Her Standards, a KTN News special, recently addressed the need to educate children and teenagers about sex as well as how to broach the topic.
The lockdown and closure of schools has brought with it an increase in the cases of teen pregnancies with a nine-year-old being the youngest mother on record. To make matters worse, the blame game has taken a turn for the worse as society tries to find someone to take responsibility for what can be referred to as a gap in our children’s education.
Introduction to sex
One thing that everyone seems to agree on is that there’s an urgent need for parents, teachers, and society as a whole to get out of their bubble, re-educate themselves and subsequently teach children and teenagers about sex.
It can be difficult to know the right age at which to introduce sex to your child. For Janet Mbugua, founder of Inua Dada Foundation, her first encounter with sex was at a playground. “I was in a playground with my agemates. I must have been six/seven years old and ...she asked ‘has anybody ever heard about sex?’ and we said no and she tried to describe it.”
Mbugua explained that she later came to learn more about sex in her teen years from a guidance counsellor.
According to Dr Anne Kihara, a gynaecologist/obstetrician, the right time to educate your child on sex is determined by two factors.
“One [is] the biological changes that are happening to that young child and increasingly now that it’s happening much earlier”
She recommends that the sex talk should be given as early as seven years old to albeit gradually increasing the content and its depth as the child grows.Children become increasingly inquisitive as they grow and sexuality is awakened at puberty.
“Our kids are being sexualised early. By the age of four/five, if you go into what they are watching, the content is sexual. If you go to the playground, it’s sexual. It’s not about introducing but getting into your child’s mind and defining it for them,” said George Ikua, who runs a children’s library.
The closure of schools and isolation provides a good opportunity for parents and their children to have this conversation.
The increasing numbers of girls who have become teenage mums has resulted in a lot of finger pointing. Parents expect teachers to take up the job of educating these young people while teachers point the finger at parents. There’s also the age-old tradition that society helped bring up a child.
“We can’t keep using the same methods [as those in the past] and expect different results. We can’t keep demonising access to sex education, access to contraceptives. The more we use fear mongering, the more we are enabling the problem,” Mbugua explained.
However, sex education is a joint effort of parents, relatives, teachers and the society as whole. Parents alone cannot adequately do the job.
“In schools there is the syllabus exposure. You have the nanny or the mentor or grandma who may be gentler in approaching this subject,” Dr Kihara reiterated. “[There are] reproductive health specialists who can gradually introduce this topic not just to the children but to the teachers and parents.”
Other factors to consider include the environment your child is exposed to.
Disadvantages of not having the sex talk
Childhood pregnancies are the obvious result of children and teenagers engaging in sex without adequate education. While many seem to focus on the actual pregnancy, Dr Kihara points out that there’s much more to be considered.
“What you should think about once you have a teenager who’s pregnant is, is there an STI or HIV? Is she able to access care?”
Pregnant teens, she explains, are at a high risk of pregnancy-related complications. These include hypertension, under nutrition of both the mother and unborn child and stigma that leads to them seeking unsafe abortions.
“The other problem is gender-based violence. A lot of these girls are coerced or forced into sex therefore the relationship wasn’t from a healthy stand point.”
It is also assumed that after rites of passage such as female genital mutilation, the girls are ready for pregnancy when in reality she’s not.
In order to help our teenagers make better choices, it is important that they are well educated. The use of fear, ignoring the problem or pointing fingers will only push the children away instead of educating them.
“We need to understand that they are going to have sex whether or not we talk to them. How are we getting them to make safer choices?” Mbugua said.
There’s a need to create a safe space, overcome cultural barriers and start to speak to our children about sex.
Mufida Al Digeil, an educator and advocate for knowledge and information, recommends that parents need to make use of teachable moments where they can start to speak about sex. “They are not these huge eventful conversations. It’s that you see something passing on television and you say, did you see that that was there.”
She warns parents against ignoring things that their children see everyday and instead use these moments to educate them.
“It’s knowing how much information my kid is exposed to. They always know more than we think they know.”
Subtle pieces of information that we feed our children will provide them with much needed guidance. Engaging teens, finding out what they know and what they’re curious about is also vital.