When it comes to family planning, adolescent girls need youth-friendly services and information to make smart choices! It is critical that myths and misinformation are debunked so that girls can avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS, STIs, and complications from early pregnancy which can lead to future health complications, unsafe abortions, and maternal and infant death. Girl Up Initiative Uganda is working with our SRHR specialist, a young Ugandan woman herself, to ensure girls in Uganda have the opportunity to access comprehensive sexual health education.
As addressed in a previous blog post, Uganda has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy. What Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) found during one of our sexual health education training sessions with our girls, was that there are many harmful myths surrounding SRHR information especially when it came to their knowledge about early sex and pregnancy. This confusion needed clarification!
Based on questions and comments by our girls, here are some common SRHR myths held by adolescent girls in Uganda and our answers:
- If I have sex while standing I won’t lose my virginity. By definition engaging in vaginal intercourse is what will result in ‘the loss of virginity’. Simply put, if a boy/man’s inserts their male member inside your body, you can fall pregnant, and be exposed to HIV/AIDS and STIs.
- If I have sex while standing, I won’t get pregnant. Although sitting or standing may discourage sperm from traveling upstream, there isn’t hard scientific evidence to suggest being upright will stop you from being impregnated. Engaging in early sexual activity in any position is high risk behavior.
- If I have sex with someone much older than myself, I won’t get pregnant. Girls seeking financial security or assistance often find themselves performing sexual favours from much older men (“sugar daddies”), exposing them to early pregnancy and HIV/AIDS, amongst other things. Age is never a factor in pregnancy, nor is it smart to use it as a barometer to measure the probability of falling pregnant; especially since when it comes to male fertility, though it declines with age, sperm remains constant until their senior years (studies have suggested that conception can take up to a year when the man is over 35).
- If I shower immediately after sex, I won’t get pregnant. Also referred to as ’douching’ (which has it’s own related health risks), this is actually a common misconception and myth. Once the sperm is inside your body, washing yourself is not going to stop it from entering the cervix and reaching the ovum. There is also a related myth that showering will prevent HIV and STD infection, which again, is untrue.
- If I have sex during my menstruation period, I won’t get pregnant. This myth partially forms the basis of the birth control method based on a woman’s menstrual calendar: fertility awareness-methods or natural family planning. Girls need to understand their bodies, and that from a biological standpoint their menstruation period can overlap with their ovulation, as well as the fact that sperm can survive in their bodies for up to 6 days after intercourse. In short, when you are on your period, you are still fertile, and therefore can get pregnant if you engage in sexual intercourse at the time.
- If I get pregnant before 18, I can’t breastfeed the baby. Girls can be assured that should they become pregnant, teenage mothers can still breastfeed, but they need a lot more nutrients to lactate and produce the milk their child needs. Early pregnancy has risks, but the body will still prepare for breastfeeding.
- If I use a condom, it’s 100% protection against pregnancy. In the event that an adolescent girl does engage in sexual intercourse, it is important to explain that safe sex includes the use of condoms, which is a good thing! However, condoms can break or tear, and therefore require proper education in terms of its use. Get out those bananas!
As you can see above, adolescent girls, and youth in general, need correct information about SRHR in order to make informed decisions. Hajara Namuyimbwa, local medical nurse and SRHR specialist for GUIU said after the training:
“My experience so far with the girls is that they need a lot of help and trainings about SRH and their rights.” Hajara Namuyimbwa
In light of the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) scheduled for this week, we are continuing the online conversation and highlighting the importance of comprehensive sex education for youth. GUIU will continue to work with our girls, their schools and the surrounding communities at large to ensure myths and misconceptions are clarified and girls have access to correct SRHR information. With these resources in place, girls will be empowered to make informed decisions about their sexualities.