A TED spin on the birds and the bees
So, the TED Global talks are taking place in Oxford, England this year and as I was looking around at their latest pool of videos, I came across this short “Talks in Less Than 6 Minutes” piece. What’s the topic of discussion? “The Talk”. Now, in case you didn’t know, “The Talk” is just parent code for the subject of sexuality. Other variations in code include “the birds and the bees”, “the stalk story”, and so on.
Anyway, this is quite a funny piece, but very real. It made me think about how everyone back in junior high was so excited as we slowly progressed towards the end of the integrated science textbook. What was at the end? (and now that i think about it, why was it at the very end?): the human sexual reproductive system. The topic of sex seems to be such a big deal, especially for adolescents. I remember that some of my classmates even bookmarked the date we were supposed to cover that in class, in order to make sure that they were present for the discussion. Needless to say, the boys were excited, the girls a bit shy, and the teacher, well, let’s say this was one class he probably couldn’t wait to be over with.
The Role of Youth in Sex-Ed
Which brings me to another news piece from earlier this week. According to this BBC report and UN research, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among youth 15-24 in African countries has reduced considerably, by 25%! That’s not a small margin. The main reason behind the decrease? Young people being more engaged in sexual reproductive health and HIV/AIDS campaigns. Personally, I think this is a HUGE deal. For one thing, most African cultures (and the mix of religion) make the topic of sex seem quite taboo. Even young people find it hard to talk about it amongst themselves, much more with their parents or adults. However, the dangers are real. These days, children lose their innocence relatively early (no pun intended) due to exposure to graphic or sexually-heavy content. Physically, they look much older than they are. Not just because more kids were makeup or dress like adults, but also because the nutrition base of many developing and African countries is changing as a result of increased trade, food shortages, influx of genetically modified foods (GMOs) and so on.
Traditionally, most African communities have rituals for ushering young adults into the new stage of their lives. Now, with modernity and the influence of other cultures, those rites seem to be dying out — at least in the big cities, which also happen to be the locations where population hikes are expected within the next couple of decades. My “talk” with my mother went along the lines of, “Well now you’re growing up and if you allow a guy to touch you in a certain way and you get pregnant, you’re keeping the child and you’ll take some time off school to look after the kid.” My mum’s a teacher, so technically, that talk was probably easier for her than it would be for other parents. I ended up getting most of my knowledge on SRH issues from being an HIV/AIDS peer counsellor and undergoing training. When I tried having a similar discussion with my lil’ bro who’s now taller than me, his response was “You know I don’t do such things“. In other words, don’t ask/talk to me about it. If your big sister who’s trained to talk about SRH stuff and who thinks herself cool enough to not scare you away can’t talk to you about sex, who can?
So, with the prevailing perceptions concerning sex, where do young people get their information on sex, sexuality and sexual health from? In your opinion, when is an appropriate age to talk to a young kid/adolescent about sex? Should the parents be the ones talking to them about it, or an elder sibling, mentor, other family member, peer or teacher? Do you wait until they ask you — which, considering how sex-heavy media is these day, might be sooner, rather than later — do you wait till they hit the milestone of 13, 16, or 18 years? Or do you just leave it up to them to figure out on their own? Do you remember what your “talk” with the parents was like? Did you even have one?
They say information is power. While my classmates and I got some form of introduction to the topic of sex — a very, very short, scientific introduction mind you — not many Ghanaian basic schools cover the topic or even if they do, they just skim over it. Does our reluctance to engage youth on the topic of sexuality do our societies more harm or good considering the current threats – rape, STDs, etc? Should sexual reproductive health (SRH) education be integrated on a national level or should it be left to the family units? And since we’re asking a string of questions, who decides what goes into such a curriculum anyway?
FYI, this year’s International AIDS Conference kicks off in Vienna on July 18th. Check out the site > http://www.aids2010.org/
Here’s the TED video:
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.