I recently had the rare opportunity to talk to a group of teenage girls, my daughter included at their hostel, here in Lagos.
Their ages ranged from 10 to 16 years and they were about 21 in number. I say rare because kids these days and within this age range hardly talk to adults. They’ll hear you out and afterwards go do their own thing. Our topic was Love, Purity and Sex.
First off, I told the girls, I wasn’t there to sermonise; I think our pastors and Sunday school teachers are doing a good job of that already. I wanted to talk to them about this theme as a mother, an aunt perhaps but certainly not as a judge cutting them down and condemning their choices and beliefs. I went on generally trying to feel them, looking them in the eye one after the other and getting them ready for an interactive session.
They just stared back; some had this bored look on their faces, others were hiding a yawn, one was actually sleeping.
So I began with sex.
Aha! This perked them up fast. It’s interesting how that topic jerks even the sloppiest person awake. We are all interested in sex but we pretend it doesn’t matter to us. I began with sex because it was a topic I wanted to hear adults talk about when I was their age; but it was a taboo to talk sex back then, sacrilegious to even suggest it could be fun, especially when you were young and unmarried. When sex is the issues, most people would rather talk around it than about it.
When I saw they were interested, I decided to hear their definition, understanding and what they thought about sex. I told them there were no right or wrong definitions; plus no one would judge them or report them to their parents. This seemed to make them want to participate. They defined it as ‘intercourse’ between a man and a woman, they defined it as something between ‘two married people’, they defined it as ‘sleeping together’…that done, I told them my experience when I was their age.
Unlike them, I never asked my mother about sex, in fact, at the time I should have been asking, I was too fearful of them to even voice it. I was sure that the slaps I would receive for such ‘bombastic asking’ would keep me on the straight and narrow path for life. So I relied on bloated snippets, lies, half truths about sex and most of what I heard filled me with potent fear. I thought sex was nothing to be enjoyed by the woman, that it was a man’s thing and the woman was simply to submit, get pregnant, have a difficult delivery and raise kids.
In my senior year, it became something girls secretly enjoyed but couldn’t escape the pregnancy aspect and somehow there were always cases of failed abortions resulting in the death of the young girls involved and no one ever went after those who got them pregnant, not ever!
That said, I told them sex was not a taboo, while it was for my generation, theirs has embraced it as part of life. They giggled; we were beginning to have fun.
I told them since I had a daughter in their midst, I was talking to them like I would my own child.
Never be pressured to have sex!
‘Oh everyone is doing it’, they would be told, particularly by the person pressuring them to. ‘Never give in!’ I told them.
‘It’s your body, it’s your right to decide what to do with it and be comfortable with it.’ They stared back like they never even realised it was within their power to say no and stick with it.
One of the downsides to saying no is being called names, they told me, and were eager to supply a litany of derogatory names given to girls who aren’t doing it.
They told me the term for those who don’t belong is ‘meff’; I hope I spelt it well. In my days, we were called egbe, or egbecious entity; it generally means the underdog, the one who isn’t current, you know…the meffs!
‘And when you feel the urge for sex’, I told them, ‘dont panic because it’s natural. You haven’t become a bad person, it is hormones at work. However, this is the time for studies, not sex, you’ll have so much of it later in life you’ll even be running away from it sometimes.”
After almost talking for an hour and running through subjects as diverse as having a crush on a guy to finding friendship first and then real love; from keeping themselves clean with regular baths and washing their undies every day, from rape and how to avoid being alone with certain kinds of people, I asked them to make their contributions and comments and ask questions; that was when I realised we aren’t talking enough to our girls.
They wanted to know what age to engage in sex.
They wanted to know if it’s ok to date a boy everyone says is a ‘bad boy’, telling me they don’t see the ‘bad’ in him.
What if the boy you thought was cool, suddenly turns against you?
Then the questions got weird as we crossed into something insidious that happens all the time but which we never talk about –
So who do you tell if somebody close to you touched you in a bad way?
So what do you do if it’s your father who is touching you?
I’m asking for a friend, she already has a boyfriend and hasn’t done anything yet.
What do you say to a girl who insists she isn’t the one raped but only asking for a sister?
‘Tell your mum,’ I insisted.
‘Mummy is always travelling,’ she replied.
‘I always travel too,’ I said, ‘but my daughter writes me letters and puts them in my bag, try doing that or talk to an aunty or uncle you trust.’
‘It’s not me, o.’
‘Yes, I know, you’re asking for your friend, huh? So ask your friend to talk to someone, don’t keep quiet. It is wrong what that person is doing to your friend.’
I was shocked and hope I hid it well while answering the questions for their supposed ‘friends’ on whose behalf they were asking the questions. A few met me outside after our session to ask questions they didn’t want prying eyes and gossipy ears to be part of.
In truth, our teenagers are ready to talk; are adults ready to listen?