What’s Going Wrong with our Sex Education?

As of 2015, Mexico had 119,938,473 inhabitants. 52.4% of those were women, and about 18.5% of the female population was under 20 years old (rough estimate).

In the same year, there were 2,353,596 births and 18.2% of those who gave birth were teenage girls. 49% of the population claimed not to have used any method of birth control during their first intercourse, and 32,752 cases of STDs were registered with 85% of clinic appointments being requested by women.

These numbers help us reach a pretty obvious conclusion: in Mexico, we are doing something wrong with how we approach sex.

Many assert that this dilemma has a direct relationship with a country’s level of income and development. There is logic in this reasoning, as statistics tell us that around 90% of teenage births and nearly 95% of new HIV infections take place in developing countries. However, this cannot be the sole reason why Mexico stands as the country with the highest teen pregnancy rate amongst member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

I believe that there is an important contributing factor that, somehow, tends to go unnoticed. Because, honestly, how do we expect young people to know about sex if we are reluctant to talk to them about it?

According to Mexican psychologist Juan Pablo Arredondo, nearly 80% of Mexican parents avoid talking about sex with their children. And, if they do talk about it, over 50% of them won’t handle it well, imposing their religious beliefs over the facts. And, often, schools are no better. Perhaps the best way to illustrate my argument is with my personal experience…

Like many other middle-class Mexicans, most of my early academic life took place in private schools which, for the most part, tend to be religious. In these schools, the sole mention of sex was taboo, both by the student body and our instructors.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I finally attended a secular school which provided a some sexual education. This is still very much a rarity in Mexico, as the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) doesn’t list sex-ed as a compulsory course in academic programs.

However, instead of learning about different methods of birth control, or about consent, I was shown pictures of STD symptoms and a very graphic video of an abortion procedure. Rather than learning about safe and healthy sex, I was taught to be terrified of the very act of intercourse and the potential consequences.

School was not where I learnt about sex. School is not where many young Mexicans learn about sex.

So, if our families and schools are neither available nor reliable sources, where are Mexicans learning about sex? The answer itself is problematic.

Many men can believe that what they see in porn is a reality – that they are going to find a hairless bombshell who will give her all for his satisfaction (and will, in doing so, magically achieve her own). On the contrary, women are told that sex is an act of love and, even if it is not the most pleasurable of acts, the feelings involved are what matters. If you mix these two beliefs, you end up with troubling scenarios like the one where unprotected sex is seen as ‘most pleasurable’ and the best way to keep your partner content, or the fetishization of lesbian relationships.

Of course, I am not saying that these are the de facto rules of how Mexicans think of sex. Instead, I am pointing out the possible consequences of the reluctance of those in charge of our education system to teach young people about sex.

Blaming our growing socio-economic inequality is easier than realizing that we are making a terrible mistake by avoiding talking openly about such a natural and fundamental topic. In doing so, we are hindering the chances of many young women out there.

Young People’s Voices: Contraception in Uganda

Uganda held its 2nd National Family Planning Conference in Kampala last month. The conference was organized by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in collaboration with FP2020 donor focal points for Uganda (UNFPA, DFID, USAID), as well as World Health Organization, National Population CouncilUganda Family Planning Consortium and other development partners.

Reach A Hand Uganda took the time to talk to young people, both in and out of schools, about their views on family planning. We sought to understand their ideas about the most immediate and logical solution to demand and access to contraceptive information and services.

The demand is evidenced in the 2016 Demographic Health Survey. Among young, sexually active and unmarried women surveyed, 83% expressed that they wanted to have access to contraception. While it is plausible – based on national statistics – that 51% of those women already do have access, that leaves 32% with their demand unmet.

The youth we talked to were all in favour of universal access to both information and services around contraception and family planning. This didn’t surprise us, knowing the statistics mentioned above. With the high numbers of young people who turned up to talk to us, and the positive ambience, it was clear this topic is important to youth in Uganda.

In the video we recorded, the youth voiced a call for all those over the age of 18 to have full time access to contraception – especially condoms – because, as 20-year-old Mpagi Jamiru said, sometimes you relate with people whose lifestyles you may not know much about.

Mpagi is a mechanic, like many out-of-school young people in Uganda. He spends most of his day working at a garage in Nsambya with his friends. Beyond this, though, Mpagi is a young man who is taking his own health and safety seriously.

The best thing about using condoms is that you safeguard yourself from very many diseases”, he stressed. He urges his peers to get tested, know their status and live carefully.

We also spoke to Namara Judith, who hit the nail on the head when he said: We need family planning to help the youth because they over-play sex”.  

This is well backed up by the 2016 Demographic Health Survey which shows that those aged 15-24 are most likely to be having sex with multiple partners – at 2.7% of those surveyed (with that rate increasing to 3.3% in the sub age group of 20-24-year-olds).

Proscovia Alimo, a 19-year-old, argued that young people need extended access to other health services such as safe male circumcision on top of increased availability of family planning services.

We were delighted to find that all of the young people we talked to had heard of family planning before. It was even better to hear that some were already using different methods. This is proof that more young people than ever are making informed decisions with regards the safety of their lives.

We believe that it is only fair that a group taking their health so seriously ought to have access to the contraceptive methods and family planning information they need to keep themselves safe. 

What We Need to Know About HIV & Adolescent Girls

The term ‘adolescent girls’ encompasses, in theory, all those aged 10-24. In reality, the lower section of that age bracket – the 10-19 year olds specifically – receive the least attention and are therefore the least comprehensively catered for when it comes to HIV/AIDS information and services.

So what do we know?

  • There is no country in the world where we don’t have adolescents living with HIV, and adolescent girls remain disproportionately affected.
  • There are 990,000 girls between 10-19 years old living with HIV globally. For boys of the same age, that figure drops to 770, 000.
  • Every hour, 26 adolescents are infected with HIV – two thirds of these are girls.
  • Adolescent AIDS-related deaths are increasing.
  • Very young adolescents are generally overlooked, since at this age they face a relatively low burden of disease. However, 10-14 is a critical life phase for shaping future health and development.

And what don’t we know?

  • There are HUGE differences between 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 year old girls, but we don’t have data that represents those differences by being divided up into specific age intervals.
  • There are considerable barriers to conducting research with adolescent girls which we don’t know how to overcome. For example, adults are often uncomfortable when dealing with adolescents in general, as well as with sexuality in general. This makes dealing with adolescent sexuality pretty problematic for many.
  • We are confused about adolescent’s ability to provide informed consent. Too often we think of them as children and judge their capacity to consent to research accordingly.

What can we do?

ROLE MODELS
Having a positive image of someone who is older, but not too much older, motivates young adolescents to feel that they belong to a kind of community, and that their hopes and dreams are worth spending time on.

PEER-TO-PEER SUPPORT
Very young adolescents find it more comfortable and easier to receive information from a peer. Well-informed peer educators can disperse knowledge and skills in a non-intimidating, non-alienating way.

SAFE SPACES
There need to be places for young people to start talking about their sexual and fertility needs. An adolescent girl needs to feel that it’s ok to walk up to another person and say “I’m sexually active”, or “I’m thinking about having sex.” It requires physical space; whether it’s actual chairs where you sit and talk or virtual space that exists online, where dialogues can happen comfortably and openly.

SHIFTING MINDSETS
We need to enable and support a shift in  the mindsets of those providing information and care, because too often the values and mindsets of providers conflict with the needs of young people. In many countries, a 14 year old girl coming to a clinic looking for contraception will be met first and foremost with an interrogation about why she is thinking about having sex at her age at all.

FAMILY PLANNING
The very term ‘family planning’ alienates adolescents, since the whole point is that they’re trying to avoid having a family. What young girls are looking for is contraception and protection.

SEX EDUCATION
We need information that isn’t so broad, that’s more age specific. There is no other subject that you’d approach in the same with with a 10 year old and a 13 year old. The best case scenario is that information is either too complex or too simple, and the worst is that it’s patronising, alienating, intimidating, or confusing.

If we truly want to #EndHIV4Her, we need to zoom in on very young adolescent girls and acknowledge their specific needs.

Girls’ Globe is present at the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa (17-22nd of July). Follow our team on social media @GirlsGlobe, @FHI360 & @JNJGlobalHealth and by using the hashtag #EndHIV4Her for inspiring blog posts, interviews and updates! To sign up for the daily In Focus Newsletter visit crowd360.org/aids2016/.

Cover Photo Credit: World Bank, Flickr Creative Commons

Youth Speak Out About HIV/AIDS!

Today, Girls’ Globe blogger, Eleanor met up with several young people at the 2016 International AIDS Conference. It’s the last full day of the conference and these inspiring young activists had a lot to say about the work they are accomplishing to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in their countries. They also shared key takeaways they have learned from the conference and their goals going forward in their work.

Watch this Inspiring Video:

 

Girls’ Globe is present at the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa (17-22nd of July). Follow our team on social media @GirlsGlobe, @FHI360 & @JNJGlobalHealth and by using the hashtag #EndHIV4Her for inspiring blog posts, interviews and updates! To sign up for the daily In Focus Newsletter visit crowd360.org/aids2016/.