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Fighting teen sex scourge

DURING our adolescence years, prior to losing our teenagity, parents and other elderly sympathisers took upon themselves to lord it over us about sexuality. Perhaps it explains the reason some of us delayed our sexual debut past teenagity.
If it wasn’t an elderly granny, uncles would compete to tell you tales about how touching the opposite sex was comparable to holding fire with your bare hands. Government policy that time also ensured that co-education was discouraged; most of us never had post-primary experience of sharing a desk with girls. Our closest encounter with the opposite sex at pubertal period was during heavily policed inter-schools events, with double sexual freedom at tertiary level.
In trying to unravel the barrage of sexuality-related troubles besetting young people today, allow me to slightly peddle some familiar issues. I write from experience arising from relatives who have succumbed to early and unwanted pregnancies in the past decade. We know without an iota of doubt that these so-called mistakes occur at both nuclear and extended family levels, with threatening regularity. One would think there is a vacuum of love, education, psychological, religious and financial support but the opposite is true for us and other families. Like most extended families in Zambia, we’ve had one abortion-related death and a littered past of pregnancies at primary, secondary and even college levels.
In the latest episode, my wife waited an inordinately long period to inform me that our teenage niece, who we had kept like an egg, had allowed external fertilisation. This came as a shock as ours is an open family where sexuality and its pitfalls are on the menu. Unfortunately in most families speaking about sexuality to teens is as taboo as hanging pants outside to dry. Anti-sexuality talk, while it allowed us in those days to avoid the opposite sex, is not the best way of handling our tech savvy kids.
For the reason of opening up and helping others in the same predicament, I offered to feature on a Tikambe platform to answer sexuality questions from dozens of young people. Tikambe! Let’s talk is a joint BBC Media Action and Restless Development project in Zambia using TV, radio and online media to help young people look after their sexual health and improve their knowledge of their reproductive lives. If we are to save our youth, I’m all for massive dissemination of adolescent sexual reproductive information using any means.
Teenagers should have it at the back of their minds that they are vulnerable to rape, sexual assault and abuse. They should not aggravate the situation by falling prey to own machinations of wanting sex before its rightful time. The young people I spoke to acknowledged that they engaged in sex, sometimes unprotected mainly to satisfy their egos. This is one of the worst reasons to engage in sex. Apart from issues of diseases, unwanted pregnancies and the trauma of casual sex, delaying sexual debut like I did has a lot of advantages. Postponing the initiation of sex until establishing a monogamous lifelong marriage has greater pros than cons.
Although I have no empirical evidence, life in regard to sexuality has taught me the following five lessons:
• Since there is a correlation between being active in religion and abstaining, I would encourage young people to run after religion.
• Since early sexual debut opens teenagers to drug and alcohol abuse, surely delaying initiation of sex must be taught in schools for obvious reasons.
• All things being equal, an abstaining teen and a sexually active one on comparative terms reap opposite results: The abstainer has a positive outlook, might even be doing well in school, has cool friends and is admired by the community. The sexually active teen might be on the edge of a mental breakdown, has an STD, hangs out with ruffians and is on the bad persons list at both school and community levels.
• Sometimes young people are not to blame for early sexual activism because most of them are coerced to the trade. Young people should be on the lookout for instance that predispose them to forced sex. For instance sexual exploitation exacerbated by widespread unemployment and lack of economic power in general is common in Zambia. Teenagers should guard themselves against coercion from sugar daddies and other virginity burglars.
• The other major causal agent for early sexual debut is within the family: it has now become common for uncles, brothers and sisters to pounce on unsuspecting relatives for sex. Social stigma and dependency syndrome put a lid on these barbaric acts. Ultimately each one of us has a right to be heard even in circumstances that seem dire. Our media should be in the forefront of bringing such abuse into public domain. This can only be done through investigative reporting. How many incidents are reported about employers abusing their maids? That’s another story!
In conclusion, we need to enhance our efforts in ensuring that teenagers are given more access to adolescent reproductive information. Our young people need to be armed with information on how the body operates in its entirety. Young people should also know when to opt out of potential sex traps and how to blow the whistle. Talking about sex and sexuality should also be encouraged at household and national levels like Tikambe is doing so that our children are fore-armed. Preventive messages about sexuality should be our norm.
The author is a social and political commentator. 0965/0977 466284