Everyone who knows me well knows I’m a bit of a hoarder. However, occasionally, I have a bit of a spring clean and throw some of the older things out. That’s how I came across a paper that we had been given at school when I was 14 or 15, listing contraceptives and the approximate percentages of their efficiency. I remember that this paper had formed part of one of the very few lessons we had on sex. It was only after speaking to people my age later that I realised we were lucky to have even gotten that.
Despite every second person bleating about the importance of children and family in this country, sex remains a taboo topic, and education about sexual health remains practically non-existent. This means that misinformation on our islands is rampant. From people using plastic bags as contraception to believing that you can get HIV from using the same toilet that someone positive uses to t,hinking that only gay people can get sexually transmitted infections, I’ve literally heard it all, and it is profoundly worrying.
Is it any wonder that we have the highest teen pregnancy rate in Southern Europe and one of the highest rates of HIV transmission in Europe when everyone is going around acting like they don’t have sex?
With limited conversations being had in most sections of our society, families that refuse to clue their children in for fear that they might ‘encourage’ them to fool around (as if that has ever made a blind bit of difference), and an outdated sexual health policy that will no doubt face more setbacks now the cabinet has been re-shuffled, the situation has become a tragi-comedy which opens up the young and vulnerable to very sticky situations enveloped in a whole lot of shame and misery.
We need to get out of this cultural rut and start having frank and open conversations. We also need to make an effort to inform ourselves and lobby for more education in our schools instead of trying to stifle the few voices striving for change. Preaching about abstinence is not enough when all our statistics point to a very different reality.
It’s not okay that people still don’t know that HIV is no longer a death sentence and that HIV-positive people who take their medication can keep having sex normally. It’s not okay that 16-year-old girls are queueing at pharmacies to take morning-after pills because their boyfriends are refusing to wear protection, but most of all, it’s definitely not okay for us all to look the other way and pretend that all this isn’t happening.