the fact that the place was so hidden, and took the opportunity to tell me that it was a good spot to “dinya” each other.  I didn’t know what the word meant, so I asked him what it meant.  He told me that it was an act that involved his “thing touching my thing”.  We’d grown up referring to our vaginas and penises as things, so I then understood what he meant.

It still wasn’t clear to me though, so I asked him if that meant that we’d have to remove our under wear, and he answered that it did.  Of course I’d been taught that removing my under wear in public was “bad manners”, so I told him I wouldn’t do it, because it sounded like bad manners.

Sometime back I narrated this incident to a friend of mine who is about 15 years older than me.  I was explaining to her how most children are naturally curious about sex, and I used my experience at the age of five to demonstrate that contrary to popular belief, TV and the internet are not necessarily the main drivers of sexual curiosity among children.

I explained to her that when I was five, we had just about a TV set for every two homes in my neighbourhood.  We had only one TV station, which only started its operations at 4PM, and by 7PM it was boring documentaries until midnight when the station closed until the next day.

She completely agreed with me, and to my surprise shared that she had her first penetrative sexual experience at the age of 9, with a boy more or less her age.  She made it clear that she wasn’t raped.  Sex between 9 year olds at a time when TVs were barely existent, and discussions on sex and condoms were to a large extent also non-existent, would come as a surprise to many.

However, TV and the internet are certainly not the only things blamed for children’s curiosity and engagement in sexual activity.  Religion has taught us to attribute children’s sexual activity to the devil.  But as a friend of mine shared with me, even religious children and teenagers can be sexually active.

This friend shared how she met her first boyfriend at Christmas Bible Camp, at the age of 16 years.  Once they got back from camp and back to school, they wrote letters, often quoting scripture to encourage each other, as they longed to see each other during the next holiday season.

During the April holidays, they would visit each other regularly, with Bible study as a key agenda.  My friend jokes about how they would carry the small Bibles given to them at Bible Camp, although she wishes they had carried condoms instead.  Reason being, she got pregnant and had to procure an abortion, making her 16th year the worst of her life.

At 16 she dealt with pregnancy, breaking up with her first love, procuring an abortion, keeping it a secret, living with the guilt of “murder” as abortion was and is constantly framed in religious circles, and overcoming the depression and suicidal tendencies that came with that.

I consider myself fairly lucky not to have had my first experience of sexual intercourse at the age of 5, 9 or 16, seeing how ill-prepared young people often are when it comes to sexual matters.  But even though I had my first experience in my early 20’s, I still wasn’t better prepared.  I found myself in a relationship, having unprotected sex with a partner whose HIV status I didn’t know.

When I think of my experience, I get horrified at the danger I put myself in.  But the more I listen to other people’s childhood, teenage and early adulthood sexual experiences, the more I realize just how unprepared most, if not all of us were.  But who would blame us if all the sex ed. we got was “say no to sex”, because “sex is sin”, and you therefore have to “wait until marriage”?

Who would blame us for having unprotected sex, when sex ed. was so far removed from our realities, and looked something like this?  And we were left wondering where and how a condom should be worn?

FemaleParts_of_the_male_reproductive_system

The sad thing is that, even though many of us went through sex ed. that didn’t work, and our first sexual experiences either left us traumatized or thanking God for all the things that could have gone wrong, but didn’t, we still don’t seem to have learnt much from it.

We are still burying our heads in the sand, staging uproars every time a sex education initiative that could address the realities of young people’s sexual experiences is tabled for discussion or consideration. We still believe in sex ed. that advocates for abstinence, threatens children with hell and unrealistically expects young people to wait until marriage, even though it didn’t work for us.

I must confess that I am not any different, as I have only been unlearning and slowly coming out of burying my head when it comes to young people’s sexuality.  One of the moments I regret most is during my early days after university when I worked for a HIV education project for young people.  I remember a 10 year old boy, one day after we had conducted a session on HIV and AIDS, pleading with us, “Please teach us to use condoms.  We just want to know.  We promise not to use them.”

His plea to be taught how to use condoms was ignored, but it haunted me for more than 10 years, leading me to write a 100 page dissertation on the topic of children’s sexuality.  I still wish I had responded differently, but I hope that my dissertation will help someone working with children to approach children’s sexuality differently.

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Comments on: "Please teach us to use condoms" (11)

  1. Food for thought!! for the single mom I am, I am getting ready for ‘the talk’ with my son…. To think this was your experience when we had no soaps, social media, apps, internet… how much more now for my 3 year old who tells me ‘nipee ni whatsapp’? (ain no manual for parenting I tell ya!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • True..the earlier you start the better, because curiosity and (mis)information starts early too. The important thing is to be honest, speak to his reality, and create room for dialogue rather than monologue as most of our sex ed. was. Good luck!

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      • This is so true!! A recent incident where a slightly older boy pulled my son aside in a bid to quell his curiosity and probably pique my son’s own curiosity gave me this perspective. The earlier the better. Good luck to parents!!

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  2. The question of realistically educating young people on sexuality becomes a challenge when you are in a church setting. You have to disguise your message so as not to appear “corrupting” the children/teenagers. The reality is however that most of them are sexually active. (I have talked to several teenagers who are struggling with sexual identity and discovery.) This is the moral dilemma I am faced with as a person who wants to educate young people. I use my story to help them make informed decisions.

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    • Thanks for sharing your experience Julie. As you correctly point out, and as I indicate in the article, our interventions are not cognisant of the realities of young people. The sooner we acknowledge that, the better for us, so that we can begin to fashion our messages to be more relevant. It’s good to hear that you are doing what you can to address the lived realities of young people’s sexuality. I also like the idea of personalizing the message, rather than presenting it in a way that is so distant to both the adults and the young people involved. I can share (on e-mail) some resources that I developed for a sex-ed programme for young people, if you’d be interested. The link provided by @greenfizzpops below is quite interesting, and I’ve posted some of the things that I found useful from the site in my comments after green’s.

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  3. julieinspire : About educating young people on sexuality in a church setting – The Unitarian Church has one of the best ever sex education programmes I’ve ever heard of – http://www.uua.org/re/owl

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    • Thank you for sharing this. It’s always great to have lots of resources on issues that I write about. I really like this section from the site, which I think provides a very clear and simple guidance on discussing sexuality with young people:

      Our Whole Lives Assumptions
       All persons are sexual.

       Sexuality is a good part of the
      human experience.

       Human beings are sexual from the
      time they are born until they die.

       It is natural to express sexual
      feelings in a variety of ways.

       People engage in healthy sexual
      behavior for a variety of reasons,
      including to express caring and love,
      to experience intimacy and
      connection with another, to share
      pleasure, to bring new life into the
      world, and to experience fun and
      relaxation.

       Sexuality in our society is damaged
      by violence, exploitation, alienation,
      dishonesty, abuse of power, and the
      treatment of persons as objects.

       It is healthier for young adolescents
      to postpone sexual intercourse.

      Thank you once again for sharing the link. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you @greenfizzpops for the link, I will have a look at it. @Kenyan Feminist, my email address is juliejacqui(at)gmail.com

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  5. […] and more recently, teachers.  I am also concerned about a variety of issues from LGBTI rights, to children’s sexuality in addition to society’s need to silence and shrink […]

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