“Mummy, what is the meaning of the word sex?” a six year-old boy asked his mother. These are the exact words that welcomed Costance Ainebyoona as she entered her house from work, one fine Wednesday, in 2016. Ainebyoona, a mother of three, says she was dumbfounded. “This was not a usual welcome. Even when I tactfully ignored the question, this boy kept on asking the same question. I wondered where he had learnt the word from,” says Ainebyoona.
Ainebyoona says she and the husband are very careful about what their children watch on television and monitor the environment at home. But she says she could not believe what her boy had mentioned. “What more did he know? I kept wondering what he was told. But my greatest worry was how to explain the concept of sex to this young boy. How easy was that going to be?” she wondered.
She promised her son that she was going to look up the word in a dictionary and she would explain to him its meaning, the following day. In response, the boy boldly told his mother to search for the meaning of the word rape as well. The same day, when she was taking the children to sleep at night, the four-year-old girl asked her mother why she was forcing her to sleep alone in her bed, yet she slept with her father in the same bed everyday.
“It is at this point that I realised that my children were not young anymore. Everyday, my children came up with new and shocking questions. I did not know how to deal with this. At night, I had a chat with my husband and told him what had transpired. He too could not believe his ears. He thought the children were too young to learn about sex,” Ainebyoona narrates.
The couple, after a long night of discussion, agreed to open up to the children about sex and promised not to tell them any lies. She confesses that she spent the whole night reading about how to introduce sex education to her children. She found many articles that were helpful.
“Even after gathering the courage and doing some research, I felt these were very strong words to explain to my children. My mother and father never taught me anything about sex when I was growing up. How was I going to do this? I am a confident person, talking to my children about sex seemed like an uphill task,” she confesses.
The following night, after dinner, Ainebyoona says she had a chat with her children and gave them the answers they sought. She, however, says that she found subtle words to use. From that day on, she decided to always have an open discussion with her children, especially on matters related to sex, no matter how difficult they seemed.
Ainebyoona’s story is not an isolated case. Many parents wake up to unusual questions from their children everyday. While most of them ignore the questions, some do open up. Some parents are shy and some do not know how to go about this subject completely.
The 21st century has brought with it technology and television programmes that seem to expose children to issues about sex at a very young age.
Just like Ainebyoona’s parents, most Ugandan parents find it a taboo to talk about sex to their children. Sex talk seems to be a preserve for adults, which makes it difficult to teach sex education.
Sex education involves teaching children about human sexuality, including intimate relationships, human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexually transmitted infections, sexual activity, consent, sexual orientation, abstinence, contraception and reproductive rights and responsibilities.
Counsellors reveal that parents should begin sexual education for their children as early as three years, given that about that age, children start going out of home.
When did you talk to your children about sex?
I started telling my children about sex when they were 12 years old. I used the Ten Commandments in the Bible to teach them how to fear God and the importance of being well mannered. I taught them never to give up even when the life got harder. I taught them to pray for God’s provision to prevent men from manipulating them by using insignificant gifts. This is what I learnt from my mother. Women in the village fear to share this information with their children because their relationship with God is not strong enough. A child who is God fearing is easy to teach sex education.
Lydia Nyesigomwe Parenting Counsellor
I have three biological children and six adopted ones. The youngest is graduating this year. I have 33 years of parenting. When we talk of sex education, you have to start talking to them when they are in the pre-teenage stage, which is also very late because this helps them understand and avoid sex abusers.
You should target this age group because there is a lot of information in the electronic media and print media. That is why we have to give age-appropriate information because we have children developing breasts at eight years. It is better to talk to them than keeping quiet.
But culture hinders most parents from giving their children this information. Most parents fear to tell their children about this because they feel it is taboo, hoping that schools, Sengas, teachers and house girls will do the job. Parents also lack information on how to do it.
They lack the time to talk to their children. Most of them do not have a close relationship with their children, making it harder to talk about topics like sex education. I urge parents not to delegate this responsibility but embrace it and open up to their children on all matters concerning sex education.
Kate Muleera Retired administrator
I have five children; three boys and two girls. I introduced sex education to them in Primary Seven after realising that they were going into a free world where I would no longer have control over them. I did not introduce the subject to them directly. But the era of HIV/Aids gave me a starting point.
I found subtle ways of telling them that when they get pregnant, I would know that they had unprotected sex and chances of them contracting HIV/Aids and sexually transmitted diseases were very high. This is not an easy task for a mother but I was lucky my husband was a teacher, who did not shy away from such conversations.
As you might be aware, children are not free with their mothers. But they are free with aunties and grandmothers because they assume mothers are very strict and are disciplinarians. This is one of the biggest challenges mothers face. However, we must arm children with this information without fear.
Christine Nabwiso Retired Administrator
I started when the children were 12 years. I explained to them how they were going to become women and the awaiting responsibilities irrespective of who they were talking to. I taught them responsibilities of mothers and married women. I opened up about the difference between a boyfriend and the husband and how each one of them is supposed to be treated. It told them that having a boyfriend was not a ticket to indulge in sex.
I told them to examine the boy and be sure he is ready to become a father and a husband. I taught my daughters that they could only have sex after marriage. I would joke with them every holiday and asked them whether they have been seduced by boys. My daughters and I are very close and they would open up about literally, everything. I am very free with them and they even tell me when a man tries to seduce them, their reaction and what he bought for them.