Moms and daughters need to talk about sex

18 July 2014

Do you talk to your daughter about how her body works, her period and the possible consequences of sex? A recent survey shows it’s extremely important that you do.

Do you talk to your daughter about how her body works, her period and the possible consequences of sex? A recent survey shows it’s extremely important that you do.

The Kotex Makeover Project used the Mxit platform to invite teenage girls to ask questions about their periods, sex, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Sister Burgie Ireland, a nursing sister and midwife registered with the South African Nursing Council, engaged with these girls over several months.

She says her interactions with these young women highlighted the need for more information, communication and support to help girls make informed choices. “The questions were very different to the questions I get at schools or in more public forums where I discuss body and sexuality issues. Girls feel free to ask very personal questions on Mxit because of the anonymity it offers,” she says.

“I strongly urge mothers to talk to their teenage daughters about how their bodies work, their periods and the possible consequences of engaging in sex, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV and early pregnancy.”

She adds she’s surprised at how little young women know about their bodies and the menstrual cycle. “Fifty per cent of the queries I receive are about periods – missed, skipped, irregular, long, short, heavy and light periods. One of my major concerns is that mothers are too quick to rush their daughters off to a doctor or the clinic, where they are then put onto the pill to regulate their periods,” she says.

A cycle (from the first day of one period to the first day of the next period) can vary from 21 to 60 days, with the average being 28 days. It’s normal for young girls, particularly in the first two years of having a period, to have irregular cycles. “Many women never have ‘regular’ cycles, and girls need to understand this is normal too,” says Ireland.

Her approach to teenage sex is one of abstinence. “I encourage young people to focus on their studies and future prospects rather than obsessing about the opposite sex and engaging in high-risk behaviour. In instances where young people are already engaging in sexual activity I talk about the possible repercussions such as STIs, falling pregnant and the responsibility of bringing up a child.”

On Mixit she’s received questions such as “I had sex two weeks ago; do you think I’m pregnant?”. “Questions like these indicate that young people are taking unnecessary risks without knowing all the facts. I’ve also received disconcerting comments that suggest teenagers think they’re immune to HIV, STIs and falling pregnant,” she says.

What saddens her is the prevalence of young girls out there who desperately want to be loved. “This often results in a love/sex exchange between boys and girls, with boys offering love for sex and vice versa. When girls have sex two hormones – dopamine and oxytocin (called the ‘love hormones’) – are released which make girls feel emotionally and physically ‘attached’ to the boys who in turn are not ready for this kind of relationship. This more often than not leads to broken hearts and not the romantic outcome they expected,” she says.

In addition several young girls have said their boyfriends coerce them into sex. “Parents need to tell their children they don’t have to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. I think it boils down to communication, creating a loving family environment and encouraging children to follow their dreams,” says Ireland.

She acknowledges many children grow up in dysfunctional family circumstances. “I explain to these young people that they are not responsible for parenting their parents and not to blame for their parents’ choices. I encourage them to find someone they regard as wise and responsible – like a family member, grandparent or teacher – to talk to.”

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