The conversation we’re not having

By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
@danitbpseeds

 

I SOMETIMES TAKE GUILTY pleasure in watching ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ because the family is entertaining…plus the Kardashian women are stylish.

Kim Kardashian might not the greatest role model for young girls out there for many shallow reasons. Some say that she is famous for doing nothing (not true, she is a savvy businesswoman), that her biggest selling point is her sex appeal – she’s appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine, among other publications – and who could forget that her first claim to fame was her sex tape being leaked onto the Internet?

But then again, she could be the most honest person if you look past all of that. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the reality star revealed that her mother, Kris Jenner put her on contraceptives at the tender age of 14 when she confessed to her mother that she wanted to have sex with her boyfriend of two years.

Living in an Asian country where talking about sex or one’s sexual desires is taboo, wouldn’t it be safer for teenagers if they could be real and honest with their parents? Wouldn’t it be ideal if parents could put away their anger or embarrassment (at least for a while) for an honest, adult conversation with their children about the consequences of unprotected sex, or even the importance of waiting for marriage or the significance of sexual intimacy between two consenting people?

Human beings are sexual creatures and it is normal for humans to have sexual desires and urges as it has already been hardwired in our brains.

Parents are understandably embarrassed to talk to their children about sex but with no one of authority to talk to about sex, most turn to their peers or the internet for resources, if at all.

With the speedy use of the Internet and social media nowadays, you can get just about any information you want with a swipe of your finger, not all of it the right information either.

But seriously, society has to first accept and understand that teenagers are in a very active hormonal stage. It is during this stage in life that they are trying to figure out what their identities are, they’re more sensitive towards their surroundings and curious about the opposite sex.

As youths feel that they cannot talk comfortably with their parents about sex, it is normal for them to turn to their peers for knowledge. But the information they gather might deviate from those of their parents or general public, kind of like the blind leading the blind.

Just last year, Welfare, Women and Family Development Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah revealed statistics of unwed and underaged pregnancies at three major hospitals in Sarawak.

The Miri Hospital handled 188 deliveries in 2011, but the number increased to 253 in 2012.
The Sibu Hospital performed 545 deliveries in 2011, and the number rose to 578 the following year.
The Sarawak General Hospital in Kuching, however, only had a slight decrease, to 827 last year from 829 in 2011

The numbers tell us that just because we don’t talk about sex, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Pregnancy among teenagers is on the rise, but people are still treating the topic of sex like a contagious disease.

Would the numbers increase if teenagers were better informed and even encouraged to use contraceptive methods?

By treating the issue of sex like it is a taboo, it is no wonder the youths would be clueless about it. For those who do know about it, walking into a store to purchase a box of condoms is almost like doing the walk of shame, when it should be the opposite: at least they are taking care of their bodies and of their partner’s welfare.

What people are not aware of is that there is a more comprehensive support system for sexually active people available across Sarawak.

At Sarawak Family Planning Association (SFPA), the public may consult, get information and obtain various contraceptive methods such as pills, condoms, intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUCD), injectables, implants and patches.

Aside from that, SFPA also provides other services such as general check-ups and blood screening tests, breast examination as well as teaching breast self-examination, Hepatitis A and B test, pap smear screening, pregnancy test, ultrasound, emergency contraceptives, and infertility investigation.

In addition to providing contraceptive methods and services, the SFPA also provides counselling for HIV patients, pre- and post-pregnancy among youths. All counselling is confidential.

The vaccine for Human papilomavirus (HPV) is also available. The vaccine will be able prevent the spread of this disease which presents itself as genital warts (which resemble ‘cauliflower-like’ growths), vaginal, vulvar, anal and cervical cancer as HPV may affect both men and women. People infected with HPV may not display any symptoms but they can pass it to their partners without even knowing it.

Sex education is a delicate issue among our community and there is no denying that we lack it. Perhaps the closest thing we have to sex education is from the human reproduction chapter of a science lesson.

This is not enough.

If the youths are given the proper exposure, they might be more aware of sex and more importantly, the consequences of unprotected sex.

Having unprotected sex may not only lead to unplanned pregnancies but sexually transmitted infections (STI) or sexually transmitted diseases (STD) such as gonorrhoea, syphilis, Chlamydia, herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV) or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Here’s a brief run down of some STIs and STDs:

Also known as the ‘clap’ or ‘drip’, gonorrhea affects both men and women and it is transmitted by contact with infected body fluid. It may be passed to a newborn child during childbirth from an infected mother. Symptoms of gonorrhea include greenish yellow or whitish discharge from vagina, lower abdominal pain, burning when itching, spotting after intercourse and conjunctivitis or red, itchy eyes.

Like gonorrhea, syphilis is primarily spread through sexual activity as a result of a bacterial infection, Treponema pallidum. The symptoms of syphilis include formation of chancres or sores which are often hard and painless in the genital area or mouth for 10 to 90 days. Other symptoms of syphilis are fever, swollen or enlarged lymph nodes, hair loss, headaches and inflammation of the eye.

Many patients may not notice symptoms of Chlamydia as the symptoms usually appear after one to three weeks after exposure which include a burning feeling during urination, discharge from penis or vagina, pain in lower abdomen, and painful sexual intercourse.

HIV is probably one of the most notorious viruses as no cure is yet to be found although treatment can slow down the course of this disease. It can be passed through blood, seminal and vaginal secretion and also breast milk. People may have HIV without displaying any of the symptoms. Positive results can only be confirmed 3 months after infection. Infected individuals may experience ‘flu like’ symptoms like fever, severe fatigue, rash, swollen glands, sore throats and night sweats.

Forget about bringing shame to the family and yourself or what society might think of you if you got pregnant, what if you contracted one of these diseases from unprotected sex?

It is time for us to be more open about sex and stop treating it as a shameful subject. There is no use in avoiding talking about it, because let’s get real, people are having sex, which is normal. What shouldn’t be normal are babies being dumped from unplanned pregnancies or people contracting disease because they were too ashamed to buy condoms.

Telling young people that abstinence is the only way to handle their sexual urges would make them feel ashamed about their sexuality and their bodies. Youth have to be exposed at an early age so that they are able to handle and tackle this sort of problem and also to avoid making wrong decisions that could ruin their future.

The Family Life Education (FLE) Club, a youth centre under SFPA is where youths can seek information on matters related to reproductive health as well as carrying out programmes which includes group discussion, seminar and talks, community services, and leadership training.

Besides that it also acts as a befriender centre (Youth phone line at: 082 254001/082 244629) where young people can discuss their problems with people trained in counselling.

Currently, the youth club is recruiting youth volunteers under the age of 30 and providing comprehensive sexuality education in order to create awareness on the use of contraception, prevention of STIs and STDs and teenage pregnancy.

Those interested may call the youth phone line or contact the youth representative Clive Liew at 016- 8606840

To know more about Family Life Education Club or to volunteer feel free to check out their facebook page.

SFPA is also organising a facebook photo competition to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, use of contraception and teenage pregnancy.

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To join, like their page Family Life Education Club – SFPA, snap a picture about one of the issues above and add in captions or messages on the pictures (ie. Be responsible, use contraception). Send your photo to Family Life Education Club – SFPA facebook page with your details (Full name, age, contact, occupation).

Most importantly: Get your friends to like your photo. Most likes by December 21 will win 1st prize followed by the subsequent winner.

The first prize winner stands to win RM1,200, second place RM800 and third, Rm600.

Submit your photos to them by Nov 20 this year so that they can upload it to their Facebook page by Nov 21.  Winners will be announced on Dec 22, 2014. Contact Clive (016-8606480) for more information.

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