Beyond the Birds and the Bees: 10 Things We Should Teach Girls About Healthy Sexual Relationships

ladybug-248481_1280What do women want?

It is an ageless question, but the debate goes deeper than we think.

Imagine watching a movie with your parents, laughing and having fun, when a sex scene suddenly comes on. Everybody stops breathing. You take out your phone and scroll through your contacts, pretend you’re researching something. Your parents look straight into the TV and avoid eye contact. The joyful conversation you were having a minute ago is replaced by an awkward silence. You can cut through the tension with a knife.

Sex is a taboo topic in most African households. We all acknowledge it, but nobody wants to really talk about it. As young children, we learn about REPRODUCTION from teachers and peers who were confident enough to risk getting in trouble. But reproduction is not sex, it is a result of the act. As grown-ups, pornography becomes the school from which we learn intimacy. Sexual education in our society is limited to the essentials and does little to inform girls on what to expect and how to have healthy sexual relationships.

Why are we still afraid to start the conversation?

Parents avoid giving ‘the sex talk’ until they have to. Even then, these talks only touch on topics of safe sex, menstruation, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and prostitution. Girls are taught to fear sex because it brings nothing but destruction. We are taught to wait until marriage, but nobody ever really does.

And that virginity is precious and keeping it for longer makes you purer, maybe even better than all the other girls.

The consequences of disregarding comprehensive sexual education for girls both in school and at home is that these girls end up hiding their desires and experiences from parents and guardians. It makes it harder for those who have been sexually abused to come out, and for women to enjoy sex in general.

The lessons we teach little girls significantly impact their future. If you make it impossible for her to freely ask questions about sex, what is to stop her from finding out on her own?

1. Out with ‘Abstinence Only’ Education

Clearly, telling girls to abstain from sex until marriage is not working. Girls are coming home pregnant at 15 years old and being punished for it. If you tell your child that sex is bad without explaining why or how they can control their desires, don’t be surprised if they come home pregnant or infected.

Abstinence should be taught, but it is not the only thing that girls should learn. Ignoring the realities of teenage sexual behavior is not a solution. Parents and teachers have an obligation to provide girls with information about contraception (birth control pills and condoms).

Instead of condemning sexual behavior to the same category as smoking and drinking, we should be teaching girls the truth.

Sex can be a positive experience, BUT it requires responsibility and maturity.

2. Privacy Matters (Don’t Touch Me There)

The world today is all about over-sharing. Privacy doesn’t mean anything, but when it comes to sex, it means everything.

Teaching girls about body privacy begins when they are still young.

Children grow up playing among themselves regardless of gender. However, every child reaches a point where they start to notice the differences in their bodies. It is important for parents to educate even their preschool children (both boys and girls) about personal agency and physical boundaries.

She might only be five, but 25 percent of girls experience the first signs of puberty (budding breasts) at age 8 or 9. When your daughter hits puberty, you want her to feel comfortable coming to you with any concerns.

Girls need to be taught that it is okay for ‘safe adults’ to touch their genitalia (when bathing or visiting the doctor), but when they do, it is always quick and never secretive.

Respecting a child’s personal agency means not forcing them to be affectionate with everyone that comes into your home (even close relatives and siblings). No should mean no from an early age.

We should use anatomically current names when referring to genitals. There is no shame in talking about private parts, and children need to know this.

3. Body Acceptance

In a society where women are expected to LOOK beautiful, we forget to teach young girls that it is more important to FEEL beautiful. We are categorized based on weight, height, skin colour…basically everything.

Today, thin equals perfect. Fat is the most feared F-word, and dark is a black hole that no girl wants to be sucked into.

A girl is not supposed to look like anything. We are all different, but it is of no consequence if girls don’t believe that their differences make them unique. Girls often undergo painful and dangerous procedures to enhance their physical appearance. Negative body image results in low self-esteem which affects women’s relationships, mental health, and even physical health.

Labiaplasty is also a common surgical procedure said to improve a woman’s chances for orgasm and enhance the appearance of the vagina.

It is all bullshit.

Don’t let young girls learn from the internet. Teach them to love themselves no matter what society says.

4. Pornography

30% of internet data is pornographic.

Yes, we are a google search away from explicitly sexual content online.

As part of sex education, the impact of porn should be taught both in schools and at home.

Sexting, violence, and abuse also need to be included in the sexual education curriculum. The reality of the world requires that women have the information to not only choose who they want to be but also to express themselves in a healthy way. Young women learn to expect a lot from pornography and are disappointed when they realize that actual intimacy has less clock time (wink!).

Everybody knows that everybody watches porn, but no-one will actually admit that they do it. It is the new taboo; Sex 2.0.

Teenagers watch porn regularly and engage in sexual activity as well.

It is common for women to watch porn, meaning there is a need for more education in this area.

In order to have healthy sexual relationships, girls need to know that if they do watch pornography, it should be controlled and only used for arousal; it is in no way a hallmark of what to expect from actual sexual relationships. Girls should not feel pressured to ‘perform’ if they don’t feel comfortable (or experience pain) when having sex.

5. Sexual Confidence

Remember female hysteria?

Then there was nymphomania

Now we have female sexual dysfunction (Orgasm Inc. is a really good documentary on this).

All these social and sometimes medical beliefs keep women from fully embracing their sexuality.

Women want sex just as much as men (maybe even more), but often lack the confidence to ask for it. A woman’s pleasure is secondary to a man’s. It might be because they are nervous or afraid to bruise their partner’s ego, but women have been known to fake orgasms time and again (this shouldn’t be a point of pride for us ladies).

There is no such thing as a slut. Sexual desire is relative, but it is natural and sexually active girls need to know that it is their right to tell their partner what to do.

6. Reproductive Health

Inadequate sexual education leaves young girls vulnerable to negative health outcomes. Reproductive health education isn’t necessarily about sex; it is about teaching girls what’s normal from what’s not. It is about explaining the differences between STDs and yeast infections.

Is my vagina normal? What is vaginal discharge and should I be concerned?

Normal vaginas don’t smell like an ocean breeze, and they don’t look like peaches either.

Young girls need to know that female genital mutilation still exists in westernized forms such as vaginal rejuvenation and filler injections.

Information is everything, and for young girls, it can mean the difference between oppression and liberation.

7. Sex is Never Just About Sex

Sex is about power. Control. Love. Money. Pleasure.

No matter what we tell ourselves, sex can never be cheap.

The sponsor culture in Kenya lures in young girls with promises of money and status. Transactional sexual relationships or ‘sugar relationships are common today. While they provide young women with opportunities for financial independence, these relationships often come with HIV related risk factors.

Women use sex as a bargaining chip to get what they want (money, education, power). Girls choose their boyfriends based on their ability to provide.

These things happen, so it is necessary to equip girls with information so they are prepared when it does happen to them.

8. Masturbation

The Catholic church will stone me for this one, but masturbation is not a trait from the devil. It is a natural part of growing up and understanding our bodies.

If we openly talk and teach about masturbation, I wonder how many fewer girls would get pregnant at 15.

I am not talking about hands-on lessons; masturbation simply needs to be included in sex-ed classes. When young people, particularly girls, first start having sex, they find it painful or off-putting. It can be confusing because all we ever hear growing up is that SEX is the best thing ever.

Most of us were raised to believe that masturbation is a shameful thing, but we hear stories of girls inserting food items into their vaginas and paying a huge price for it. Even though it is the safest and easiest way to control their sexual urges, the thought of masturbating is scary to most girls.

Sex starts from self-pleasure. Self-love. Masturbation is about finding out what works for your body. It is about attaining sexual confidence and learning the importance of the clitoris in female orgasms. Pleasurable sex involves so much more than putting a penis inside a vagina, but young women rarely ask for good sex because they don’t know what it should feel like.

9. Violence and Abuse

‘Woman killed by man’

‘Woman severely beat by lover’

Are these really the kind of relationships we are sending our young girls into?

Abuse can be sexual, physical, or psychological. It can be difficult to recognize abuse when it masquerades as intense jealousy and possessiveness. It may even seem flattering at first.

Your partner may try to control different aspects of your life. They may humiliate you and tell you they love you afterward. It is also common for women to feel responsible for their partner’s actions.

Women can go for years without revealing their abuse to anyone. Teenage relationship abuse is just as rampant as adult abuse. Girls need to know how abusive relationships present and how they can protect themselves.

10. It is Okay to Talk About Sex

I know that a cultural shift is a lot to ask, but parents need to know that their children are being abused right under their noses. By house-helps, by uncles and aunties, and even by direct family members.

Sex is a big part of our lives. Our ability to have healthy sexual relationships is shaped from childhood. As girls, we often experience a lot of social and cultural pressure that prevents us from liberating ourselves mentally, physically, and sexually.

Let us start a culture of trust that lets girls know it is okay to ask questions and talk about their sexual experiences.


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