I used to talk very loosely about things like teenage pregnancy, and girl-children having sex. That was before I had a daughter. I can no longer pontificate about girls, their bodies, and their choices because it’s all very personal now. And all very subjective. I try not to think about it. I’ve even managed to convince myself that I have many more years before boys begin to cast their shadows across my front door.
The truth is that girls today are maturing much earlier than the girls in my generation. Some 30-odd years ago the world was a simpler place. You had to go looking for mischief. Nowadays kids carry mischief in their pockets. And if they don’t have mobile phones, mischief is easily accessible to them in the home.
I’m not even talking about porn. I’m talking about every-day programming and content. We’re living in a hyper-sexualised age, where things don’t sell – not even cartoons – without some kind of sex-related, or sensual connotation. Even the music that’s marketed to children as young as six-years-old can leave an adult taste in your mouth. It’s bedlam. Absolute bedlam.
Parents now have to be police officers, monitoring everything their children see and hear, trying to block every inappropriate thing from sight and earshot. It’s a full-time job. One that I recently decided to resign from. I am not a policewoman, and I already have a full-time job. In fact, I have two, now that I’m also a home schooler. There are things I can shield my daughter from, and there are others I will just have to explain, not ‘explain away’.
- 1 Sex and poverty: Major crises behind high number of teenage pregnancies
- 2 I was in custody for two months after my baby dropped into pit latrine
- 3 It could be a hernia, not a fat belly
- 4 We should do more to end teenage pregnancy
When it comes to things about sex and sexuality, a hiding approach is futile. Sex is not bad. It’s not dirty. It’s not forbidden. We are sexual beings and, generally speaking, sex is fun. That’s the good news. The bad news is that sex comes with responsibility. Sex changes things on every level, whether we want to accept it or not. I think of it like a golden thread.
It starts in the groin and spreads to the heart and the mind, touching every other aspect of our physicality and spirituality, and weaving an eternal patchwork. Once you start having sex you become a new creation with new feelings, thoughts, and ideas that can very quickly become tainted by bad sexual experiences. And this does not take into consideration situations like incest, defilement, and rape when sex becomes a crime. Sexual offences are a whole other bag of trauma, which is very different from the sexual baggage that can come with consensual sex.
But back to teenage pregnancies, and what NGO types like to refer to as ‘early sexual debut’. Recently, it was reported that since March, 4,000 girls have been ‘impregnated’ in Machakos County. Impregnated is such a power-sucking term, but that’s not my issue today. Four thousand is a lot of young girls who are pregnant before their time. It’s bedlam. Absolute bedlam. I’ve been scratching my unkempt head wondering what can be done about it.
Speaking on Spice FM, the Machakos County Health executive – a man – intimated that girls would be safer in a world without boys and men. Apart of me wanted to agree (especially when it comes to rape, defilement, and coercion) but another part recognised that girls of child-bearing age have a degree of agency, and can decide whether or not to enter into sexual relationships.
I say this with the knowledge that one day, I will have a young girl in my house who will want to make her own sexual decisions. Look, I’m the kind of parent who is still unconvinced about the HPV-vaccine that they want to administer to girls starting age 10. That vaccine is supposed to protect against sexually transmitted cancer-causing infections. I’m unconvinced for many reasons, foremost of which is that I don’t want to think of any 10-year-old having sex.
But even with these reservations about the administration of adult-like drugs to children, I think the answer to teenage pregnancy is simple. Contraception. If we isolate teenage pregnancy as a problem on its own, contraception is the quickest and easiest solution. Now for all the other complications that arise from children having sex, the trauma that comes with sexual assault, and the moral pollution in our hyper-sexualised world, those are conversations that we need to begin to have, starting in the home, and then cascading into every space where two or three are gathered. We need to decide afresh what kind of country we want for ourselves, and for our children.
Ms Masiga is Peace and Security editor, The Conversation