I remember the first time my mother spoke to me about sex. She vaguely explained something about eggs and used the bubbles from the bath tub to write on the wall.

Now that I spend my time storming the Internet with sex positive articles, she is at the point of calling it ‘your cookie’ without having a sour look on her face. Needless to say, my mother is not a fan of all my articles. This is not a scenario that is unique to me: The inability to talk about sex is something that is extremely widespread, especially within African contexts. This poses a huge problem, given that schools are not exactly filling the gap. The next best source of information is either porn or your friends’ (sometimes embellished) escapades.

So as Africans, where are we learning about sex? And the bigger question is this: Why do we not speak, practically, to our parents about sex?

The inability to talk about sex is something that is extremely widespread, especially within African contexts.

What caused our sex positive culture to change?

It is not as if, as a continent, we do not have a history of making sure that everyone is getting theirs. Sexuality schools were (and in some spaces are) a part of the societal structure. In these school’s young people were taught about seduction, techniques, dances and mood enhancers that would make for fireworks in the bedroom. Sex was something that was pleasurable for everyone and this was made sure from an early age. From labia pulling techniques (that could induce squirting) to learning the original twerk came from West Africa. We knew how to get it.

Then something happened and the advice changed: European-based religions entered the picture. The closest to kinky advice I have seen at wedding parties from the older generation is ‘marriage will keep you on your knees…in prayer’. This sort of vague advice also comes after years of ‘don’t talk to/kiss/breathe near boys’ – yet somehow we are supposed to have happy and healthy sex lives once married! Exactly how was I supposed to get from point A to Point B with no guidance whilst avoiding like the plague the very thing I was supposed to bring home?

The sex advice one does get from parents is often very basic in nature, covering the biology of it and little else. Sometimes a mention of Aids is thrown in, as well as the threat of pregnancy and possibly the fact that Jesus would be watching if sex happened outside of marriage. The way they speak makes it seem as if our Lord and Saviour was literally standing outside the window, judging your naked ass.

The sex advice one often gets from parents is often very basic in nature, covering the biology of it and little else.

The fear-mongering school of sex education within our homes leads to some highly problematic ideas about sex, not to mention some rubbish coitus. This is despite the fact that there is a history of teaching safe, healthy and pleasurable sexual practices within communities.

Now we have relegated the job of giving advice on sex to porn and random movies. On a personal level, some of my earlier ‘this is so good’ noises mirrored the women I saw in some of the more risqué media I had watched, until I woke up and realised that was not what the expression of my pleasure sounded like.

Less is more: When it comes to sex, it’s the quality and not the quantity that matters. (Photo: Sarah Mirk via https://www.flickr.com/photos/mirkmirk/)

What should scare us are the figures, not the conversations

This is a problem not only when it comes to engaging with sex in a marriage but also when we are in our teenage years. We cannot escape that young people are having sex, that teenage pregnancy rates are sky high and that the highest increase in the rate of STIs are found on the African continent.

The HIV stats are clear: They state that more than 23 million people are living with HIV/Aids in sub-Saharan Africa. But what about the fact that there are an estimated 4 960 320 people in Ghana living with an STD, or 1 968 800 in Rwanda? This is not to count the very large group (approximately 2 634 815) living with an STD in Zambia.

Studies amongst pregnant women have revealed rates of chlamydia of 6% in Tanzania to 13% in Cape Verde In terms of gonorrhoea, studies of pregnant women showed rates ranging from 0,02% in Gabon to 3,1% in Central African Republic and 7,8% in South Africa.

In short, according to the World Health Organisation, the highest increase in the rate of curable STDs per 1 000 people is in sub-Saharan Africa. This worrying trend is not only for those who are of ages of consent but within schools as well. Reports have emerged from many countries stating that children are having wild sex at a very young age. Even more worrying is that this sex is not always between peers and not always consensual – there is a huge pandemic of sexual assault in schools.

Sex – the thin line between intimacy and discretion

In South Africa a Human Rights Watch Report, titled ‘Scared At School’, spoke about how rape, sexual harassment and abuse were ‘an inevitable part of the school environment’. Another example of this comes from Mozambique, where girls in high school and even in primary school have spoken out about teachers asking them for sex in exchange for grades. These are the ideas and problems that our youth have about engaging in sex, which they then take into their teenage years, relationships and marriages.

We need to begin to foster a culture of teaching our children healthy sexual practices rather than hiding our heads in the sand. Not speaking to children and to each other about sex is not going to fix the huge problem that people face well into adulthood. The resounding silence that cloaks any discussion about sex when we are young makes for some tense, awkward and sometimes dangerous situations later on. We need to start having open and frank conversations to safeguard ourselves, no matter how much talking about cunnilingus with your parents feels like some sort of fresh hell.