let's talk about sex

Well, we can’t really talk about HIV/AIDS if we aren’t gong to talk about sex. Right?

Alhassan ducks his head and giggles. Everyone else looks at me in shock. They cannot believe we are about to talk about sex. What 16 year-old doesn’t wait for the day when sex comes up in health class. Eh, you talk about it when you are not in school. Is it true? We are going to talk about it here.

These past few weeks I have been teaching nothing but HIV/AIDS. It is leading up to a huge HIV/AIDS campaign that we are having here in Sankpala the second week in June. We will be calling it “Know Your Status Week”. Sister Bima suggested that we start some kind of program and somehow the campaign burst forward. More about it in the near future, but we think a few thousand people are going to face the reality of AIDS and will have to unravel a whole lot of stigmas and misconceptions. Those of us planning it are thrilled.

So, back to talking to a classroom of hormonal teenagers about sex. It was one of the most enlightening classes I have had, probably more so for me than for them. We started by talking about all of the reasons people have sex. Children. Yep, you are right. A major reason people have sex is to produce children. What other reasons. They all looked at me like I had three heads, I get this quite often. OK. New question. Why are JSS students having sex? I’m not a JSS student, so you have to tell me. And then it all came out. Pleasure. Peer pressure. For money. For grades. For employment.

This is all very close to home to the six girls I teach. In Ghana, it is not unusual for a young teenager to have sex with older men with money, teachers, and headmasters because they feel they have no other choice. They often feel stuck and don’t know how else to get ahead in life. It is a phenomenon that affects mostly village girls, as opposed to girls who grow up in middle class families in the city. The reality of it has been heavy on my heart. I look at these beautiful girls and I see so much potential. I don’t know exactly how to pull it out of them, but I will.

You are right. These are all reasons why people have sex. But I think you are forgetting one. They all watched in awe as my shoulder grew another head. LOVE. They all smile. Love? 

Ghanaians are not quite as romantic as Americans are, sex serves a purpose as most everything else in life. I know there is love here in Ghana, they just don’t talk about it. I almost threw it in there as a cultural exchange. If you are buddies with some teenagers, ask them why teens are having sex in America. I promise you love will come up, if not first.
So, I say as I am erasing the board. What consequences can result from having sex when you are too young and not ready? Death, says Fataw. Woah, ok. I’ll put it up here. What else? Teenage pregnancy. Drop out of school. HIV/AIDS. STD’s. Yea. Ok, tell me about your dreams, I ask as I write DREAMS in huge letter on the board, underlining it as I swirl around to face them. We have had this conversation before. I love asking them what their dreams are. In America, a child believes that they really can be president if they wanted to. They can be anything they want to. The world is theirs. In Ghana, in the village, it really is just a dream. And then you wake up and think of practical ways to get through life. Not my students. I am trying to drill into them that they really can follow these dreams if they work hard enough. And they can, I’ve seen it. My friend Swalisu, who grew up in Sankpala is now the District Chief of Central Gonja, the highest position in the District Assembly (this took place last month, and I couldn’t possibly be prouder of him).

They all shout them out, Doctor. Lawyer. Engineer. Nurse. Soldier. Teacher. Judge. Bank Manager. No one wants to be a health volunteer? No. Alright, whatever. I then gush about how smart and wonderful they are and how all of them are capable of obtaining these dreams. We then discussed how the consequences of sex for the wrong reasons, and when you are not ready, could get in the way of their dreams. I think they got it.

OK. You have done well today. What is HIV again? Very good. See you in class again tomorrow.


Popular Posts