For many people, learning about the birds and bees happens through very interesting ways. And sadly, it is rare for people, especially people who come from conservative cultures, to learn about sex and sexuality from their parents and elders who are usually able to give them a fuller and more accurate understanding of the topic than magazines, TV or equally clueless peers.
At the recent Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland, a day-long thematic session on sexual and reproductive health integration within HIV and AIDS programming was held. This got me thinking a lot about how important fact-based sex and sexuality information, education and communication is so important for young people in order for them to make informed decisions about sex.
I asked a few people to tell me about how they learned about sex and the following were their answers…
Dimitris Stathis (22) GREECE
When I was about 13, I heard from a friend about blow jobs and didn’t believe that people actually did that. In fact, I thought it was a figure of speech! I learnt about sex mainly from movies. My parents never said anything.
But when it came to HIV, my mother wrote the word AIDS on a piece of paper. And then she wrote that you can get easily, quickly and forever. She never talked about sex and yet she told me about HIV!
Christy Abraham (47) INDIA
We did general education about puberty when I was 13, but my real learning happened when I was about 18 at a women’s college. During lunch sessions, the girls who were more progressed in their knowledge would tell us what sex was and even draw sexual organs for us and explain to us what they did. My parents never said anything about sex. In India, parents will talk about marriage, but not about sex.
Hans Fly (26) USA
My mum spoke to us young. I must have been about 8. She explained sexual intercourse but not the technicalities of it like positions!
So while everyone else was in the dark, I had a concept of it already. Plus I did a bit of reading up on my own.
Morolake Odetoyinbo (40) NIGERIA
I never had formal sex education, even at school. I learnt a lot from TV. Something would make me realise subconsciously that it was something wrong and I would cover my eyes when I saw people kissing.
I have my own child now (3 years old) and I don’t make him self -conscious about sexuality. We call his penis a penis, not a wee-wee like most people do. It is after all just another body part.
Swuan Pyae Phyo (25) MYANMAR
When I was 7 or 8, I watched some porn from my uncle. I didn’t know what masturbating was but began to do it by myself. When I was about 10, I tried to have sex with one of my friends but didn’t really understand what I was doing.
Juliana Cesar (30) BRAZIL
In the US, they say that children grow out of a cabbage. Since I don’t like cabbage, I decided that they grow out of lettuce. I never had the sex talk with my parents and learnt instead from school and TV.
But the funny thing is that I remember being very young and looking through the encyclopedia on sex that my parents kept. They never hid it.
Josko Mise (22) CROATIA
My mum never talked to me about sex and yet she is a medical doctor! I went to a Catholic grammar school and we didn’t talk about sex there. So, I learnt through friends and the media. I only learnt about HIV when I went to medical school.
While interesting, these results seem to show that regardless of what part of the world you come from, sex is still veiled in secrecy for young people. And until we can normalise talking about sex in our homes we can’t really normalise dealing with HIV.