A stitch in time saves nine

Puberty might be starting earlier than in the past. This has been attributed to lifestyles, exogenous hormones in our food. Entertainment is also becoming more sexually explicit. Our world is increasingly becoming interconnected with content crossing borders. A  Zimbabwean can now easily access American content. We are a sexually “conservative” country constantly blaming the West for polluting our moral values. The “West” seems to be more liberal though some would argue that they still face a lot barriers relating to sexual freedoms. We end up deliberately exposing ourselves to content that is not “culturally” “religiously” or “contextually” suitable for our conservative nature. This is the reality of the global village.  Internet is now on mobile devices and social networking allowing easy transmission and sharing of information.

This simply means not matter how much you might try to protect your child exposure to corrupt information is almost inevitable. Parental control on satellite TV and the internet are awesome measures to restrict or determine content which your child has access to. However your child is still part of society and as they grow older you have less control on what they are exposed to. They spend a lot of time at school or with friends. Another thing you do not have control over is puberty. When puberty strikes nature takes its course, they start becoming biologically sexually and reproductively mature. The raging hormones make them confused, inquisitive and curious. They start seeing the world around them differently. That’s when nurture chips in.

The fact remains that one way or the other your child will start realising that their genitalia have seemingly other functions besides urination. Suddenly their hearts start longing for a different form of friendships and companionship. They start whispering among themselves and searching for information to quench their curiosity. They pretend to be “innocent” around you because of your at times unrealistic expectations for them. They dare not talk about the person they have developed interest in or inquire about sex from you because of how the topic is treated as a taboo. They know being found out or raising the issue might trigger a tornado and or if they are lucky just be dismissed without any answers. On the other hand you might justify yourself by thinking that talking about sex will make them curious and want to experiment. Wake up and smell the coffee! You are doing your child or sibling a disservice. You are depriving them of life saving information.

They fill that gap with television programs they watch without your knowledge. Some even start watching porn without your knowledge. We have to appreciate that things are changing and the world is becoming complicated. If you had an innocent childhood protected from all these “social ills” you were lucky.

Why wait for our future leaders to be fed poison when we can intervene earlier. Start by mildly introducing the topic as early as possible. Children can be victims of sexual abuse so tell them where they should never allow anyone to touch them. Gradually teach them correct anatomy of their bodies which includes their genitalia. Pre-empt them of changes that will take place such that when she gets her first period or his first wet dream they will not be anxious and will easily approach you. Walk with them fully explaining the changes they will be going through and what else to expect. Start a healthy conversation about sex. Make sure they are comfortable to ask questions. Address misconceptions. Highlight consequences of uniformed sex done at the wrong time with the wrong person. They need to know that pregnancy and babies are as a result of sex and it’s something worth waiting for because of priorities like getting education. Allow an open relationship that makes you their diary confidante and best friend. That will require a lot of patience and self-control and doing away with prejudices. Telling them to stop dating is insufficient because they will just continue doing it in hiding. At times the rod is not the best option. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered, insecurities and definitely secretive behaviour. Talk to them about healthy dating and why you would prefer they do not date at whatever stage. However expect some resistance but do not do anything that will push them away because the next time the topic will be discussed it will be complicated by pregnancy or sexually transmitted illnesses.

They need to know about the different methods of contraception available and this information has to be age appropriate. If you think or suspect your teen is sexually active, as much as you should discourage the behaviour also teach them to be cautious. Ideally we want our children to remain innocent forever but it’s becoming more complicated in this era. Let us then protect them from consequences which might definitely derail their lives. Talk about condoms.  We have a lot of young people living with HIV and AIDS. This is not a bad thing at all and they are ordinary people we see day to day and interact with. Dating an age mate therefore doesn’t guarantee one is protected from HIV. Yes it does reduce the risk if compared to dating older people. Unfortunately teenagers date older people who can easily take advantage of them. Teaching children to protect themselves regardless of their HIV status protects them from reckless, uninformed decisions. This can help reduce new infections and teenage pregnancy. The sexual, reproductive education they grow up getting also helps them live positively if infected and becoming more accepting if they are not. Our fight against stigma has to start in junior school because they have friends and classmates who might have been born with HIV. It changes their perception of HIV and can help put an end to stigma. Openly talking about sex means young people will have access to accurate information. An uninformed adolescent is vulnerable. You should deliberately make an effort to know more about sexual reproductive health. As an adult it helps you have a healthier, more informed sex life and positively impact the younger generations.

Stigma is perpetuated by treating sex as a taboo. Therefore anything sexually related arouses judgemental reactions.  Sweeping discussions on sex and sexuality under the carpet compounds the problem. There is need for mind-sets shift. Distributing contraception to adolescents is a controversial topic. However we should promote easy access of condoms in public areas for example toilets, health centres, youth friendly corners, pharmacies and supermarkets etc. We should still continue emphasising the benefits of abstinence to adolescents and also inform them on ways to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections if they decide to indulge. They should freely access condoms and contraception when they need them because depriving them has more costly consequences. It will not stop them from having sex and they end up having unprotected sex. Providers of condoms and contraception should teach them on  how to correctly use which ever method they decide to use,  instead of giving a judgemental conversation and imposing their r moral beliefs on the client,. Equip them with more knowledge and phrase your advice on abstinence in a way that allows them to make informed decisions. Do not decide on their behalf. Religious groups should also find ways of contextualising sexual and reproductive education to their beliefs. However it’s important to make sure that in the process their youths are not deprived of the much needed information.

In conclusion let us demystify sex and talk about it more often. It’s not the role of the biology teacher only to explain sex and human body anatomy. It’s everyone’s responsibility more especially parents and guardians to make sure our future leaders are well informed. Pregnancy, abortions and sexually transmitted infections can be prevented by comprehensive sexual reproductive education relevant to every stage of development. Stigma and quality of life for those already living with HIV can be significantly being improved if we all demystify. Openly talk and be informed about such issues. Teenage pregnancy, Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV are not the end of the world. Affected people need our support more than our judgements and stigma. How you react to them can either rack or positively influence a life. People regardless of age, gender, race, socio economic or health status, sexual orientation or religion should not be denied of sexual and reproductive health services. Everyone should have access to treatment and protection including emergency contraception and post exposure HIV prophylaxis when they need them. A stitch in time saves nine. Let us make an effort to change our attitude towards sexual intercourse.

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