Growing up, my family loved watching Mexican soap operas. The mushy love stories captured our attention every evening and we looked forward to the shows with the eagerness and anxiety of a groom waiting for his bride to walk down the aisle.
But the shows were full of artificial anticlimax moments as my father would jump up the minute a kissing scene (or a near-kissing scene) would pop up because “this is not appropriate for children”.
My mother would agree that it was indeed tabia mbaya and we would be sent to bed or if they were feeling generous, they would allow us to watch it to the end while closely watching out for the tabia mbaya scenes.
It was quite a spectacle.
I learnt to associate sex with shame long before I even knew what the former entailed.
This feeling exacerbated in secondary school, where one of the mandatory medical reports before being admitted was a pregnancy test.
I think it was one of the few times I heard my mother actually talk about sex. And not even to me. She assured the doctor, a family friend, that there was no way I could be pregnant and that he should go ahead and write “negative” without testing me first.
“She would never bring shame to us like that!”
The doctor seemed to agree. And sex became an even dirtier word.
The guidance and counselling classes we had in primary school only served to make us feel like sex was a ticking bomb just waiting for a small trigger – like standing too close to a boy or male teacher – to explode. And I am not even joking about standing too close to boys. We were advised to always stand at least one metre away from male teachers and boys. A difficult task, as you can imagine.
ROUTINE PREGNANCY TESTS
Back to secondary school. The pregnancy tests did not end at admission.
It was the routine at the beginning of every school term for us to visit the school nurse so she could ascertain that we were not pregnant. It was an all-girls school and the nurse was generous with the medical reports about who was found to be pregnant or not.
The girls would then make the walk of shame back home and the school principal would use their stories as cautionary tales against fornication and teen pregnancy.
But the cycle would continue as more and more girls would be sent home every term to “deal with their shame”.
We were convinced that sex essentially meant the end of life. Little wonder, then, that there were a number of reported cases of botched abortions. And rumours of successful ones.
That was almost two decades ago, but nothing much has changed since then. If anything, the problem of teenage pregnancies has worsened and we are treating it with the same collective hypocrisy and self-righteousness that we have always done instead of facing the problem head-on.
And it’s a huge problem. Some 378,397 adolescent girls in Kenya aged between 10 and 19 years became pregnant between July 2016 and June 2017, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) Chairman George Magoha recently blamed parents for the problem.
“The high rate of candidates giving birth is a cultural problem. We, as parents, are failing to bring up our children in the correct manner. We are getting to a situation where the children are dictating to the parents what they should do.”
His is an old-school view of parenting (remember my parents?), which is probably what’s worsening the problem in the first place.
The Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, on the other hand, ordered a probe into the high number of teenage pregnancies reported during this year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations.
“It is the responsibility of parents to talk to their children and ensure that they do not engage in sexual relations at a tender age,” she said.
But it remains that parents may give all the cautionary tales they want to but children will still want to experiment with sex.
Meanwhile, in January 2018, lobby groups urged the government to review the proposed sex education curriculum, terming it destructive and un-African. One lobbyist called the proposed curriculum “more destructive than Boko Haram or Al-Shabaab”.
The truth is that teenagers (both boys and girls) badly need sex education and not just from their parents but also from their teachers. The statistics on HIV/Aids are grim. In 2017 alone, 590,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 were newly infected with HIV, of whom 250,000 were adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19. With such evidence of the need for sex education, we have no choice, really.
A colleague and friend recently recounted in a social media post how her mother once brought home a wooden penis and vagina to demonstrate sex to her. Not just the horror stories of its consequences but also of how pleasurable it could be.
Her mother talked to her about sex, abortion, and perhaps most importantly, choice. She ended the heavy lecture with these poignant words: "you know I can't buy you metallic underwear".
I’m not suggesting that as the manual for all sex talks with our girls and boys.
My point is that it’s time for the village to stop burying its head in the sand.
Do you have feedback on this article? Please email: [email protected]