Gender Equality, Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights
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Let’s Talk About Sex – The Importance of Sexual Education

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When I was in the seventh grade we started having classes about sex. Everyone thought this was an awkward thing to talk about and no one really understood why we had to do it. Everyone knew that we were supposed to wait until we felt ready and use a condom, right?

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few weeks ago I visited an upper secondary girls’ school in Tanzania and one of the girls came to me with a question. She was 17 years old and asked me what I thought about sex before marriage. Since sex is something that  you shouldn’t have before marriage according to the prevailing norms and and religious views in Tanzania, I felt quite uncomfortable. I didn’t want to step on her toes and say something ”wrong”. So I told her that in Sweden, having sex before marriage is quite common and nothing that is considered weird or abnormal. I was a little nervous of how she would react since it is a tricky and very personal question.

This girl continued to tell me that just a few days before I arrived to the school they had a class about sex. My first reaction was that this was a positive thing, since it is an important topic to talk about. She went on to tell me that the whole class had been about not having sex before marriage. The teachers were standing in front telling these young women that it was almost forbidden to have sex before they have found their husband. And when they do have sex, it will be only to bring children for their man. She also told me that she didn’t listen to a single word they said and that she had already had sex.

This is where the problem lies: this seventeen year old girl was very smart and had good grades but she didn’t know anything about having safe sex. No one have ever told her about using protection since they can’t even think about her being sexually active before marriage.

In Tanzania alone, 1.4 million people are living with HIV and in Africa as a continent as much as 26 million people are suffering from this disease. This is a huge and terrifying number and it is definitely time to react. In Sub-Saharan Africa women represent 58% of all people living with HIV or AIDS and for women in their reproductive years this is the most common reason of death. Looking at teenage girls, pregnancy is the most common reason why they die, either because of illegal abortions or from complications during childbirth.

The failure to provide young people proper sex education and information about and access to contraceptives in countries like Tanzania is resulting in devastating consequences. I believe it’s safe to say that every single person in the world agree that we need to eradicate HIV and AIDS and also lower the number of teenage girls dying from pregnancy, and of course decrease the number of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies in the first place. Proper sex education is crucial for us to achieve this goal, and a necessary part of securing young women’s future life and living as well. We can’t close our eyes from the fact that some young women – probably more than we think – will have sex before they get married even if the norms and religious views of the country tell them otherwise.

After my talk with this young girl I realized that my teachers talking to me and my classmates about sex when we were in seventh grade wasn’t a bad thing at all. But I also realized that I grew up in a society were the norm is to use protection when having sex if the goal isn’t to conceive. I have been raised with information about safe sex, contraceptives and the risks of unprotected sex.

So maybe I sat there in seventh grade giggling and thought it was quite funny and weird when my teacher showed us a condom, but at that time I didn’t knew how grateful I should be about knowing those things. I didn’t realize that there were other girls around the world not knowing that condoms even existed – or, if they did, not having access to them. We need to realize that sex is a part of young people’s lives, and while some girls and boys will choose to wait until they are married, many more won’t  – and we need to teach them how to prevent diseases and unplanned pregnancies. Additionally, even when women do get married, they should still have the necessary information and tools to postpone pregnancy until they themselves decide, with their partners, that they are ready to have a child.

Teaching youth about sex isn’t the same as encouraging them to have sex – and the consequences of failing to provide girls and boys access to sexual education and contraceptives are much too severe and negative for us to accept any longer.

Cover photo credit: UNFPA Flickr 

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