Sex Education in Liberia, II

Shari Raji

When I was about 5 years old, I went into the bathroom to shower with an older girl who lived with my parents. This was something we did daily. But on this particular day, she told me to that she couldn’t shower with me because Aunt Flo was visiting and that if I saw this mysterious Aunt Flo, I’d get sick. This was the first I heard of menstruation and when I got older and connected the dots, I thought for the longest time that if you saw another female’s period, you’d get your period too. Books helped disabuse me of that knowledge, but scary were the times when I believed that.

I grew up in a household that promoted and encouraged questions. No matter how sticky or taboo the topic was, we talked about it. My parents also set timelines to things and followed them to the letter: I was to wear nail polish and makeup and 18, use “grown-up” perm at 15, and get the sex talk when I hit puberty. Interestingly enough, I never got the puberty talk. I have always been an avid reader so I knew at a pretty young age what a female’s menstrual cycle entails and how babies came. I remember I was in the eighth grade (i.e. 12 years old) when I went into my mom’s bathroom to pee and saw the blood. I didn’t freak out because I knew what it meant. I just calmly went to her, told her my period had started and she gave me pads.

My mother never walked me through the ins and outs of feminine hygiene- for example, that tampons were a more convenient alternative to pads for heavy bleeders. I assume it has to do with generational difference, because she never did or used the things I wanted to do/use. So, I don’t begrudge her that- I had google to turn to. However, my parents did create a space of openness surrounding the topic of menstruation and all that it entails. My dad was the one who gave me the sex talk, cringely enough. He told me all the things I already knew from the books, and spared no clinical details. I had no misconceptions or myths around the act of sex and what it brings forth, this led to me being very conscious and aware when I became sexually active. I also had a Chemistry teacher in high school who took it upon himself to sit a bunch of teenage girls down and teach them about sex, condoms, and STD’s/STI’s. He was not obligated to do so and I’m forever grateful that he did.

True to his character, my dad routinely asks me about my monthly cramps, flow and the severe, vomit-inducing pain I subsequently developed due to the existence of fibroids on my uterus. The freedom with which we discussed these things shook away most of the shroud that tends to cover these “sensitive” topics in our society. My parents made it okay for me to not feel ashamed about the things that naturally happen within my body. They are the reasons why I can reprimand a sales clerk at a store who attempts to cover my pads or tampons in newspaper because “they’re such shameful things.” As a younger person, my dad’s insistence in discussing these “embarrassing” things with me was so annoying but it is one of the things I am most grateful for in my upbringing.

Valdemar

I grew up in a household where we were brought up to have open discussions and ask questions no matter how uncomfortable we felt. My parents were very open with us because they cared about our emotional well-being and developments more than the awkwardness of a moment. Most of the kids in the family home when I was growing up were younger girls, the guys were mostly young adults, and I was the only teen boy in the house. However, most times at the end of the month, my mom would be seen having monthly conversations with the girls on “sex education” or “the talk”. I think this made the girls I grew up with more ready and prepared for the consequences ahead. When I got older, I saw my Dad buying pads in bulk for the girls of the home. So, this made me believe that not only was my mom keeping these girls knowledgeable through “the talk”, but my Dad was also in the loop. It’s rare to find more African Dad who opens up to talk with his children on these matters and it’s bad for their development and safety towards the issue. When most of these girls were of age, and even the younger ones, they had this routine of going in for monthly check-ups. I think my parents were basically trying to avoid bigger issues by being more open up, in order to avoid going through future embarrassments and them having to blame their girls for what they had no idea on.

For me, I was 10 years old when I first had a wet dream. It was confusing and strange, but because I was taught to ask questions and open up about anything involving my development, I decided to ask my mom even though I felt shy to. It’s from that moment my own “sex talk” started with my mom. My Dad was away on international duty, so I didn’t talk much with him on this issue till I was much older and well versed. What my mom always reminded me of, when she realized I had my first girlfriend and was sexually active,  was to use condom in order to avoid STD’s and getting a girl pregnant at a young age. My Dad would always remind me that “Sex can’t finish”, I will have it as much as I want, but I shouldn’t get carried away by it and forget about what’s more important (Life).

Zuleka:

I am 30 years old and I have not had a single conversation with my mother about sex. There was never a time that was right to talk about it.  Am I sexually active, ummm of course, but to my mother, I will always be a virgin- The end! This is the fantasy many of our parents live with so why disturb that?

I remember when my period came for the first time, I was told that this means I could have children. She even went a step further to say my body cannot carry babies so if I did get pregnant at that young age, I will die. So, basically, sex could kill me.

If that counts as “the talk”, then that was my experience with it. I was never told how it works, what it meant or what impact sex would have on my life decisions. Sex education was not part of my upbringing. I know my parents love me and wanted the best, but they left that part out and that is regular for most of us.

The Liberian society completely ignores this subject or treats it as a Taboo. So, how are we supposed to learn about sex? Our parents will not talk about it, the schools will not dare add it to the curriculum and the community avoids it. When and where are we supposed to learn about our changing bodies and body parts? We wonder why so many of the sexual assault and rape cases are swept under the rug. The center of all these behaviors might be the lack of knowledge. We do not know what to do with the fact that sex is everywhere! We pretend that we do not engage in the act because after all, when was the last time you saw African adults exhibit some type of public affection? Sex is wrong and that is the narrative we grew up with. How can we change that?

Collectively, this is a call to action for the next generation of Liberians. We need to incorporate sex into our conversations in the home. If you have growing body parts, it is not time to start hiding it or pushing it away. When our daughters start to bleed, sit them down and teach them. Do not scare them away from their normal body functions. When little girls and boys are bathing outside and ask questions about their different body parts, answer them without punitive actions. The lack of sex talk never stopped anyone from having sex. We still have it and have it often. Having “The Talk” is very important and we usually shy away from it because we don’t know how to go about it. Until you diagnose a problem, you cannot solve it. Until we can realize that most of the sexually related hurdles we face in our society can be traced back to not having “The Talk”, we won’t be able to adequately deal with some of our issues. Why is it that girls still get degraded for wearing clothings that are too “revealing”? Why do we tell them to cover up and not tell the boys to stop looking? When there’s rape, why is it “family thing”? When boys and girls get caught playing “mama and papa play,” which is a game where they do things they see their parents doing in the home, like: cooking, going to work, etc., why do we punish them? We want them to grow up to be good mama and papa so why do we punish them for practicing? If it is because we don’t want them to partake in the grown aspects of parenting that they might have come across in their homes, why not educate them on why that is beyond their years? Is punishing them going to do anything but increase their curiosity?

Knowledge is power, and we are not saying let our children be sexually active, we just want a collective wave of young people taking control of their sex lives. We need sex education in our schools as a requirement, just like physical education. Liberian girls and boys should be given the opportunity to learn about their bodies without feeling ashamed. This is our hope for the next generation of Liberians: May we talk about it, do it, teach it and make it a part of everyday Liberian Talk. Ehn yor hear it ehn?

Authored by SiM’s Contributing Writers

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