Speak up about sex!

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

 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!

Christy Abraham

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.

Morolake Odetoyinbo

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.

12 thoughts on “Speak up about sex!

  1. Dear Fungai and all that have shared so generously your experiences, thank you. Very inspirational and definitely food for thought.

    Much Love and Respect.

    Organisation Manager
    World AIDS Campaign

  2. Hey love! Here is my two bits worth:

    Delta 26 – I learned about sex from my older cousins who were all raised by my dad. I vaguely recall the occasion of watching two donkeys at it near the borehole when we had gone to fetch water and we all stood (well I did anyway) staring at the entire spectacle of the elongated thing being shoved into that other thing of the other donkey which looked like it was dying! I actually thought it would surely die and was surprised that none of my older cousins were doing anything to stop what I thought at the time was a an act of brutality against a fellow donkey…lol. Anyway, I was duly corrected, although in retrospect, I now find some of the information I got was not very kosher…but it sufficed and lasted me to Grade 6 where my male teacher struggled to get through the topic of menstruation with a straight face while the class giggled every time we had to go to the page with reproductive organs…

    That’s my two cents worth on this one. Much love!

  3. I suppose I should also add my little experience.

    Fungai Machirori (26) ZIMBABWE

    Surprisingly, I learnt about sex at school when I was 8 years old. My teacher closed the door one afternoon and talked us through the basics of sex. She was a bit uncomfortable and kept shifting up and down BUT she managed to get through it. It was something all teachers were told to do that afternoon and every child in our school came out of class with their jaws to the floor.

    I guess I was very blessed because we also had an HIV and AIDS awareness club which I joined when I was 10 years old. So I don’t think I ever really went wrong with misinformation.

    1. chenge 27 – i cn barely rememba hw i first learnt abt sex bt i mst hv bn abt 10-11 n it ws all thru tv n reading romantic novels meant 4 my older sisters. ryt until my first xperience no one ever came close to telling me what this whole sex thing was about.i do remember tho wen i was bout 12 and i started menstruating and my mum said to me “iye zvino ukatamba nevakomana hameno zvako unoita nhumbu” funny she told me that and nothing about sex!!! Ciao Ciao!!

  4. I found out about sex when I was 6 while playing hide & seek with some neighbors. At 12, people from a social organization came to our skool to educate us more about sex & aids. At 16, I became sexually active & could hardly go a day without sex. My penis was already about 9 inches so I cld use condoms. I read mags, tv & talked to pple about sex. I fell in love with sex i thought i had to be married by 20. I had lots of sex with jst one partner & always with a condom. At 20, I dated a girl who showed me some crazy moves & had skills of how 2 keep ma penis hard even afta coming……..I enjoyed foreplay with her & she is the reason why my sex is excellent. I think sex is healthy, it’s jst that some pple get so impatient to wear the condom especially afta a gud foreplay…….some wear it but they r not patient enuff to use it properly, others think condoms spoil the fun. I lost so many relatives to AIDS to the point of resiting some of my sexual desires for the sake of abstinence & the good health. Abstinence is always good as it guarantees u more sex afta marriage. I wld say women shld abstain & men shld use condoms for the sake of gaining experience, maintaining a good health amongst other benefits

  5. Wow, reading these accounts from all across the globe gets you to realise that it’s not an “african” thing for parents not to speak to their kids about sex, it’s just a subject that they find hard to break to their kids.
    personally i had open eyes and an ear for the subject, though my education on the subject matter wasn’t formal, it was none the less educational! i think it was good that my parents didn’t give me “the talk” because im sure it would have left more questions than answers! i’m sure i would have been still trying to demystify the mystery to this day! but thanks to programs ranging from the discovery channels wildlife shows up to porn, i was able to draw and name the spades at an early age! but like most adults, i still consider myself a humble student to this day! “wise grasshopper got a lot to learn!”

  6. I’ve known about sex from a really young age probably about 6 or 7. Me and my little friends knew that such a thing existed believe it or not! Funny thing is that despite knowing about sex, there never was the curiosity to try it out. HIV/AIDS is something that I have known about since probably about the age of 12. I remember watching a documentary on TV about AIDS. Twenty plus years ago or so, AIDS was a relatively unknown disease but I had already heard about it. During my teenage years, all I ever heard about growing up in Zimbabwe was AIDS, AIDS, AIDS! The media really did a good job informing everyone about HIV/AIDS and the ways it could be transmitted. Unfortunately, anytime anyone died or was sick with some other ailment, people always jumped to the conclusion that they had AIDS.

  7. Fungai thanks for starting this discussion, it’s good to read all these different experiences.

    The English/London system at my school meant we were taught sex education at 11 or so and told about menstruation before that at Primary School, it has changed a lot now. I found an children’s anatomy book recently that my mum must have bought for me when I was very young, she was always very honest and up front about sex. I know I was sexually aware from the age of 6 or 7, joking with friends male and female and playing kiss chase without really knowing what we were doing up until 10 years old. We also had a medical encylopaedia at home that was a source of grave concern to inquisitive minds looking up toothache and breast development easily misread as cancer, smallpox or syphilis etc! I could always find all of these things in the wonderful books and literature I was surrounded with and was taught as a child (whether through sex or not): Ibsen’s Ghosts, Orwell’s 1984, HG Wells’s War of the Worlds, Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple, Shakespeare…

    We learnt about HIV in the late 1980s when I was 13 or so from our deputy headmistress and in a sex education class, and about reproduction in biology. HIV education was incorporated into our GCSE drama lessons at Senior School, where we imagined what it must be like for different people affected by the disease, their families, lovers and friends and we performed publicly (nervously) in the Churchill Theatre in Bromley aged 15 with many other children from different schools because HIV was high on the agenda in the UK (as it was in much of the western world) at the time. The safe sex campaigns began then and their success must be attributed to early cross-sector wide intervention which meant that new infections fell and did not rise to the potentially high levels feared at the time, though many people did die rapidly and in massive pain in the early days and we must not forget that. The Lighthouse, the Terence Higgins Trust Stonewall and Elton John are part of that activist community who rose up to defend their lives and continue to speak out in support of this who, once they are on treatment, are still HIV positive 25 or 30 years later. The plays, books, film and art that were part of that activism whether intentionally or not were also vital: Angels in America, The Boys in the Band, Philadelphia from the USA, but also Foucault, Colm Toibin, the lists are long!

    History of Medicine was also part of the GSCE History course we were taught aged 15 & 16, including the roots of western medicine in Egyptian and Islamic (Byzantine practices) passed on through the Greeks, Romans and into Europe in the middle ages and into the ‘enlightenment’ and up until the advances during the Victorian period and the First and Second World Wars, which often altered the course of medicine out of necessity (amputation, surgery, anaesthetic, penicillin etc) to 1990. I continued to learn much more about colonial medical and sexual practices in Africa at University and am still learning now.

    The awareness of HIV in the UK has sadly dropped along with sex education & awareness of all kinds of other sexually transmitted diseases, although new campaigns on chlamydia and herpes have broken through a bit in the public domain and as my husband works at a primary school in Streatham he tells me children as young as 8 are now taught about sex, sexuality & birth, but that is often dependent on the individual school I think. I am regularly asked what the red ribbon I wear signifies by young people and by strangers on tubes and buses. I wear the beaded red ribbon I bought in Harare last year (and have been re-buying as I lose them or they break since 2001) with silent pride to signal to anyone who cares to notice that I am aware of HIV as a profound issue that can affect anyone as much in different parts of Africa as in London and the rest of the UK.

    My own sexual experiences, good and bad, are of course a private matter.

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