Sibongile Mafu

Let's Talk About Sex

2013-03-13 10:54

Sibongile Mafu

Some do it. Some don't do it. Some do it and make a movie and others don't do it and make a movie about their quest to finally do it. But there seems to be an air of mystery, and even shame, around the very thing that is inherently human and happening everywhere: sex.

Growing up in South Africa surrounded by HIV/Aids statistics, Love Life billboards and a bizarre Life Orientation syllabus (during my time, at least), sex education has always been a part of the South African child's school experience. Every year we're horrified with the number of girls that fall pregnant before the age of 18 (and the guys that impregnate them) and begin to wonder about the usefulness or effectiveness of sex education in schools.

As the years have gone by we've seen the evolution of sex education. First it was Abstain, and then it was Wait Until You're In a Loving Relationship (often in the form of marriage) then it became Be Faithful and finally we all settled for Practice Safe Sex. Educational programmes guided me through that time from Soul City to Soul Buddyz, where I never felt completely in the dark about sex. And these shows, amongst others, always made an effort to emphasise the education in “sex education.” There was always a lesson, and there was always a clinic.

Besides all these great shows with “soul” in their titles, I realised as I grew older the various sexual lessons that were being given to me from outside influences, and how influential those could be. From soapies to movies to advertisements to schools to books, a lot of the lessons I learnt about human sexuality were from these various spaces.

Over the years you've also seen the movie or TV show variations of parents struggling nervously approaching their children about “The Talk” and figuring out when the right age to speak about sex is. It’s often always comical and awkward, when it really shouldn’t be.

Last month, a West London Primary School, gave its year-six pupils (grade 6) the opportunity to ask anything they wanted to ask, anonymously. The 10 to 12-year-old boys had their questions answered by a male teacher and the girls had their questions answered by a female teacher. The exercise produced something very interesting. Instead of wanting to know about the biology of sex and reproduction, the children’s main concerns were the changes in their bodies. The children became curious about where the hairs on the bodies would grow, the girls wanted to know how their hips would grow while the boys wanted to know how much they would sweat.

These children, in what would be considered grade 6 here, are part of the on-going debate around sex education and when early is too early. Fair to say that sex education is not merely teaching learners “sex” education, but rather about health and the changes that occur as you grow up. It neatly fits into the science category.

There is now a push, in Britain at least, to include “relationships” under that category, because essentially, sex is about relationships, with both yourself and others.

A lot of the girls that fall pregnant at school are often vilified by their fellow learners and even their school. Sex is wrong and gross and will lead to punishment of all sorts. The recent cases of two Free State schools which have a policy that disallows girls who have given birth to return to school in the same year is an example of this. The Free State Department of Education is on the side of the girl child at least, deciding to take the matter to the Constitutional Court.

When schools have pregnancy policies that essentially are about doing everything they can to hinder a child’s education, the lessons around what that could mean are devastating. A place of teaching cannot be a place for judgement, especially when dealing with young people, and you begin to wonder about the mixed messages that are sent out to them.

In a world that has too many do nots, and not enough dos, why are we surprised when humans pick the former? Perhaps education should be about making our young people aware of their options, which could be more empowering than anything labelled “the right thing”.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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