Despite its conservative nature, our society is extremely sexual. From the music we play to the way we treat each other, sex is usually at the forefront and central to the conversation. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but unfortunately the ideas that have been and are usually promoted about sex are ones steeped in shame and violence. With many young people and adults lacking knowledge of the intersections of abuse, consent and safer sex, this often leads to consideration of significant harm and stigma against those who experience sexual assault and / or infections and sexually transmitted (STIs).
Yet there is still a fierce reliance on denial when discussing elements of sex. The denial of pre-marital sex, the risks involved and the fact that information can significantly help people make smarter decisions. Discussing sex is often considered a very taboo subject, something to be done only by the moral free. As a result, conversations about sexual consent, sexual health and contraception are often closed down quickly and effectively.
The information we provide to young people often depends on the concept of abstinence. Abstinence is certainly a way to stay clear of unplanned pregnancy and shrink (most) of sexually transmitted infections, but the preaching of it is largely ineffective and not concentrated in reality human stimuli and behaviors. The implementation of well-planned sex education programs has been found to delay the onset of sex and promote the use of contraception for the sexually active. Information saves lives. Yet, it is strongly opposed because we are still moving forward with the idea that educating someone on something encourages them to participate in it. The truth is that they will get involved anyway. Refusing to provide accurate information ensures that they do so in an unhealthy / unsafe manner.
Guyana’s religious and cultural considerations are the main drivers behind the reluctance to promote safer sex education and supportive programs / initiatives. Given that our society has refused to blur the lines between church and state, religious and cultural leaders can of course affect political will and direction as it relates to changing restrictive policies and providing necessary resources. This is due to the fact that Christian, Muslim, Hindu religions / cultures etc. all indicate elements of indulgence / purity, especially in the case of women. This purity is considered to be directly tied to the perceived honor of the family. What these beliefs promote, however, is not only ignorance that can lead to health and safety concerns, but primarily the continued demise of women as they are not allowed physical autonomy and are seen as an extension of adults, who often patriarchal figures. Ultimately, they decide what young people need against the reality of what is actually needed, especially if it concerns the contentious areas of sexuality and sexual behaviors. As a result, the information that young people receive on sex is based on a values-based education that focuses on religious, cultural and political concerns. It is not based on what is actually required to ensure informed young people and adults are able to make informed decisions.
This helps maintain a fierce movement against comprehensive sex education, leading to children and adults learning about sex mainly through their friends (who are often as wrong as they are) or through mass media. If it’s one thing we know, mass media is never short of sex but the ideas / behaviors it promotes on it are often not in line with established considerations of consent and security. This is why in addition to consistently high teenage pregnancy rates; a large majority of our population also contracted / have STIs. Given the severity of STIs, this can often lead to people not being tested often because they fear the results or people do not want to receive the required treatment because of the fear of being “discovered” and experiencing stigma.
Poverty levels also have a role to play in sexually unsafe behaviors. Although the links between poverty and risky sexual behavior have not yet been confirmed, the state of poverty has been reported to often exacerbate their vulnerability to rape, teenage pregnancy and sexual infections. There is an urgent need to implement evidence-based programs that support vulnerable populations who are more likely to be sexually misled or lack the resources necessary to engage in safer sex.