It is an accepted fact that teenage boys think about sex almost permanently. Countless jokes and punchlines are based on that fact and biology will concur. Teenage boys for the most part have their minds on sex and sex on their minds.
But what about girls? Are we just as obsessed? Just as curious? As secretly desirous ?
More specifically, what about African girls?
So, Palava Women...
Did you think about sex in your teens? Talk about it with your friends? Did you have friends who were sexually active? Were you sexually active?
I'm not even going to ask if you talked about it with your parents. Odds are, you didn't.
Another way to look at it:
Anyone you know got caught in a sexual act? Got pregnant? Got an STD? Got HIV/AIDS?
Were they raped or otherwise coerced? Or were they victims of their own curiosity?
In my experience, if ever an adolescent girl was caught in a sexual act, the reaction towards her depended on the age of the man she was caught with and his relationship to her.
If it was another young man of an age within range of hers and a non relative, she was a bad child intent on bringing shame to her family.
If he was older and a non relative, then he either raped her or she seduced him.
If it was a relative, it was an abomination to be hushed up
If she ended up pregnant she aborted the baby or was sent to the village.
Very rarely was it ever thought of as a case of her simply being curious enough about the demands of her body to act on them.... The assumption is that whatever her desires and curiosities may be, they are irrelevant.
But then that raises the question once again, do female African adolescents feel sexual desire?
And if so, what are they supposed to do with those feelings?
In my case, my openness with my mother about these things diminished when I hit my teens. Why did that happen? Because I was no longer a child. I was on the cusp of womanhood and my questions about sex no longer would have been the notional queries of a child with more knowledge on the matter than her years warranted. I knew that my questions would have been tinged with the element of interest.
I also knew that this element of interest is what strikes fear in the hearts of parents and people in positions of leadership over adolescents.
Whenever the topic of adolescents (especially adolescent girls) and sex comes up, the general reaction is one which seems to suggest that talking about it is creating a permissive atmosphere, one in which the adolescents feel that because their parents/elders are talking about it with them, it must be OK to engage in it, to experiment. The problem is that NOT talking about it is producing the exact same results...and worse. You see, a young girl with biological sexual desire, that element of interest, is a prime target for those uncles we talked about as well as teenage boys with pretty rabid elements of interest of their own.
Talk about kerosene and matches.
African women should talk about sex to adolescents African girls because we all have been adolescents and I daresay most of us felt those pangs and yearnings that left us breathless and a little confused...a little ashamed. African women need to talk about sex to adolescent girls because adolescent girls need to hear that sexual desire is normal.
They need to hear that it is healthy.
They need to hear that it is beautiful and powerful.
They need to hear that it can be dangerous.
African women should talk about sex because quite often, those yearnings will eventually focus on one person and if he ever found out he was the object of a young girls sexual interest and was a boy or man with no honor, the doors are once again flung wide open for abuse, in this case, her interest could be used against her.
"You wanted it so you can't cry foul if I force you. Besides, who are you going to cry to? Everyone will call you a whore, an akwara, an ashawooo, a wolowos."
African women (and men) need to talk about sex with their sons, because those boys need to learn respect, for themselves and for a woman's body.
I don't really care much about what context the discussion is had in. Religious people might want to stress abstinence and more liberal parents/elders may want to make protections available but the conversations need to be had.
What we have now is a situation where no one is talking and teens are feeling around in the dark, looking for clarification, for understanding and reassurance that someone out there knows what is going on, but we are too afraid to come forward and say "Yes, I've been there" because somehow we feel we will be enabling bad behavior. They have no one with whom they can talk about what they feel and ask for advice on how to deal with it. Some are even in environments where normal, healthy sexual desire is branded as some external influence, to be rejected and bound and cast out.
Adolescents are left with no recourse they can turn to if they were under pressure to engage in sex because to even express interest is to have fallen, to be bad.
So things go underground and only show up when a girls belly starts swelling, or when disease wastes away, or when a girls abuse is so much, she commits suicide.
- Africa has the world's highest rate of adolescent pregnancy
- The majority of adolescents with HIV/AIDS live in Africa
- Prevalence of Sexual Assault on Teenage girls in parts of Africa is as high as 24% (PDF of full paper available for any interested)
The status quo is not tenable.
African women should talk about sex, for the adolescents we all were.