An invisible Stigma

During a chat with some of my mom friends, I was surprised to learn that our cultures shared the same issue of Stigma & Taboo when it came to the topic of reproductive health and sex education with young adolescents/adults (10-19yrs). Immigrants from parts of Africa, Latin America and the Middle east now residing in America, like so many other immigrant parents, they shared in the search of navigating, preparing and explaining to their tweens and teens about relationships of adulthood. If one thing is for certain, youths of today are definitely not the youths of yesteryear, it seems they are more adventurous, outspoken and encompass a sense of social liberty that we as young children only acquired in our young adult years. Today the social & celebrity influence of sexual relationships and dating makes an engaged, involved and concerned parents’ work and responsibility even more challenging.

I am from the Caribbean, my family’s customs and traditions stem from India where my great grandparents were born but brought as indentured laborers to the Caribbean islands. It was never explained to me about how babies were made, I was one of the slower learners and a bit clueless,… we can safely say I blossomed quite late in life. Most of the knowledge about the birds and the bees I got were from other classmates who had older siblings.

Many of us went on to have good first sexual experiences, some of us, not…and that is mainly because we had no knowledge of what to expect or fully understood the power of consent, it was most likely a word not in our vocabulary, so if “doing it” did happen when you snuck out on a “date” with the older boy you were forbidden to see, then you found consolation by telling yourself “well it had to happen sometime”. There was no option of talking it over with any trusted adult because you would be ostracized, criticized and quite possibly physically & verbally abused for bringing shame to yourself and even worse, to the family’s good name.

( I won’t be surprised if this is still the result I get for writing this post ) The only attempt at any

“sex talk” & “selflove” speech I remember were my grandma’s stern warning in her West Indian accent with her finger pointing at me- “ don’t let no man spoil yuh and bring shame on yuh eh, yuh hear? Yuh body is a temple and yuh have to take care of it, don’t make people laugh at yuh for you to walk with yuh head down in shame” – Simple and few words which echoed truth and its’ meaning understood.

I was also never forewarned about what a period was. This had been another topic one was not encouraged to question or express interest about. One most likely heard about it from the PE teacher in Junior high, at which time one either pretended to be interested as if they understood what was being said in an attempt to look intelligent, became flushed with mortifying embarassment, or giggled at the sound of the word ”penis”, “vagina” and even “period”.. you came away from the class with a sense of juvenile discomfort a toddler feels for the first time they become aware all the attention is on them, grateful to leave the new found knowledge right within those classroom walls. Maybe one would whisper about it with their girlfriends after, but any prodding inquisitions were not to be brought at home.

  • Did you know that :-
  • · 21 million adolescent girls, aged 15- 19, get pregnant annually (WHO).
  • · 49% of pregnancies among adolescents are unintended (Guttmacher).
  • · Pregnancy and birth-related complications are a leading cause of death among girls ages 15-19 (WHO).
  • · 777,000 very young adolescents, aged 10-14, gave birth in 2016 (Guttmacher).

Menstruation is still misunderstood in many places such as South Asia, parts of Africa and the Middle east, causing girls to be shunned and excluded from everyday activities? On the other hand, it is not limited to developing countries and “outside” cultures, but right here in the USA and UK there is something called “Period Poverty. Besides the stigma around menstruation there exists the additional problem of a high number of girls who cannot attend school due to the lack of access to feminine hygiene products.

When lack of knowledge, shame and fear create a sense of belonging within communities because of stigma’s, myths and taboos the result inadvertently leads to young adults making poor choices and reactions when it comes to Pregnancies, STD’s, HIV & even understanding, tolerance or acceptance of LGBTQ identities.

It is important that we overcome barriers created from stigmas, taboos and myths and instead offer support and positive attitudes towards the discussion of reproductive health and sex with our young adolescents. We have access to so many resources full of information on these topics for our children to learn about their bodies and their reproductive health, something that is important for both boys and girls.

Adolescence is the timeframe when young people form their own attitudes and beliefs, thus equipping them with the understanding of their bodies, sex and sexuality education and contraception are the skills which can give them the ability to navigate the challenges and opportunities during their transition through puberty and adulthood as well as make better decisions when it comes to sexual activity.

Society has changed and there is so much to keep up with in the Western Hemisphere when it comes to our growing children, changing norms and lifestyles. It is not only family planning and body knowledge but also a health issue. No matter what our ethnic background, culture, beliefs, faiths or social norms, one thing remains true- nurturing these taboos

& stigmas only continue the cycle of ignorance to bleed into other generations, but young people, when educated, encouraged and supported, can become empowered to thrive and contribute to their communities, families and most importantly to themselves towards healthier and happier futures.

These websites provide insurance information and resources for parents of young adults and children including coverage flowcharts for each state, a free App, and FAQs on relationships, pregnancy and contraceptive coverage so you can start the discussion in a safe, nurturing environment with your child.

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