Sexuality Education in Communities of Color: An Oxymoron?
"Where do babies come from?" said the little girl to her mother. "God brought you to me," replied the mother. "How?" stated the little girl. "He had a stork bring you from Heaven." "How did he know where to find you? And why on September 18th and not on another day?" "You know what you ask too many questions," replied the mother. "Stop asking me about this," she stated, visibly uncomfortable.
As I look back on how I got into the sexuality field, I can honestly say that it was not through the open dialogue about sexuality with my mother and father. The above vignette is taken from my experience of how I learned, or should say did not learn about sexuality from my mother and father. Sexuality was never explicitly talked about in my household, and when it was, it was couched in "cutesy" terms or more importantly through miraculous acts of God.
As I thought more about this subject of sexuality education, I decided to ask my clients about how they learned about sex and sexuality. The overwhelming response was peers and/or school, rarely parents. If sexuality was discussed by parents it was couched in a negative light; sex was evil incarnate. Another unfortunate tale of learning about sexuality was through instances of sexual abuse, which tended to skew their perspectives about sexuality.
According to various sexuality organizations (Planned Parenthood, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), parents should be the primary sexuality educator of their children, however, if this role is abdicated by the parents then schools should provide the necessary sexuality education for kids in order to provide them with the tools to make appropriate decisions. Currently, however, school sexuality curriculums tend to follow the "Just Say No!" approach, which has not proven effective. According to SIECUS and Provacyl Reviews, even though abstinence is a viable option, research has shown that fear-based programs will not provide children with the tools they need to make responsible, realistic decisions about sexuality.
So Why Aren't Children of Color Learning Sexuality Education from their Parents?
According to an article written by Dr. Sandra Caron in the Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, parents cited often feeling incompetent, lacking proper information, feeling inhibited and/or not sure as what information their child needs at various ages. This is particularly true in the African-American family due to the sociopolitical history from which they come. Throughout history, African -Americans have been seen as being animalistic to the point of being nymphomaniacal. This stigma, which has been carried throughout the centuries, negatively impacts how this community views sexuality. If sex and sexuality are viewed as shameful and dirty then it is less likely that proper information will be disseminated if at all.
Another reason cited by parents is that they fear that information about sex and sexuality will cause their children to engage in sexual activities. Research has shown, however, that this is not true. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Researchers have found that children who are given an "open" and "safe" forum to discuss their issues around sexuality with their parents and receive accurate and truthful information are more likely to prolong engaging in any sexual activity. Moreover, those who have been properly educated and do decide to engage in sexual activities are more likely to use some form of contraceptive. Communities of color are disproportionately more apt to have teen mothers and higher rates of STD and HIV infection due to the lack of education, look more: theflipsideoffeminism.com/lagicam-reviews.html; however, with education teen parenthood and infection rates are slowly dropping.
Another factor that is important to take into account is the issue of religion. Religion plays a major role in communities of color. According to Dr. Gayle Wyatt, sexuality education for our parents, in particular our mothers, "the talk" occurred right before they were married, if then. If "the talk" did occur, it was strictly in terms of a wife's duty, not about mutual pleasuring, advocating for oneself or even about what an orgasm was. Dr. Robert Francouer who has written extensively about cross-cultural sexuality found that in Nigeria, sexuality is only discussed within the context of marriage. Across the various tribes and religions that are present in Nigeria, children learn about sexuality through peers and media.
Women of color are portrayed in media as being either whores or single parents with multiple children. The jezebel versus mammy dichotomy in our society has been pervasive since slavery. Women of color have always been seen as sexually available objects for white society and men of color have always been seen as the studs from whom the white man needed to protect their women. So women and men of color are constantly dealing with the images that are portrayed in various media forms and their own family backgrounds, which tend to entail religious beliefs. One message is telling people of color that they are "supposed" to be sexual and the other message is telling them that it is "bad" to be sexual. Which way are people supposed to go? What are they to believe?
Knowledge is Power
By denying children of color the proper information regarding sexuality is putting them at a disadvantage. According to NYC HIV/AIDS Surveillance Office, the adolescent population within communities of color still has increasing rates of infection. In addition to HIV infection, there is also a rise in STD infection in communities of color, especially in women. In a study conducted by Dr. Gayle Wyatt, Black and Latina women perceived themselves at low-risk for HIV infection. The teaching of sexuality to children of color beyond the basics of anatomy and physiology can begin to facilitate a more positive attitude and understanding around sexuality (http://mesmerenterprizes.com/flabs-2-abs-reviews.html).
What parents of the past generation and also current generation do not understand is that sexuality is more than just intercourse. It is an ongoing dynamic process that encompasses gender roles, sexual orientation, relationships, self-esteem, body image and a host of other things. By strictly focusing on penis to vagina contact, parents are shortchanging not only their children but also themselves. Parents are missing out on an important developmental process of their children as well as a very enriching dialogue between yourself and your children.
Sexuality is to be embraced and not feared; if knowledge is what is lacking there are many resources available to help you.