Yup, we’re going there. Consent, condoms, STIs and everything else you should know about sex.
Talking about sex is weird. For most of us, having the ‘talk’ with our parents was dreaded and often awkward and embarrassing for all involved. Some schools are privileged enough to offer a sex-education programme but for those who weren’t listening (because, again, it’s weird having to listen to an older person discuss condoms) or never had the talk, here is the honest, open (and hopefully not embarrassing) talk that I wish someone had given me.
The Birds and the Bees
To begin, the Internet is a wonderful place. However, it is not always the best place to get an education – especially a sex education. Although we, teenagers, like to think we know everything, there is some stuff we don’t know and can’t really Google to be straight up. Media and pop culture today tend to glamorise sex. Yet, the decision to have sex should not be taken lightly – especially if you are still in school.
According to extensive research into the brain, the prefrontal cortex, which is essential in making rational decisions only fully develops when we’re 25. Before then, we process information and make decisions with the amygdala – the emotional part of the brain. So, most decisions made before 25 aren’t really the smartest (and I’m not referring to book smart here) – I speak from experience. Sex carries a great emotional, physical and psychological impact on any individual, male or female. This is often forgotten in the heat of the moment.
Before even thinking about having sex, you should stop and think about whether you are emotionally ready and if you are choosing to do it for the right reasons. I cannot stress this enough – but being pressured into having sex is never okay and you are probably better off without that person in your life. Sex also doesn’t carry any magical, glittering powers of immediately making someone love you more – regardless of what anyone says. It won’t make you any cooler to your friends or seem more adult. Remember, often the only one left to deal with the consequences of it will be you.
Safety Comes First. No Excuses.
If you are planning on having sex or just want to know for future reference: practising safe sex is really the only way to go. This includes contraceptives, consent and being with someone who makes you feel safe.
Contraceptives come in many shapes and forms and are classified by barrier methods and hormonal methods. Barrier methods are female and male condoms, the diaphragm, cervical cap, and the sponge. Hormonal methods are the pill, IUD, the patch and the injection. Female and male condoms should be available and free (seriously, no excuses) at your local government clinics. The implant, which is inserted under the skin of a female, lasts three years and has recently been implemented by the department of health. Your local health care centre should be able to provide you with adequate information and can aid you in picking the right kind of contraceptive for you. And it’s all free! (If you want to know more about contraceptives, go here)
I know you’ve heard this before but… Listen up!
Contraceptives are there to prevent unwanted pregnancies AND Sexually Transmitted Diseases (which you really don’t want). Only condoms are effective for preventing this, so don’t forget them even if you or your partner is taking the pill or the equivalent.
The most common STD that we hear about is HIV. It had affected over 4 million South Africans by 2005. In 2015, it was a shocking 7 million people. While HIV can be managed with ARVs, it is not a disease anyone should have to live with. Other STDs include chlamydia, genital warts, syphilis, herpes and HPV.
Contraceptives are not always foolproof in preventing STDs. Some STDs are not only transmitted during ‘traditional’ sex (like penetrative sex). HPV, for example, can be transmitted just through sexual contact. The best way to prevent all of this is to get tested with your partner well before you do the deed. Tests are available at government clinics and the staff are trained to explain, in full, what tests they’ll be doing and the implications of sex. Even if you aren’t currently sexually active, but have been in the past, it’s still a good idea to get tested.
The Scary Truth that Media and Pop Culture don’t talk about
While we see sex as only having definite physical effects, the psychological side of it is also vital to take into account. School talks, magazines and media advocate safe sex but we rarely hear about ‘mentally safe’ sex. By this I mean, having sex when you are ready. Research shows that the earlier an individual has sex, the more likely they are to engage in high-risk sex – unprotected sex or use of drugs or alcohol before sex.
It’s also worthwhile to remember that sex often involves so much more than the body. There is an emotional side that can’t be ignored – the need for connection with someone else. Deciding to wait isn’t only for religious purposes and it doesn’t make you a prude. If you feel that you need to wait, it only means that you’re listening to what you need.
Just remember to always think it through – whether crossing the road or deciding to have sex. Your body is yours and the choice is yours alone. If you have to second-guess whether you are ready or not, you’re probably not. Love yourself above all else.