Issues

Condoms in our schools?

What would you do, as a parent, if your teenage child came home one day with a clutch of condoms in his or her hands?

Hello Kitty/ Condoms: Would condoms replace candy if we let young people have access to them?

I am delving into this debate on the back of an article that was recently published in Zimbabwe’s local media that reports that the National AIDS Council (NAC) is considering distributing condoms within schools as a way of helping to curb the spread of HIV among young people.

Reactions to the article – as posted on a local HIV discussion forum, Partners Zimbabwe – have so far been split quite distinctly between the ‘pro condoms’ and ‘anti condoms’ camps.

One contributor noted the following:  “This is just outrageous. Whatever the motive is clearly does not support abstinence as one primary prevention method. Rather than introducing condoms in schools, NAC should consider sexual education and awareness raising in schools. It is more prudent to lobby for condom use in the workplace but surely we should not divert children’s attention from basic education.”

Another contributor against the idea said, “I have no problem seeing my kid with a condom that s/he either bought or got from another distribution channel, not the school! In fact, I would then want to know whether they know what they are used for and how they are used.” The contributor then continues to say, “I would then reinforce the positive practices, always insisting that abstinence (for a school-going kid) comes atop of faithfulness to one partner and condomising.”

While this represents just a small snippet of the views against the policy, I think it’s safe to say that many parents feel uneasy about their children practising anything but abstinence as adolescents. Culture and religion would have us believe that all young people remain virgins – as far as they have control over their sexuality – until they pass their teens.

But this is not true – for if it were, how could we talk of the countless cases of young girls who fall pregnant while in high school; or others who have unsafe abortions and cause themselves serious damage, or even die?

As a teenager, I had a very clear stance on sex. Because of my religious (Christian) views and a strong appreciation of what maturity a sexual relationship required, I abstained. I was and remain very proud of this and so yes, I do believe that young people can abstain from sex if they feel strongly about doing so; and more importantly, if they are given the option to do so. Unfortunately, rape and sexual abuse and coercion often force young people into sex before they are ready for it.

But while I was abstinent, I am very aware that not all of my friends or peers were. Some were having sex by 15 or 16 and others were considering it. Eventually, a girl I knew quite well fell pregnant at age 19 and after three failed attempts to abort the foetus (using traditional medicines prescribed by a backdoor doctor) got married to a man she wasn’t really sure she loved. Her family felt it would be less shameful if she married than if she chose to be a single mother.

A message from Ethiopia: Fatalistic and weak on full information.

I am 100% for that message… but what about those who can’t?

While I hope she is much more content now, I often wonder what a condom might have done in her scenario. Had she been taught about HIV prevention and use of condoms; had she known more about contraception and been taught that if she was going to have sex, the safest thing to do was use a condom to avoid sexual infections and unplanned pregnancy, how differently might her fortunes have played out?

In short, I am saying NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO MORALISE! We could help so many young people by making condoms readily available to them. Some people believe that making condoms or other contraceptives easily accessible only helps to make young people more sexually curious and willing to experiment. But  studies worldwide have shown that increased access to condoms and contraceptives raises use among sexually active young people, but does not make those who are abstaining more likely to start having sex.

If I had had access to condoms as a young person, I don’t think that this would have played any role in increasing my desire to have sex. Of course, I might have taken a few packs and opened them up to see what they looked like, but I wouldn’t have found further need for them beyond that. In fact, at just about every conference I attend now as an adult, I always get given bags of condoms. I do accept them, even though I am not sexually active and keep them to distribute to those who are. Having a condom in your possession does not mean you will use it. But it comes in handy when you do need to.

Condoms are not the problem here. And if people would be honest enough, I think it’s simply the idea that their children are having sex that freaks them out. Many parents are still loathe to broach the topic of sex and sexuality within the home and so fear that by having their children learn things from elsewhere, they will get all the wrong information.

Well, that is indeed ironic.

And it is even more ironic when we consider the effect that HIV is having on our young people. According to a new report released in June by UNICEF, 5 million young people worldwide (in the 15-24 year age category) are living with HIV. Over half of them – 2.7 million to be exact – are in east and southern Africa.  Girls make up more than two-thirds of the total. It is well known that women and girls are far more predisposed to HIV infection than their male counterparts and this is why protecting them is so important.

We also know that many girls get infected through having relationships with older men who may demand that sex be performed without protection. Since such relationships tend to have an element of exchange (ie. sex for money, food, clothes, luxury, etc), many of these girls will not have the power to demand the use of condoms.  We also know that yet more girls are only sexually active because they are caught in a trap of rape and sexual abuse. Once more, the use of condoms among these girls represents a horribly insensitive response to their plight.

But what about those young women and girls who willingly engage in sex? What about the ones who lose years of vital education because they have babies and drop out? What about protecting them?

Her plight – she might drop out of school, get turned away by her family and face all sorts of stigma. Who will help her then?

There has recently been a proliferation of sexual and reproductive health services, or ‘safe spaces’, for young people because of the stigma that they often face when they try to get help at adult health services. But they are still few and far between because of that big cultural taboo of accepting that young people do have sex.

We need to work to reverse this if we want a healthy generation into the future. And that’s why I am giving condoms in schools (and I mean secondary schools)  a thumbs up. But I don’t mean that they should just be shoved into school toilets – no, young people should go through formal sex education and be taught more than just what sex is, but the emotional, spiritual and social aspects to sex and sexuality. They should also know where they can get tested for HIV and what options they have if they get a sexual infection or if they get pregnant. This, I find is still lacking in many places around the world – last year, I wrote about this and found that many people learn about sex from peers and other informal or didactic channels, thus peddling myths and misinformation.

We really do need to tell young people about sex because it’s a bit like that analogy of the stolen sugar – it always tastes sweeter than the sugar that you can have. If we choose to be honest with young people, we demystify a lot of things. We open space for them to ask the questions that they ordinarily get incorrect answers to from their (usually) equally clueless friends.  We begin to get real.

And if we start there and tell them that yes, abstinence is the safest choice but that if they cannot abstain, they should use condoms, we finally start to address reality. Sex will happen with or without our moral sanctioning of it. It would just be better if it happened safely.

13 thoughts on “Condoms in our schools?

  1. Would be good to hear what the actual report fund out to make such a recommendation. Parents should not close their eyes to what is happening in the schools. whether the NAC puts condoms in schools or not the kids will continue to indulge. I have three kids and from the one in High School they seem to know a lot more than we bargain for and I think as parents we should take the NAC proposals’ merits not just react emotionally as I have seen.

    I say the full report should be published so we see the extent to which our kids are indulging as things stand. The girls lose out a lot and lots of young girls are getting infected with HIV/AIDS whilst at school.

    Lets see the full report

  2. If I remember correctly (correct me if I am wrong) we used to have a class called Social Studies when we were in primary school. I think the syllabus for that subject should be broadened to allow sex education to be taught intensively in primary schools. The use (or not) of condoms would then be introduced to the children in a proper way that parents need not fear would poison their children. I agree with you Fungie, many of our young people are not abstaining and hence it becomes even more important to find ways of helping them not to contract HIV/AIDS.

  3. It is alarming, but it is necessary, considering the fact that whether they are showed in school or not, they already know about it. i also think it is better for them to learn it from reliable sources like the school, the church and most importantly the family. That way, the child does not see it as a hidden story. We all know how hidden stories sell among kids. All said, there should also be a strict and disciplined manner of introducing the topic. Abstinence is still the best option, but in a society like ours were abstinence is in the trash, prevention is better than cure!!

  4. My dear Fungai,
    I do agree with you at every word. In my case, though I had plenty of freedom to do whatever , I had very clear that sex should be carried out in an good and long lasting emotional relationship with a male partner, not as fun ( as a consequence of my christian education, too) . And, i do keep on thinking the same way, despite, a huge amount of people, men mainly, think the best is to ” enjoy the moment”.Summing up, I think:
    – sex should be something we all should get to talk about freely. But specially, women , should talk honestly, amongst friends-women and should take time to know their bodies and its peculiar pleasure mechanisms before getting involved into sex with men.
    – serious education on sex topics should be taught at schools ,underlining the gender perspective and the worst consequences for women of irresponsible acts, in terms of health, pregnancy and their future.
    – abstaining till you find a long lasting ,good and caring partner should be a key advise on that school education
    – providing access to condoms to teenagers should come together with information about in what situation is desirable to have sex , and the advise of abstaining should be mentioned on first place.

  5. Giving a condom might not necessarily turn an otherwise well-behaved kid into a sex maniac overnight. That drive for sex is in the heart, and the devil simply preys on that individual personality weakness for Jesus said: “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, OUT OF THE HEART OF MEN, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, FORNICATIONS, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” [MARK 7:20 -23, KJV].

  6. Well, this is indeed a hot topic and I think it would be interesting to take note of how things have changed over the years including how we view sex, sexuality, relationships, etc. As a parent myself, I think the idea of giving condoms in schools in noble but only after rigorous educational conditioning on the other issues…condoms are not what makes people want to have sex, people have sex because they want to or are forced to (in this case its rape) and at the end of the day I feel that yes, there should be education on the proper use of condoms because even now I have friends who really do not know that for condoms to be effective you need ‘correct and consistent’ usage and if you’re gonna go rough, you need to change it after every turn-/style…

    Of course, I am digressing but at the end of the day this debate was the same as the one about condoms being given out in church etc…I think as Zimbabweans and as Africans, its high time we stop the ‘righteous than thou’ mentality where we hold on to ‘psuedo-beliefs and values’ that add to the spread of HIV/Aids…as HIV mutates, we need our interventions to also mutate to meet the new challenges it poses to our nation…one of those is to say, yes let’s try this and see if it does not decrease the teenage pregnancies and new HIV infections among the youths…

  7. Condoms have been available in the US to adult men and high school young men for years. They aren’t being used unless the girl/woman demands it, which is apparantly seldom. Condoms reduce the sensation a man usually enjoys. If you can get them accepted and used by the men in Zimbabwe I encourage you to distribute them.

  8. As you point out, when you were a teen you did not necessarily find the urge to want to go out there and do it. I had similar experiences where being a virgin in college was not really something to be proud of among peers, but it all depends on how one is raised. Sex is happening everywhere and the worst thing parents can do is hide heads in the sand and wish it way. Rather have a very clever and informed child who you can trust to make smart decisions, and possibly choose to abstain understanding all the possible consequences of pre-adult sex. However, you want a situation where your daughter is also smart enough to pt all necessary stops in place should the kissing and smooching get out of hand. Lets face facts and the possibility that majority of kids of today hardly get to 15 without having tasted their first kiss or breast squeez.

  9. With e net n all atha forms o media its amazing hw mch these young ones knw abt sex, probably evn mo than us. Yes as a parent it wld make me pretty uneasy knowing tht my child’s xool is providing them with condoms but an unwanted pregnancy wld throw me overboard. They are doing it anyway, condoms or no condoms so its better they do it with condoms.

  10. Much as morality defies this school of thought (condoms in schools), reality is sex happens in the world. In some countries as early as seven – believe it or not! As parents we have even a greater to play, alongside centres of learning. I found that sex education makes more sense if from a trusted source, in my case, my parents! If parents can objectively open up to their children, sex and its associates can be better dealt with.

    Knowing pretty well that such parents are relatively few, centres of learning become the second option, and hence the need to combine sex education with condom distribution in primary and/or secondary schools – depending on countries’ sexual activity stats. Thanks for the daring article Fungi…being a parent in the 21st century is nothing compared to being one in the previous one(s) and those yet to come!

  11. I strongly disagree!! I’ve tried to see your point of view but as far as I’m concerned condoms have never been a solution!! Look at South Africa they have all these freedoms including abortion and condoms in schools for teenagers but the HIV infection rate is still high, teenage pregnancy is worse there than in Zimbabwe! Clearly condoms arent helping. Sometimes these Human Rights people want to foister rights upon us that will only harm our society and legalise immorality all in the name of Aids activism. I strongly oppose condoms in our schools. I went through high school and survived without a condom. The younger generation should. If they cant they need to go pick their self control from wherever they left it and put it to use.
    AIDS is not controlled by condoms and safe sex but by abstinence and faithfulness.

  12. we should allow condoms to be distrubuted in primary schools because wether we like it or not our children do have sex at an early age and if they were thought about it in primary schoools then we won’t have a high rate of high school children being pregnant because when they start having an affir they already know that they must use condoms

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