A candid conversation on safe sex can save your teenager’s life

It had been a while since I heard from Janeth, 17, my young sister and a friend from my village I grew up. Our friendship actually started about three years ago at a community-health outreach programme in our village. I remember her telling me that she was inpsired to become a doctor just like me.

Since then, I have always been there for her to offer any advise on her academic issues. But I was surprised, it had been months since she last called. I had a visit due to my village and was hoping to meet her. Unfortunately, upon reaching, I was informed that Janeth passed away due to a complication that resulted from attempting unsafe abortion.

I was very devastated by the news, knowing that the young girl died with her dreams unfulfilled.

In Tanzania, especially in the rural communities, a lot of young secondary school girls are falling out of school on account of unwanted pregnancies. Many others end up with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including AIDS.

There are also reported cases of these young girls dying in the process of procuring abortions due to lack of knowledge of reproductive health issues. In Tanzania sex education is not effectively taught in schools and most parents shy away from sex education often seeing it as a taboo subject.

The end result is that these young girls rely on misguided information from their peers with the resultant effect of unwanted pregnancies and death from illegal abortion.

Many parents believe that adolescents shouldn’t be having sex before marriage. And they believe that sexuality education promotes sex before teenagers are ready.

This myth should be debunked. Providing young people with information about their bodies does not encourage them to have sex before they are ready, instead, it helps them make more responsible choices.

UNESCO reports that young people account for almost 50 per cent of new HIV infections, and in sub-Saharan Africa, young women aged 15–24 are twice as likely as men in the same age range to be living with HIV.

Globally, only 34 per cent of young people can demonstrate accurate knowledge about HIV prevention and transmission. And this is concern.

It’s high time parents should talk to their children about sexuality education and safe sex. Sex education is like any other informal education that no parent should let their children miss. Parents should understand that if you start early enough, your kids won’t think this isn’t about sex or gender; it’s just information, another fact for them to file away with the zillion others they learn every day. Their brains can handle it. Talk with your teen about how to prevent STDs, even if you don’t think your teen is sexually active.

If talking about sex and STDs with your teen makes you nervous, you aren’t alone.

It can be hard to know where to start. But it’s important to make sure your teen knows how to stay safe.

How do I talk with my teen?

These tips can help a parent talk to their teen about safe sex.

• Think about what you want to say ahead of time.

• Be honest about how you feel.

• Try not to give your teen too much information at once.

• Use examples to start a conversation.

• Talk while you are doing something together, like cooking or playing a sport.

• Get ideas from other parents.

• You can also ask your teen’s doctor to talk with your teen about preventing STDs. This is called STD prevention counseling.

The author is a medical doctor based in Dar es salaam