the birds and the bees

let me tell you about… a new discovery we’ve made.  amanda’s been teaching reproduction in biology class and in the interest of science she did a little reconnaissance work, trying to figure out how many students at apagie are sexually active and if so, if they’re using the proper protection.  the results were surprisingly, if perhaps disconcertingly high given that this is a catholic country where premarital sex is actually illegal.  most of my students are over 18, many with girlfriends or boyfriends either here or at home, and despite the risks of HIV infection (9% of rwandans are estimated to be infected), few are using condoms.  why?  because the church teaches them that condoms are a sin.  (yes, but so is premarital sex, isn’t it?  if you’re going to sin once, why not make it twice and save your life in the process?).  in church they’re taught abstinence only, in school they’re taught abstinence or, in the case that you are married, family planning.  if they’re lucky enough to have an anti-aids club in the school, as ours does, they’ll be taught about condom use to the extent that the administration will allow.  our anti-aids club is fairly active, and so most students are aware of the importance of condoms.  however, they can’t actually get them at the school and they’re difficult to find in the village.  if kids are caught with a condom, they can be expelled because sexual activity while at school (and everywhere in the country) is strictly forbidden, though it of course happens anyway.

i feel like i’m back in the 1950s.  we’re in a pickle – we can’t hand out condoms because it’s against school policy and we can’t condone what we know is going on, because it’s actually illegal.  but we can’t stand the idea that these kids are disappearing into the forest or wherever it is they go, with only withdrawal and family-planning for defense against pregnancy or worse. 

the answer, temporarily at least, is counselling.  amanda has given four sessions now, in the evenings, to her senior three students (grade nine).  word has spread among the students, and now my senior sixes are asking for it.  i can’t participate because of the language barrier, but i’ve been giving advice and been open to questions.  she does anonymous question and answers, condom demonstrations (which, on a side note, means that we’ve had a large wooden penis floating around our house for weeks, and which we’ve been hiding in each other’s beds and bags as a rather embarassing running joke) and has given some individual counselling to a few students.  what she’s learned from these chats, and i’ve in turn learned from her, is that the students have an amazing amount of misconceptions and believe some spectacular myths regarding sex.  like that sperm will stop acne and is nutritious becaues it contains vitamin B12, that masturbation will give you back problems and make you crazy, that nuns can get pregnant by using the same hand-towel as a priest, that AIDS originated from white men having sex with dogs, or even that during world war one a bomb carrying HIV was dropped by the japanese on africa.  speaks wonders about the education system in this country, doesn’t it?

in other news, the hole in our roof that used to contain the bee hive, has now been reinhabited by a family of birds.

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~ by aliciawolcott on October 8, 2007.

One Response to “the birds and the bees”

  1. Here’s an interesting article:
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=3933

    It compares different countries’ statistics for number of sexual partners, percentage having unprotected sex, and rates of STD infection. Unfortunately, I don’t see any African countries on there to compare with.

    It seems silly to (liberal) Americans that there could still be so many misconceptions about sex, but there aren’t many places that are as open as the US about sex talk, and the less sex talk there is the more misconceptions there will be.

    It was lots of fun talking to all the young Indians about sex, since there the dynamic is different. 85% of marriages are arranged, and from what I could tell a huge chunk of the population (60-70%?) abstained until after the wedding (at age 23-28!!). So they had lots of questions and misconceptions, and ideas about what sex meant. As someone who will most likely only ever have premarital sex, and had come from “America – the land of free sex”, I had an interesting perspective.

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