Religion and culture are two pillars that shape the thoughts and lifestyles of a people. For my country Nigeria, this is especially true. Virtually every issue in Nigeria is viewed through the lens of culture and religion by most: this of course has benefitted us in
several ways, however we cannot ignore its potentially detrimental side. The thing about looking at life from a cultural and religious perspective is, many now see life ONLY through a cultural and religious perspective. These two hand-in-hand tend to promote a brand of idealism and ‘external perfection’ which, if not handled properly, can appear as unrealistic and impractical. I am not here to discredit either of the two, but to point out that in the process of expressing cultural and religious beliefs, most of us fail to address the reality.
I have noticed that when it comes to discussing the issue of premarital sexual activity and advicing youth on sex, a substantial majority of Nigerians are quick to shout out the abstinence mantra, advocating “no sex before marriage” and presenting it as the only option, when in reality it is not all there is to sex education. While I believe abstinence is beautiful and possible, it is not all the contraceptive advice available to man.
People are having sex before marriage and will have sex before marriage, whether you are comfortable with it or not, and whether your beliefs or culture agree with it or not. Most, if not all, of us are aware of this truth, but guess what’s done most of the time? A neglect of any part of sexual education other than good ol’ abstinence. Like not acknowledging the problem somehow makes it non-existent.
“Fine, if abstinence is not your cup of tea right now, there are such a things you can do to make sure that you are safe and protected from unwanted pregancies and sexually transmitted diseases which can compromise your fertility”. Do you hear this regularly when adults are advising younger people on sex? Our emotions and personal bias often get in the way of providing others with a clear and wholesome picture of situations. Even Nigerians involved in provision of health services, those who are meant to be trusted to disseminate accurate information on health, still mention only abstinence when they are approached for sex education. How many health centres in Nigeria can boast of a non-judgemental form of sexual education and contraceptive provision to females and males?
By acting and advising people like this problem does not exist, the people who will have sex either go in unprepared and uneducated, or obtain false information from their poorly informed counterparts. Unwanted prenancies and all sorts of diseases are bound to happen of course.
The most fascinating thing is this. Supposing a sexually active unmarried lady gets pregnant, everyone suddenly realises they have something to say. All her relatives and friends who knew and saw as she was having sex, all those who had the right knowledge on contraception all along, may have either said nothing, mockingly told her to “close her legs”, or gossip. Basically no one bothers to arm her with the needed information. Then when she gets pregnant everyone suddenly has an opinion, asking her why she did not use this drug or that device. Giving advice in retrospect, as if that will make the pregnancy disappear. Why do we like giving reactive information, when we had time to be proactive about the situation?
I am aware that there are people who think that arming young people with this information will promote promiscuity. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but your job is not to stand and be the judge. If you have correct information and are viewed as a relaible source of it, your responsibility is to fully educate others so they are safe irrespective of the choice they make.
Just a thought, but could it be that the high incidence of unsafe abortions in high in Nigeria could be related to the unwanted pregnancies gotten by people who were not educated properly on contraceptives? Could it be?
Suppose you were a healthcare worker and this 15-year old walked up to you to ask about contraceptive options, only for you to just tell her to “close her legs till marriage”. Would you rather have her come to you for this, or pregnant a year later, or even worse, rushed in bleeding from an abortion gone wrong?
Let us not ignore our reality.
Thank you, as always, for reading.