Last year I wrote an (rather tame) article for a Fashion/Christian magazine that coincided with the uproar surrounding the ‘Sex-Ed curriculum’ debate. And since World AIDS day is just around the corner I thought it would be a good time to fish it out and perhaps be a little more honest than I was.
I remember chanting the slogan, ‘Abstinence ili che! (meaning, Abstinence is cool), loud and proud as well as many others such as ‘virgin power, virgin pride’, during my teen years while advocating for HIV/AIDS awareness. Looking back on it through my feminist eyes, I feel like the onus was unconsciously placed on girls, and perhaps my society was telling me that this is what it expected of me, but not so much my mate.
I grew up in an environment where preaching abstinence was as common as boiling water before you drank it. I remember engaging in debates with different schools in particular boys’ schools and the topic of HIV/AIDS and STIs, as well as how girls were expected to behave were constantly brought up. They would bring their eloquent, fast-talking head boy who would woo the girls with his good looks and well pressed uniform and, his opening monologue: “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I stand here 90 degrees perpendicular to the ground and firmly tell you that women invite temptation by wearing mini-skirts”. The lust would wear off shortly after this and many other tired arguments, such as “wearing a condom is like eating a sweet (candy) with the wrapper still on”, or worse (que eye roll), “taking a shower while wearing a rain coat”.
What did these things tell me? That men in my society were not interested in safe sex and worse yet, were not afraid of catching HIV or STIs. Could you blame girls who decided that perhaps it was better to be abstinent and stay a virgin than be with a guy who was too stupid to realize that, guess what, HIV or STIs can happen to you.
It is no secret that sex education is crucial for young people and sometimes even for adults, who have a backward mentality. The Sex –Ed curriculum caused quite a few waves and though many were/are opposed to it, its controversy should serve as a wake up call to parents, mentors and anyone who cares for a young person.
But while I’m being honest, I’m not going to sit here and say the ‘sex talk’ is not sometimes an uncomfortable one (and maybe that’s because we have ourselves to blame for that). I have worked with a number of youth who have thrown questions at me that left me dumbfounded and fidgety. I have had to compose myself on a number of occasions and make sure I answered their questions without appearing sweaty or judgemental. However, the end result has been more fulfilling knowing that they were comfortable enough to share issues that they would have not.
Not everyone will subscribe to abstinence and I think it would be delusional of us to assume that young people are automatically going to pick this side. In my opinion, preaching abstinence should be coupled with information on STI prevention, HIV testing, options to prevent unplanned pregnancy and most importantly, creating an open relationship between adults and young people.
Talking about HIV/AIDS is still taboo and it shouldn’t be. As adults we need to lead by example. And being honest with our mates, and ourselves and getting tested, is the first step.
This post is dedicated to those that have passed and those that are still in the fight.
I miss you, I love you and I support you.