BREAKING THE SEX EDUCATION TABOO
As in many parts of the world, sexual abuse is rife in parts of the Middle East and North Africa. To make this worse, sex education is taboo. Many young people are adrift in a sea of misinformation. The SAT-7 ARABIC program Speak Up is helping parents communicate with their teenage children to better protect them from harm.
Many young people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have nowhere to turn for proper sex education. Parents often consider the subject shameful – refusing to discuss it and responding to questions with blame or punishment.
Sex education is not taught in most schools across the region. In the absence of proper information and open discussion, many young people unknowingly seek answers from harmful sources: some turn to internet pornography out of curiosity. This can cause addictive behaviour, unhealthy attitudes towards sex, and make them vulnerable to abusive relationships.
The live women’s counselling program Speak Up recently aired a series of episodes to help parents approach this taboo topic and engage in healthy conversations with their children. Egyptian psychologist Dr Eman Saddik, who responded to parents’ live calls and messages, explains:
“An unmet need for information, and the sense that their parents are hiding something, increases the child’s curiosity… They cannot distinguish between healthy and unhealthy sexual relationships, because they did not get the answers they needed from their parents.”
SIMPLE, TRUTHFUL ANSWERS
Dr Saddik advises parents to provide simple, truthful answers in a neutral manner to both remove stigma and prevent the sensationalism of sex.
“Young people must learn about it properly to have a good relationship in the future,” she says.
DAMAGING EFFECTS OF IGNORANCE
As well as putting individual children at risk, a lack of information can contribute to harmful cultural attitudes. For example, the belief that female sexuality is particularly shameful underlies the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) and honour violence.
Because of conservative attitudes regarding sex and gender education, negative consequences are prevailing in communities. Levels of pornography consumption are high in the MENA; sexual harassment is rampant in some places; the MENA is one of two regions in the world where rates of HIV infection are on the increase.
“I LEARNED ALL THE WRONG THINGS”
Speak Up interviewed a woman named Sanaa. She shared how a lack of information caused a huge negative impact in her life.
“I learned all the wrong things,” she said, “and it hurt me. I trusted friends with my secrets and I was put to shame. Now that I have an eight-year-old daughter, I decided to take a course in sex education at my church. It helped me answer all my daughter’s questions without scolding her.”