What Sexual Health Education is like in Other Parts of the World

Have you ever wondered what sexual health education is like in other parts of the world?

Part of our employee training at Teen emPower! is to understand how cultural and environmental impacts can affect students who we teach, and what or how they learn. So we often think about and discuss what sexual health education is like in different parts of the country, and even what sexual health education is like in other parts of the world.

The family of one of our employees is from Guinea, West Africa, and she has lived with her cousins who experienced drastically different exposure to sexual health information growing up. It’s common for families there to send their children to the United States for an education, so her cousins joined a new cultural environment through this blended family experience.

The American side of the family had plenty of talks about puberty and physical/emotional changes while growing up. But the cousins from Guinea… not so much. It wasn’t until the cousins from both sides moved out of a parent-led home that the lack of sexual health education really showed how damaging it could be to someone’s overall health and well-being.

With several college-aged women living together, subjects like periods, cramping, and gynecological visits were open topics of conversation. One Guinean cousin had suffered from terrible cramps since she first started menstruating, and when asked why she had never visited a gynecologist, she simply responded with, “I don’t want to lose my virginity.”

This cousin explained that things like receiving a pap smear or using a tampon would cause someone to “lose their virginity.” Which begged the questions that followed, like, “What is virginity?” “Do you know what your uterus is and what menstruation is?” “Do you understand how birth control works and what it can do for you?”

The West African natives’ only answers were, “I don’t know but I heard birth control makes it to where you can never have kids.” In Africa, Imams (prayer leaders) are the basis of most education. What little sex education exists there is provided by Imams, which is where the cousins learned their misinformation.

“It was then I realized that there is a very large portion of the world being denied comprehensive sex education. We spent hours in our living room debunking all of these misconceptions they were talking about and why they weren’t true. It was a tough conversation to have, but obviously needed.”

Aicha Diop, Teen emPower! Health Educator

This being said, available and provided information in Africa may vary, just like it varies across the United States, and just like it varies across other parts of the world. Comprehensive sex education is critically important for our youth. While the importance of it is still something we are working to help people understand, it is increasingly becoming a more supported idea.

Sexual health education that is comprehensive goes beyond sexually transmitted infections (STIs/STDs), condoms, and birth control. It also involves teaching youth about their anatomy—specifically using medically accurate terminology to explain what is happening to their body—so they know what to expect and how to take care of themselves. It provides a reliable resource for young people to reference for the rest of their lives. To allow young people to believe that they cannot seek out quality care for fear of losing their virginity, or to live their life unknowing of their own bodily processes, is a huge disservice to each of them and to the future of our society.

That is why programs like ours are vital to the optimal health and overall well-being of the communities we live in. We know what can happen when people are deprived of knowledge, and it’s not the future we want for the next generation.

Story by: Aicha Diop