Sex education in Nigerian households
By: Omotoyosi Oyinkansola
Growing up, it wasn’t unusual to hear my mother and older women insinuate that a man ‘touching’ me would result in pregnancy.
While they were hoping this would deter me from unsafe sex and reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancy, I wonder why they could not just have said this directly, rather than using unclear expressions that can muddle up the mind of a child.
Image by: Charles Deluvio
When it comes to sexual health and everything pertaining to it, most Nigerian parents do a foul job of disseminating the vital points needed to help a teenager navigate this space.
In fact, the bulk of the work is left to the mother, who also wasn’t brought up with the proper information. It is very uncommon to find a father talking to his children about matters involving sex and reproductive health. It is almost as though there is an unspoken rule delegating this task to the mother.
In Nigeria, the number of girls under the age of 18 with a minimum of two children proves that this method of shying away from sexuality is unhelpful. It creates a series of problems that could have been avoided in the first place.
In terms of sex education and stigma, Nigerian boys tend to have it easier.
Nigerian parents often frown upon girls engaging in sex, but are open to the idea of giving condoms to their boys. Most times, parents see sex as a rite of passage for boys. Some parents would not even be ruffled to discover used or unused condoms in the possession of said boys. If ultimately, the boy ends up getting a girl pregnant, they are more receptive.
By contrast, when daughters get pregnant, the double standard becomes pronounced. There are many instances of girls being thrown out as a result of unwanted pregnancies because they have brought shame to the family.
When I got my first period at the age of 12, I became aware of my mother’s fear pertaining to my sexual development. I was excited and could not wait to share the news with her, but all I got was a cold stare and a hurried:
“You are now a woman. Don’t let any boy touch you.”
I found it alarming that boys could no longer ‘touch’ me. It made no sense to me, but I knew better than to ask probing questions. I would later learn that my mother was talking about sex. Why should a child be left to connect these dots?
If Nigerian parents were more open about sex in general – the way they often are with boys – the rampant cases of unwanted pregnancy could be greatly reduced.
When sex education is not effectively provided, many girls discover sex on their own and share ideas with their fellow teenage friends, who also have limited knowledge on the topic.
It is sad to see people exchange unfounded ideas among themselves.
The problem doesn’t stop at lacking basic knowledge on how to go about sex; a large number of women lack access to safe contraceptives and abortion services. Countless deaths have occurred from people attempting dangerous at-home abortions due to fear of what would be done to them by their parents.
When I started having sex as a teenager, it was like jumping off a plane without a parachute – a recipe for disaster.
It’s taken so much trial-and-error – ranging from not properly protecting myself to letting other people make choices that caused me harm. If I had been equipped with better information, a number of unfortunate circumstances could have been prevented.
It’s no easy feat to pivot from childhood to adulthood without the necessary information around sexual health. The older generation should not have so much control over attitudes towards sex, when they’re the ones who failed at prioritising proper sex education for their children.
Many young adults in Nigeria today still refuse to break free from the rules set by their parents, even when they want a different course of life for themselves.
Now a 20-year-old Nigerian woman with a seemingly unusual approach to sex, I come off strongly to people of the older generation. But it is a pity to live life solely for the pleasure of another person. I believe sex is to be enjoyed on your own terms, as long as it is safe and consensual.
Young people cannot be stopped from having sex by peddling half-baked truths or innuendos. Those who do not see sex as a taboo, like me, are often marked as being irresponsible. This is not surprising from a generation that has perfected the art of hypocrisy. A sizable number of them had their first kids out of wedlock, but refuse to say it as it really is.
By improving sex education in Nigeria and destigmatising sex as a shameful act, sex could be enjoyed safely, regardless of one’s gender, sexual orientation and beliefs.
Omotoyosi Oyinkansola is a third-year law student from Lagos, Nigeria. She loves to read African literature and takes every chance to talk about the inequality women suffer. When she is not reading fiction, you can find her trying out various baking recipes.
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