By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
Bahamian students at all levels of the education system – primary, junior, senior and tertiary – are having sexual experiences at school, according to a local sex educator.
However, despite this prevalent problem of sexual activity among the school-aged, it is still considered a taboo topic by many, and most parents do to not address sexual education or sexual health with their children. Unless more is done to address this issue, sex will continue to be “child’s play,” said Denise Major, advocacy director of Bahamas Sexual Health & Rights Association (BaSHRA).
“Sexual activity has taken place in the past, before our times, during our times, and now not only as a sex educator, but as a parent I am hearing about incidents happening in our schools, both private and public and at all levels," she said.
"Our society in general continues to treat sex as something that is taboo, but at the same time our culture, our children, our people, are inundated with it. It is in our music, our ring play our culture, the gyrations of our dancing, the things we eat, and drinks that are named after sexual terms. We use sex or sexual images to sell the simplest items. Once given an opportunity, children, young adults, and people in general will take it if that is something they want to do,” she said.
Surprisingly, she said, students find those opportunities to have sex in places of learning.
“Sex happens in empty classrooms, behind school buildings, in bathrooms, bushy clearings, or even in nearby vacant properties. Sex happens on beaches and parks; when parents and guardians are away from home for any significant amount of time. It really goes back to opportunity and privacy. We have seen the local videos on social media, only an opportunity is needed,” she said.
In recent times, Ms Major said schools have been trying to address the elephant that is always in the room. However, there is much more that needs to be done.
“There is a myth that has been circulating for years that if you talk to children about sex, it makes them have sex. Research has shown quite the opposite and has proven that talking to children – openly, honestly, and consistently – and providing them with age-appropriate information, has deterred them from engaging in sexual activities at an early age, and those that do, protect themselves from pregnancy and diseases,” she said.
“More conversations with not only the students but also their parents and guardians (are needed). Schools see a different side of our children – good and bad. Both parents and guardians and young people should be informed comprehensively. We, as well as our partner organisations, offer programmes and resources to aid with these conversations and practices,” she said.
And educating young people about this area of sexuality and sexual health is even more crucial given latest regional HIV/AIDS statistics UN Women reports that in the Caribbean, women represented 45 percent of newly infected adults, while young women aged 15-24 made up 52 per cent of new infections.
Back in August 2020, UN AIDS put out the call to countries worldwide to adopt urgent measures to reinforce social protection programmes that support the most vulnerable people from the health impact and socio-economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women and girls continue to be part of the most vulnerable.
This year, Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Say was recognised on March 10. BaSHRA is working to raise awareness and provide education about HIV and AIDS among Bahamian women and girls and the impact of HIV on their lives. The issue of HIV among women and girls must also acknowledge the mental, emotional and physical health needs, said Ms Major.
“In the past, our clinic offered services and programmes that targeted this demographic. Due to some issues with funding, as well as issues that came up with the worldwide pandemic, we now are transitioning to mobile services in an effort to keep our clients as well as staff and volunteers safe. Just recently, we launched a campaign where the women members of our board shared photos of them getting tested for HIV as a way to encourage other women to get tested.”
As for their part in educating young people on sexual health matters, the organisation has a number of programmes and initiatives it plans to launch.
“The programmes that we will be launching will be educational, interactive and fun,” said Ms Major.
For schools, BaSHRA plans to provide a stand-alone presentation or education modules that can serve as supplements to the existing curriculum, that can be adapted to serve the community at large.
“In addition to the educational programmes that will be offered at schools, we will also offer opportunities for education, support and referrals during our membership meetings, safe space groups or individual sessions. These venues will cover a variety of topics, ranging from sex and sexuality to contraception and other preventative methods, HIV/STI/ AIDS awareness and prevention, gender-based violence, just to name a few. We will also be calling brainstorming meetings with our shareholders, gatekeepers, partners and policy makers to figure out active ways to address issues that are systemic as well as at the community level, to enhance the individual and collective well-being of women and girls. Finally, through local media such as radio shows, newspapers and BaSHRA newsletter articles and social media platforms, we hope to raise awareness on various topics and issues,” she said.