Editor's Note: In this piece, Raheemah Salama Arogundade writes about the need for Nigerian parents to embrace the practice of teaching their kids sex education. She adds that advocates of sex education should no longer be stigmatised but encouraged.
You know what? I get it. I finally get it!
I understand now why there are so many pregnant teenagers out there. Why youths are sharing sexual diseases like Yale cabin biscuit at a children’s birthday party. I get it now.
I mean, look at the education we receive(d). Most of us come from homes where you are taught about everything, how to be a good wife, cook and the rest of what is left of us is trained to be an expert liar- lying to your father where you are heading to because as an 18-year-old adult, you are not expected to have a girl/boyfriend.
Nigerian parents are deluded enough to believe that sex education is inappropriate and will lead to promiscuity and this belief has invaded every part of our lives.
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A friend once told me about how she thought she was dying when she first saw red stains on her underwear even though we had been taught about Menstruation and puberty in class. But can you really blame her? Our teacher had rushed through topics relating to puberty and the signs of adolescence and her parents were not of much help either.
My friend's story isn't all that different from most of our stories. I remember when I got my first period too. My dad wasted no time in lecturing me; ‘It is a normal phase every woman passes through. You've now become a woman.’ He ended his beautiful lecture saying, ‘You are at that stage where if you play with any boy, you will get pregnant. All those nonsense plays have to stop’. And that was where the talk ended.
Growing up, I realise most people, including parents and teachers, are always embarrassed to talk about even the simplest parts of sexuality (puberty, signs of adolescence, how to care for yourself during these periods), and the more delicate and intricate ones are rather not discussed at all (sex, dating/relationships, pregnancy/reproduction, safe sex, family planning/birth control, sexually transmitted diseases (STIs). Advocates of sex education are always met with stiff resistance and an unwelcome attitude if any attempt is made to educate. In fact, the only aspect my father would stress (when he saw a picture of I and a male friend) was sexual abstinence. On interacting with certain people, I discovered I wasn’t the only passenger aboard this ship. Others even had far more interesting stories to tell; instances where they were caught talking with boys and punished severely (without asking what they were discussing).
This aversion to sex education by Nigerian parents and even schools is why our comprehension of sexual issues is soiled and warped. The Nigerian mentality on sex-education remains the saddest thing in the world. And I always come back to it because if we don’t fix this, we are opening our children up to so much harm.
It is important that we bring up the girl child to think differently about boys and sex. Tell her to sit properly and act like a woman (whatever that means), but make her comfortable enough to tell you about her first crush and her first desire to be kissed. It might come as early as age 11; deal with it. Hormones are real but Nigerians don’t like to believe that. We leave the crux of every matter, running after shadows! Which is why, teenage pregnancy, one of the direct effects of lack of sex education, has become a bane in the society, a scourge that needs to be curbed sooner than later. With a steady increase in the rate of teenage pregnancy, health workers have mentioned that ‘comprehensive sex education’ is indeed necessary in Nigeria. Statistics reveal that teenage pregnancy has consistently increased between 1996 to 2018. In 2006, 44 million young girls between the ages of 10 – 24 years were pregnant. Also, in 2008, Nigeria recorded a total of 121 births out of a thousand from adolescent mothers. Statistics from the National Population Commission, in 2013, estimated teenage pregnancy and teen mothers at about 23%. The number rose to 31.5% of teenage pregnancy in 2015.
Another factor that necessitates sex education is the outbreak of HIV & AIDS. Comprehensive sex education is one of the major ways through which the prevalence of AIDS can be combated by telling children at an appropriate age, of course, about not just the dangers of premarital sex but how to protect themselves. Instead of the common opinion that; ‘she will know what to do and how to do it when she gets to her husband’s house’. The idea they have is that discussions on sex education may act as a trigger that will promote immorality and a means of exposing the child to ‘adult’ matters, a belief that sex education soils the innocence of a child. Can you see how the average Nigerian reasons? Like a child deprived of nourishment, suffering from kwashiorkor.
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This should be straightforward in any society with enough milk on the table; but in Nigeria with parents thrusting bowls to 3-year-old children to go and buy amala for breakfast, you will continue to argue why it is shocking and outrageous to teach children about sex education.
A country so focused on morals, religion and ethics, and yet the irony obtains in reality. The Nigerian hypocrisy is the most entertaining series in the world. If we could just open our eyes and see the world as it is, not how we want to see it. Maybe, if we just look at things objectively, letting go of our culturally-inclined beliefs, we would see how much advantage sex education is to the growing child. Advocates of sex education should no longer be stigmatised but encouraged. Even as parents or guardians, we shouldn’t shy away from our responsibilities when it comes to sex education. Such discussions promote a close relationship between children and parents. Age-appropriate information on such should be relayed to the child as s/he grows. We all need to part from small-mindedness and of repugnant poverty- not of the wallet but of the mind in this situation.
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