Romantic restraint is an ingredient for success

Continuing with the assumptions of the sequential model, this assumption takes me back to a post I once came across about how black girls are taught from a young age to never be sexually expressive. As young women and girls we are not only taught that our “purity” makes us more valuable, we are taught that this purity is to be reserved for our future husbands and are often shamed for doing otherwise. The 4th assumption in the book entitled ‘A magnifying glass and a fine-toothed comb’: “Romantic restraint is an ingredient for success – sexual expression before completion of education can, and should be wholly controlled by girls and young women”, is not nearly as abrasive but in following through with sequencing, it speaks to abstinence being the key to successfully completing school, getting a job and then getting married, all the while steering clear of unwanted pregnancy and contracting HIV.

A lot of interventions aimed at women and girls give my headaches a headache because they seem to share a focus on policing young women, and can even translate to a rejection of them perceiving themselves as normal sexual beings. Also there is lack of account for sexual violations that are out of their control. How are women meant to be liberated and free when the very interventions made to protect them, dictate how they should live in order to enjoy those freedoms? I mean I know that there are certain things that everyone can’t be protected from but to be told that ensuring your safety means you cannot date because that will put you in danger of possible violence, pregnancy or diseases, that may negatively affect your ability to complete an education, secure a job and get married is outrageous. So control all of this by abstaining and then suddenly be ready for a life with a man?

Image: violet blue/ Flickr

A lot of the conversations around sex make it so ugly that it’s actually a wonder why most girls are confused about how it should fit into their lives – some know they shouldn’t do it until they are at least mature enough to handle the associated consequences, others know that boys and men would do just about anything to get it, but do they all know what a beautiful thing it is as an expression of themselves and would giving them that knowledge early on in life not mean giving them a better chance in protecting themselves? It’s so difficult to balance the value in keeping with our traditions and adaptation to the modern world and this issue starts at home and filters through to our communities. Acknowledging that girls and young women are unwarrantedly and excessively sexualised would go a long way in creating a pathway to enjoying transparency as a means to protecting them, rather than policing them and then leave them with the blame should they not adhere.

Image: Ronen Tivony/ Nur Photo

There is a problem with secrecy versus privacy I think, that minces what could be a positive outcome. We sweep things under the carpet, we don’t talk and we don’t explain – refuse to be questioned, perhaps even embarrassed to be. The world we live in today however demands that we do talk, because do we not all know the power in knowledge? And responses like “That’s what it is” or “That’s how things have always been done by our mothers and their mothers before them”, or better yet, “Don’t question your elders” is not sharing knowledge. I believe there is an untapped power that comes with transparency for our own good, something that will counter the impressionability of young women and girls. Again, instead of trying to convince girls not to have sex or intimate relationships, focus on educating them on how to do it safely, especially considering the motivators around sexual encounters today. The more open discussions are encouraged at home and in our communities, the more comfortable both parents and young girls will be to make use of the services available to them with no shame attached and no judgement for making decisions beneficial for their own lives and futures. A discrepancy relayed in the book really got my attention – young girls have little to no access to contraceptive education and society actually frowns on it. I posted on a group a few months ago about access to safe abortion and some were shocked that a 12 year old, by law has that choice. What of implementation then? At a clinic you are judged by most for even considering having an abortion, even girls that opt to have a baby are vilified at antenatal care clinics for being too young. When teenagers want to use contraceptives they are criticised for it, meanwhile the education system equally refuses to cater to pregnant girls or parenting learners in school. How is the better life on the other end of interventions aimed at girls, promoting keeping them in school, a reality then?

Waiting is great when you do it for yourself and in consideration to your own pace and priorities. I understand the need for principles and upholding them but not at the detriment of young women and especially not when the target is on-sided – focused only on girls as if the choice to have sex is entirely theirs alone to begin with. What is the point of telling girls to preserve themselves when boys are not told the same? Perhaps if the same message was relayed to young men and boys then it could shift the paradigm of their entitlement to women’s bodies as their price. Romantic restraint could be a win when exercised by all youth, and girls would not bear the burden of having to gamble on securing brighter and healthier futures.

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