From Federal Way to Africa: Universal fears about sexuality

I recently had the privilege of being invited to visit a country in Africa to lead a comprehensive and inclusive sexuality training.

The local leaders were adamant that they wanted this training for their employees, even though the politics, culture and religious beliefs of those who would be attending the training were very conservative.

The experience exceeded all our expectations, and I was left thinking about how many fears around sexuality issues are universal.

Let’s compare.

Small African province: Many parents are afraid to discuss sexuality with their children.

Federal Way (and every other town in the U.S.): Many parents are afraid to discuss sexuality with their children.

Small African province: Many parents and other adults are afraid that if they discuss sexual behavior with their young people, then their teens will want to go have sex (and the unspoken hope is that if they don’t talk about it, then the teens won’t have sex).

Federal Way (and every other town in the U.S.): Many parents and other adults are afraid that if they discuss sexual behavior with their young people, then their teens will want to go have sex (and the unspoken hope is that if they don’t talk about it, then the teens won’t have sex).

Small African province: The above, of course, is not true. When sexual behavior is not discussed, some young people still have sex, are involved in creating unintended pregnancies and have limited options that often impact education and employment opportunities.

Federal Way (and every other town in the U.S.): The above, of course, is not true. When sexual behavior is not discussed, some young people still have sex, are involved in creating unintended pregnancies and have limited options that often impact education and employment opportunities.

Small African province: HIV continues to be a challenge, even though we now know how to prevent and treat it to the point it is undetectable and untransmissible.

Federal Way (and every other town in the U.S.): HIV continues to be a challenge, even though we now know how to prevent and treat it to the point it is undetectable and untransmissible.

Small African province: Sexual activity between same-sex people is illegal and can result in arrest and imprisonment, even though many other places have legalized same-sex marriage and have research showing the complexity of gender from in utero through adulthood is so much more complex than a simple binary of “male” and “female.”

Federal Way (and every other town in the U.S.): LGBTQ people continue to be stigmatized and marginalized, even though we have legalized same-sex marriage and have research showing the complexity of gender from in utero through adulthood is so much more complex than a simple binary of “male” and “female.”

When we look at all these issues together, one thing that stands out is a common denominator of fear: fear that information and access to education and services will create unsafe and undesirable behavior.

What I know from years of experience is that the opposite is more common. When we create safe spaces for people to learn and talk about their bodies, health, identities and feelings, they are relieved and end up making safer choices.

When we provide accurate medical information, answer questions without shame and judgment, and draw the parameters of our community wide, people are transformed in positive ways.

When we realize that if we remain silent, we are part of the problem, then we know we need to do something else.

That is when I hear things like, “I see. If we want our young people to make good decisions, healthy decisions, then we need to give them the information they need to do that.”

When we are brave enough to listen, be honest, and be available, we can change whatever part of the world we happen to be in.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer and educator in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of three books and facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area. Amy specializes in sexuality education and in promoting safe and healthy sexuality culture in faith communities. All opinions are her own. Amy can be reached at comments@diligentjoy.com.

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