This was going to be a comment over here but because I get long winded sometimes it turned into a post instead.
If its one thing I must give my mostly conservative parents credit for, it’s for trying. They weren’t very comfortable discussing sex but my siblings and I had the basics down. We spent Saturday afternoons complaining about being sent for youth seminars that turned out to be sex education talks. Books were bought and handed to us and we were encouraged to ask questions if we needed more information (even though the looks on their faces clearly showed that they were dreading any questions that might pop up). My friends’ parents too were determined to educate the people their children hung out with. I once went for a sleep over and lo and behold, we were taken to a counselor’s office the next afternoon and told all about the horizontal mambo and how, when the time comes, we will get to experience it. Not that we were being given permission to go out there and get busy – we were always reminded how its always good to wait and not be gullible and its always best to wait until marriage.
So by the time I got to high school, a 13 year old who had never been away from home I knew some things. You can still get pregnant even if you have sex standing up, underwater or even if he withdraws at the moment of reckoning. That condoms and heat don’t go well together and that they also have expiration dates. That I was being sent to a girls boarding school so that I could be far far away from boys and all their temptations (also known as focusing on your studies/your future is important). Then, my naïve self was not considering having sex, raging hormones or no. It was an inconceivable to me at the time but I was informed.
Enter the troupe of sex education specialists (I’m not sure what else to call them) who do the rounds at schools. To this day, I sincerely believe they did us a disservice. I was in form 2 I think and we were called to the school hall to receive “the talk”. First, they told us we were all beautiful flowers and special in our own way. Then, we were informed how every time we had sex, we lose a petal and if you keep at it all that will be left is a stem and thorns. As an adult, this is very disturbing imagery – if all my petals are still there when I get married does that mean that my hubby will strip them all away? Anyway, after the flowers story they went on to say how boys and men will say anything to get you into bed (true) and that until you get married sex is bad bad bad news. To show us how bad it is, we were told condoms don’t work, we will get pregnant and ruin our lives and that we will get AIDS and other icky diseases. Then they went on to show us exactly how icky they could be.
Truth be told, after the first few pictures I shut my eyes. The infamous “here are the diseased private bits of folks who had sex out of wedlock” slide show is something that may traumatize many but will not be a deterrent for long. I mean, how many thousands of high school students saw that and still went on to have sex, protected or otherwise? After the slide show, we were told to keep the horrors and the “you are a special flower” portions of the talk to heart and to join True Love Waits. Aaaand … that was it. Basically, the message was, sex diminishes you. If you have it before you are married, you will get pregnant, get an STD, watch your privates deteriorate and maybe get a death sentence via HIV. With this info, we were supposed to go out into the world, confident and knowledgeable in all matters sexual. This whole abstain or suffer/die message is one that will be ignored by the majority and statistics of teen pregnancies, HIV infection rates and pre-marital sex back me up.
I won’t knock any one person who decides that celibacy or abstinence is the path that they want to take. All I can say is, more power to them. It’s not an easy choice and if you manage to stick to your guns to the end then you should be applauded for making a decision as to how to live your life. Fact remains that like 99% of people living on this earth will at one point or another engage in sexual activity. Question is, by teaching abstinence only education aren’t we not being realistic and neglecting to give much needed information that we all need to know? In my experience, abstinence only education is full of guilting, shaming and misinformation. Feel bad about your sexual feelings, even though they might be natural. Those dirty thoughts you are having make you unclean and you must cease them at once! If you have sex, condoms don’t work anyway and you will still get infected. This is my main issue with it – because absent of the required info that comprehensive sex education gives there arise many issues. Like teens engaging in unprotected sex cos they figure they don’t need condoms and thus pregnancy and STD rates going up. And filling in the blanks of what they don’t know with other sources like their friends, television, magazines and the internet. Filling in the blanks isn’t always bad, there is good stuff to be learned out there. But, those myths about sex don’t spread themselves and I’m sure most would rather that if one were to learn about these sorts of things they do it from the experts and folks in the know and not Mills and Boons books and a know it all friend who in the end, knows not much at all. It’s like getting all your news from the forwards that show up in your email inbox instead of reading a reputable newspaper or watching news of maana. We would find anyone who did so ignorant and a bit daft, why should matters pertaining to sex be any different?
Its not like walking down the altar is a magic bullet – married people still get HIV and other diseases cos a lot of people are not faithful. Saying the vows is no shield against the realities of this world so having folks knowledgeable will always be useful even after they say “I do.” I find it frustrating that so many out there act like discussing sex with teenagers once they become of age is going to result in all of them humping like rabbits as soon as all the adults are out of sight. The theory, if you can call it that, goes that if they are “protected” from the more salacious details then they won’t know what they’re missing and wont be tempted to go out there and experiment. I keep having this conversation over and over with different groups of people and I’m fresh out of ways to communicate that infantilizing anyone, young or old will get you nowhere and will yield results opposite of what you want.
Information is not the devil. We all need it, young and old. I understand that there may be some who have moral objections to having frank discussions about sex and want to believe that it should be limited to a special club and anyone outside those boundaries should be excluded until they are ready. Here’s the thing – you can’t decide that for others. You cant turn a blind eye to the way things are and how they always have been (that is, humans like sex, they enjoy it and will have it come what may) and then act shocked when keeping folks in the dark just makes things worse. Give people the facts and then let them decide what to do with them but don’t deny them access to it just because you are uncomfortable – the consequences of that are too horrible to imagine and if you get your head out of the sand long enough you’ll see that its happening all around you already.