​Effects of “Taboo” topics

Liberia, Sweet Land of Liberty! Well, liberty, until it comes to discussions of “controversial” issues such as sex, sexual assault, puberty changes, domestic violence, gender rights, children’s rights and responsibilities, etcetera. Basically, any topic that isn’t deemed comfortable to be discussed between the older and younger generation is considered taboo, abominable or undiscussable in a Liberian household. We live in a culture that stifles the voices of young people when it comes to any issue that is considered “too grown up”.

The effects of imposing silence on particular issues often times turn out to be deafening. When parents stifle the voices of their children, these children grow up to be adults who in turn stifle their children’s voices and the cycle continues. As a result, the society is made up of people who bury their every emotion to the point of becoming zombiefied ticking time bombs. 

We have become a society of people who are masters of pushing things under the rug, until the rug builds into an avalanche of issues waiting to come crashing down.

It is an understatement to say that there is a dire need for discussion of these “taboo” issues to be included in child development in Liberia. In this light, we have created this two-part series we’ve termed as The Taboo Series in order to share our opinions on a few of these topics which we believe need to be addressed in our society today. The first part of The Taboo Series will explore the lack of discussion on ‘puberty’ in the Liberian community and the second part will cover ‘sex-education, sexual assault, and domestic violence.’ 

Puberty

Picture this scenario, a 12-14 year-old girl with no knowledge of what puberty is or how to deal with it wakes up one morning to blood-stained sheets and underwear. She has no memory of anyone else being in the room while she slept and the stains are blood-red so she’s certain it’s not pee. The girl knows she went to bed alone and on top of all that, her stomach hurts badly.

How freaked out would you be if it were you? You might even think there is something medically wrong with you! Now, prior to this, if your parent(s) or guardian(s) never encouraged any discussions of this sort, who would you turn to? Well, equally confused 12-14 year-old friends would be my best bet. This leaves the children ill-prepared for the emotional and physical changes that come with puberty.

Even the conversation surrounding menstruation is not common in Liberian households. Many parents do not see the importance of talking to their children about what to expect during their first experiences with periods and the reasons they need pads. There has always been a taboo associated with females and their periods because the world has attached some form of “disgust” to the fluids naturally excreted from the female body.

In Liberia, most girls would rather secretly save up to purchase pads than directly ask their parents and for those unable to afford to save up money, they use scraps of cloths instead of pads. Most girls are ashamed to walk into a pharmacy and say they want to buy pads! There is such a stigma attached to the act of periods and the importance of pads that females have become very creative and found a million and one ways to refer to “menstrual period” and “pads” without actually saying the words. Menstruation becomes commonly referred to as “red flower”, “barrolle on camp”, etc. If a girl walks into a pharmacy to purchase sanitary pads, she is expected to refer to them as “blue biscuit” and buy a black plastic bag so nobody would know that she is on her period; as if it’s something she’s supposed to be ashamed of.

The unhealthy shaming culture surrounding girls and their periods has caused many teenagers to stay oblivious to the importance of knowing about their menstrual cycles which inevitably increases the risk of teenage pregnancy for girls who are sexually active.

However, many parents would rather avoid the talks surrounding puberty or menstruation because they somehow believe this state of blissful ignorance pushes off the time and lowers the possibility that their kids will have sex.

In the situation of a young boy growing up, nobody tells him it’s normal to have those occasional wet dreams; nobody tells him about morning wood (early morning erection) and that it’s normal. In Liberia, there are so many tales of “night women” (voodoo practitioners who have sex with people in dreams) that a boy waking up from a sex dream would feel cursed.

Imagine a 13-year-old boy waking up one morning with an erected penis, soiled pants, and moist spots on the bed. He does not recall having a dream and it does not look like he might have peed in the bed,  This kid has never had sex before, and he feels like he dare not bring up the conversation with his parents. All he knows about sex is that it is bad and small children should not talk about it, and that it’s “sweet-sweet bad-bad thing” (the common Liberian euphemism for sex).

Now he is stuck with the burden of a secret he shouldn’t and wouldn’t bear if his parents had created the opportunity for discussions about the physical and biological changes that occur as a child grows up. He will later hear the misguided version from one of his friends who may tell him that he wakes up occasionally in morning with an erection and damp underpants because he is cursed. He might even get an infection from using a used razor and shaving improperly because his parents never showed him how to groom himself.

Yet and still our society (older folks) chooses to believe that talking about things like puberty with children is a taboo.  

CONTINUED…

Co-authored by Shari Raji and Suma Massaley with commentary by Joshua Kulah

Featured photo by LA Johnson/NPR

28 Comments Add yours

  1. Cyrene says:

    Congrats on your first blog publication SIM!
    I’m particularly glad you highlighted the male’s puberty experience because of how it is often overlooked.

    Helping teenagers understand their bodies and confronting more unchartered dialogues will save us, as a society from unnecessary social issues.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An excellent way to kickoff. I think the issue of sanitary pad should be a discussion that has to be extended to government officials, especially those at the Ministry of Health or Gender. If you grew up in a shared house in Liberia, there’s a 90% chance that would see old clothes with a blood stain on them more than twice in a week in your bathroom. For the most part, it is not even always certain that it was clean or proper enough to be used to the part of the body it had been used. We’d need a national awareness program on this matter to address it for good. It’s an age-old thing that has to do with culture. Girls at certain age range are not allowed to talk about certain things, especially with their parents. I also agree with you on the dreams boys have. Too often it’s interpreted as a curse, and this even put the dreamer in a state of pandemonium sometimes. In my tribe, we call it “dan malaka”, Evil spirit. I remember my first wet dream. It was interpreted by a friend because I dared not carry such a discussion to my father or any uncle. There’s more to this as well, as it does not only happen to kids, young adults too are victims for some reasons.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An excellent way to kickoff. I think the issue of sanitary pad should be a discussion that has to be extended to government officials, especially those at the Ministry of Health or Gender. If you grew up in a shared house in Liberia, there’s a 90% chance that would see old clothes with a blood stain on them more than twice in a week in your bathroom. For the most part, it is not even always certain that it was clean or proper enough to be used to the part of the body it had been used. We’d need a national awareness program on this matter to address it for good. It’s an age-old thing that has to do with culture. Girls at certain age range are not allowed to talk about certain things, especially with their parents. I also agree with you on the dreams boys have. Too often it’s interpreted as a curse, and this even put the dreamer in a state of pandemonium sometimes. In my tribe, we call it “dan malaka”, Evil spirit. I remember my first wet dream. It was interpreted by a friend because I dared not carry such a discussion to my father or any uncle. There’s more to this as well, as it does not only happen to kids, young adults too are victims for some reasons.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Simba Soyinka says:

    I believe more writings on taboo topics will break the barrier lines that is drawn between adolescent and maturing up with full knowledge on body responses and possible advances to help brighten the future of the younglings. As we read may we understand and adapt the mindset to open up to those that are unaware of these happenings. Thanks SIM.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Levi Hamilton Martin says:

    Great start! I am very sure we have more to cover all through.
    We are aware of Liberians not finding interest in reading. We get bored real quick, because our educational foundation is not solid from this pillar.
    Suggestion: SIM should start to get a campus based team to help organize reading sections at various high school campuses. If possible, recruit a graphics team to present more interesting images that will enable better understanding and draw reading attentions.
    Meanwhile, BRAVO!!!! Good piece

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Win says:

    fascinating first piece. relatable in too many ways.looking forward to the 2nd piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Michaelyn E. Z. George says:

    This is a really great topic. Can’t stress enough that it has been overlooked. We definitely need to do more as we are moving away from conversations in the homes. Kids grow up with one or two parents or guardians but still have to go through all this alone and confused-it’s disheartening. Bravo! Small, small!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Like you’ll have a young girl getting such an advice from her peers, I wished my father could read this.
    This i submit a great start for SIM.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. romina beltran-anaya says:

    This is so great! This applies to many societies around the world. As health educator, I cannot stress enough how important it is to be transparent about such topics. Knowledge is power and ignorance is our greatest threat.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Blessing Leo says:

    Inspired words, great job!
    I read the words as if someone was speaking to me.
    Your writing certainly echos issues of importance. Looking forward to reading more…..

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Yamah Massaley says:

    Congratulations. I hope this will help a lot of children. We went through it as children but did not know who to turn to. So we continued with the norm of keeping it as a secret from our own children.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. A nice one but I think it was too long…

    Like

  13. Habibi says:

    Even in our States of enlightenment, sexual topics are still very uncomfortable topics with our parents. We grew up understanding that this is a no no, and most suffered because of this lack of information.

    I’m proud by the way, great read👏

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I loved the conversational tone of this piece. It’s always a good way to draw readers in, but given the nature of the post, it seems especially appropriate. I wish the talented writers at Sleepless in Monrovia the best of luck with their new endeavor.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Anonymous says:

    This is awesome. So much reflection of my childhood, I remembered going to the shop to buy pad and being super ashamed to say the word especially if there are guys in the shop. It is definitely the time to talk about these “so called” taboo that is affecting our society.

    P.S. Such a tease, I wanted more!

    #Proud

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Sami says:

    A great topic indeed!. It’s sad how some parents in Africa leave their kids to grow on their own. This supposed “taboos” need to end. Knowledge is power & lack of it is making us perish.
    KUDOS GUYS❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Since posting my first comment, I’ve shown this post to several people and everyone has commented that this isn’t just a Liberia problem or even an Africa problem. Many U.S
    parents are uncomfortable discussing puberty changes. Kids here often learn about their changing bodies from the school nurse, a “sex ed” class, or an older sibling.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Patrick Kojo Hanson says:

    This has been an issue that has seriously being overlooked for generations. I think it is the right time to bring this to the spotlight and shun away the uncomfortable nature that goes with discussing such.

    Great work.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Causyl Love Larmie says:

    This is truly amazing. The topics highlighted are so important. There’s a great need for such knowledge on these often shunned topics.
    I loved reading it. Looking forward to reading more.

    Thanks SIM.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Anonymous says:

    Great job. Keep it short always😉😉😉😉

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Gogo Gee says:

    This is very true and has sadly been that way for generations. I hope and pray parents can be more open to preparing their children for those moments/situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Anonymous says:

    For the large and sad part, these are very simple issues addressed in complicated ways and end up affecting our self-esteem and confidence. This is a great way to begin the many conversations that would disclose the essential elements that should shape perceptions and ensure young people begin living healthy with the support of the elders.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Anonymous says:

    I just reread Murphys Law this morning. “

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Winleta H says:

    I just reread Murphys Law this morning. “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.”
    Too true. If the young people are not properly informed, they may experiment or get misinformation from clandestine sources and go wrong.
    Bravo ! Waiting for next blog !

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Anonymous says:

    Congratulations Guys!

    Like

  26. Great piece. Sadly, these are serious issues that are left unattended to by most Liberian or African parents. They forget to know that the more they open up to their children on these matters, the better safety these children are able to task themselves with before going through such experience.

    It’s about time that more African parents will be more open up with their children by having more discussions they deemed uncomfortable because that’s the only way these children would not be afraid to speak up or share their mind with folks older than them. It’s because of taboos like these, that most African children grow up unable to speak their minds or even open up in public discussions where they need to stand up. Most especially, when older folks are in numbers.

    Liked by 1 person

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