Yesterday, I wrote a blog post on why I chose abstinence when I was younger. It was 2005, I was 22, a senior in college, and nowhere near ready for life after graduation. At the time, I knew I wasn’t the only virgin out there and I was coming across many young people who were in the same boat as myself. I thought, however, that it was a huge deal to write openly about being abstinent as a younger person because it seemed to me at that time that virginity was something that was laughable, especially while in college. I remember getting emails from parents applauding me for writing about it, but instead of pointing out the decision making that took place in order for me to get to that point in my life, they turned the experience to focus more on religion and waiting to have sex when you’re married because one couldn’t possibly decide to wait for sex for other reasons besides marriage (which is another blog post entirely).
I’m a huge proponent for waiting until you’re ready (physically, emotionally, mentally) to have sex, and this goes to both young people and adults. It allowed me to get to know myself better and it prepared me for being able to articulate my likes and dislikes to future boyfriends. I’m also a big supporter of energy and how it’s exchanged whenever we have a connection (physical and otherwise) with someone else. To get on my soapbox for a bit, I believe that people should make the decisions for themselves that are tangible and makes the most sense for them. Though I will follow that up by also saying that people should also consider (and I’m about to use a highly-charged religious word here) being more discerning about who they decide to share intimate moments with as well as take their time when it comes to getting to know someone. For every person out there who leaves because you wanted to wait to have sex, there will another person who will appreciate you for it.
[/end soapbox talk]. Though I probably sounded more philosophical than I was at that time, I tend to smile whenever I read that original blog post because not much of my thinking has changes in the years since it was written.
Today’s post is about how we make decisions, especially when it comes to our sexual health and wellness, and how much influence a variety of factors play into those decisions.
We oftentimes walk the line between common sense and taking risks, and in reading tweets on Twitter, newsfeeds of Facebook, and in person-to-person communications with acquaintances, friends, and young people, I sometimes have to remind myself that it’s 2011. In the years since the first reported case of HIV, I would think people would have a better understanding of the virus. I’m also thinking that people would know that they have options when it comes to pregnancy (either carrying to term, terminating, or utilizing adoption). But it seems that people are still making the same unsafe decisions as our parents and possibly our grandparents were making before us. These are some of the factors I contribute to why we are still making the same decisions when it comes to our sexual health:
The invincibility factor– It’s like that 6 degrees of separation theory. You may know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone…and it continues. People tend to learn more and are able to make better choices when they are aware of someone who has contracted an STI or has gotten pregnant. And then again, there are people who still believe that it wouldn’t happen to them.
The media– With such a huge influence, the media can often decide for us what’s cool, how to dress, what to eat, etc. Whether lyrics to rap songs or television shows and movies that depict sex and sexuality influence us into making decisions about our health is debatable, I often wonder if practicing safer sex would be more popular if we heard more songs about wrapping it up and using birth control, or if we saw more of our favorite actors and actresses promoting condom use and partner communication in their shows and films. Let’s not forget advertising. If you have these anti-abortion billboards targeting Black women tell it, we are becoming more and more irresponsible and are having more abortions compared to any other race of women. And many of these billboards are in neighborhood where one doesn’t really watch the news. Billboards can often be a way for people in general to know what’s going on in their communities, and oftentimes we don’t question what we see.
Peer pressure– This doesn’t just affect young people. You may have girlfriends who will advise you not to have sex without a condom, but the guy may be pressuring you to do (insert XYZ task that he states will make him stay interested in you), or even your friends may pressure you to do something that you don’t want to do in order to keep someone interested.
Lack of adequate information– I went to a talk recently held by a professor at Columbia University. He’s the clinical director of a health clinic in Harlem that services young people (primarily of color). During a workshop, he stated that a young person asked him if the “earwax test” works in determining if a girl has an STI. Now, this myth has been around for years, but it speaks to some of the common misinformation that’s still out there. I give credit to the young person for even asking the professor because it shows that the young person was willing to learn more, yet there are still a lot of people today who either genuinely don’t know but what to know, or they don’t want to know and really don’t care if they have their facts straight. From having sex with two condoms to believing that a girl is protected from pregnancy if she has sex during her menstrual cycle, there are still common misconceptions out there that need to be addressed, and if we don’t address them, we’ll have another generation of young people who will continue to try out the earwax test (and if you don’t know what the earwax test is, it’s probably a good thing that you don’t. And if you do know, I hope that you didn’t allow someone to test it out on you.)
Lack of access to quality healthcare – Given that some states are doing whatever they can to make sure that health service centers such as Planned Parenthood lose their funding, many women and girls who rely on these service centers are often faced with having to go to clinics and hospitals that are ill-equipped to provide them with the most adequate healthcare and information. And for young people on college campuses, many are dealing with inadequate campus health centers as well.
I’ve discovered more about myself in the last several years. Even though I never had any focused discussions on sex and sexuality with my parents, I managed to avoid some of the pitfalls that many women and young girls face today, and it’s one of the reasons I do what I do. Whether it’s for religious reasons or because you just feel like getting back to the essence of yourself, waiting for sexual activity can help you become better at decision making when it comes to your health. And when you decide that you’re ready, don’t forget the condoms (both male and female…but not both at the same time) and have a discussion about birth control options with a trusted healthcare provider as well. And don’t forget about partner communication before anything takes place.