I’m ashamed to admit it, but the thought of high school aged children engaging in sex makes me uncomfortable. I do sometimes reach for my imaginary pearls when I learn of teenage escapades had under the stairs, in the sports fields or in empty classrooms. I couldn’t imagine it. Maybe it’s because I was in an all girls' high school. Or the fact that I was taught that sex was dirty from as early on as I can remember.
Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have sex for the first time until well into my twenties, and for years the experience was full of guilt and discomfort. Either way, I cringe a little when the topic comes up. I know I shouldn’t. I know this is the same absurd sentimentality that hinders sex education from being taught in schools. Uncomfortable people like myself, who in an attempt to control the younger generation, refuse to accept the fact that has been knocking us over the head since the beginning of time. Teenagers have sex. Teenagers like having sex. Teenagers will continue to have sex.
So now what?
Well, the most influential adult in the country of Kenya, our president, recently came up with an absurd decree to make him feel less uncomfortable about this fact. In an attempt to crack down on sexual promiscuity amongst teens, private clinics providing contraceptives to underage girls will be shut down. This decision was triggered by the rise in pregnancy cases of teenage girls around the country during the COVID-19 pandemic period when they have been out of school.
The thing about teenagers consensually having sex is that there are many others, especially from underserved communities, who are also experiencing sex that they did not agree to - which, in plainer terms, is rape. It’s important to clarify that the two issues are separate even though both are impacted by access to contraception.
The concern over the increase in teen pregnancies has led to motions being tabled to offer contraceptives in high schools and thus reduce the rates of young mothers dropping out of school and continuing poverty cycles from an early age.
It is unfortunately also a well-known ‘secret’ that in rural and low-income communities, many young girls will be taken advantage of by older male family and community members as they trade in sex for food and sanitary products. The president and a majority of our political and religious leaders are worried that the access to contraception will be giving teenagers permission to engage in irresponsible sexual behaviour.
It sometimes feels like our country’s leaders are angrier about teenagers opting to have safe sex, than prosecuting and protecting the majority of teenage girls who are getting raped by the community members tasked with protecting and raising them. They are so vexed by this thought, that they’d rather maintain the situation of escalating teen pregnancies.
If imposing sexual morality and limiting access to contraception was going to stop or reduce teenagers engaging in consensual sex, why is it that it hasn’t stopped all these years later? As we got older, many of us experienced the sexual awakening that rolled around as soon as our adolescent hormones checked in. Shouldn't we then focus on teaching our young citizens about healthy sexual practices and provide the tools to practice the same should they choose to do so? This is the real issue, and ignoring that just pushes the rate of risky sexual practices amongst our teenagers higher - thus solving nothing.
What do you think - should young Kenyans be taught more about sex, earlier?