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. 

Talking Family Planning with Beth Schlachter

On July 11 2017, policymakers, donors, and advocates from around the world gathered at the Family Planning Summit in London to discuss efforts to reach the Family Planning 2020 goals – ensuring greater numbers of women and girls are able to plan their futures by enabling 120 million more women to use contraception by 2020.

We caught up with Executive Director Beth Schlachter after the Summit to talk about expanding access to contraception and giving girls and women the ability to control their own lives.

Wherever you live, and whether or not you’re happy with the information, services and support you’re currently able to access, there are ways that each of us can take action improve the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls in our own communities and elsewhere in the world. Beth explains:

Feeling inspired?

Visit the Family Planning Summit website to learn more and to access resources

Follow @FP2020Global on Twitter

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Join the conversation using #HerFuture

Girls Shouldn’t Feel Ashamed at That Time of the Month – Period!

My name is Barbara Namuddu, a peer educator with Reach A Hand, Uganda (RAHU) and I would like to tell you a story. A story that am not afraid to talk about because I am a girl and am proud to say that being a girl is not a punishment.

I have been volunteering with RAHU for nine months now under the Peer Educators Academy program where I have had an opportunity to interact with my peers in schools. My interaction is mainly premised on listening to their issues so that I, as a peer educator armed with the right information, can help them overcome their challenges.

It’s not a surprise that as a girl, fellow girls always feel open to share problems that they go through with me since they know that I, have also gone through the same. I am sure any girl reading this is nodding her head in agreement.

From the peer learning sessions I conduct, I always find out so many terrible tales happening to young girls in school (but also out of school) as young as twelve.  One of those things are the experiences they go through during menstruation.

Burdened with cramps, heavy flow and surprise menstrual periods (since some are so young to know when the cycle starts), and interacting with rude or unsympathetic boys and men who don’t know how it feels to go through menstruation, girls are still living in terror.

Getting their periods  in school can be such a hassle. Some are constantly running out of class to the bathroom every hour, making sure they are stocked with enough pads, and some try to pretend and seem like they’re not  bleeding profusely out of their vaginas.

To some, If they’re caught off guard and their periods start in class, it  becomes their most embarrassing moment as one girl I interacted with narrated;

The shame of blood leaking through your skirt, boys calling you names, sores and infections, to mention but a few, makes you hate being a young healthy girl.”

Girls can you hear me?

Watch Barbara’s 6o seconds video on menstruation

This gets worse in a country like Uganda where menstruation is plagued with taboos. “If you’re menstruating and you climb a tree, then that tree will stop producing fruits”, “If you get periods, you must start having sex”, “girls in periods contaminate food”, “girls in periods cannot participate in schools.” etc.

Societies have the tendency to view women and girls as submissive to men and boys, and menstruation as a topic and issue has been stigmatized and made into a taboo topic that should only be discussed in private. This, in turn, prevents women and girls from accessing the information they need about menstruation and their bodies.

In this age and era, the last thing you expect to hear is a man or boy saying that a menstruating girl is dirty or can cause harm to others, and yet my interactions as a peer educator prove otherwise. It is therefore harder for girls to be in school during menstruation because these myths contribute to low confidence and fears of humiliation by others.

We need to make men and boys aware of the fact that menstruation is a completely natural part of life and ensure that girls are not inducted into puberty with feelings of shame. It’s unbelievably upsetting to discover how poorly we treat young girls — kids, really — going through this biological phenomenon that is no fault of their own, and more importantly, nothing to be ashamed of.

To overcome these challenges, we need to move beyond the stigma of menstruation. We need to educate boys and men on the importance of open dialogue on the subject. After all, men still make up a larger proportion of governments and corporate policy-makers in Africa.

It should be accepted that menstrual health is not just a “girl’s issue” but everyone’s issue: women and girls cannot drive development in communities  if their menstrual health is not given due consideration. Oh and also – don’t make us we feel ashamed at that time of the month. We’re not faking it. It’s nature. Period!

Featured image: Barbara conducting a focus group discussion. Image courtesy of Reach a Hand Uganda.