Though adolescence is a developmental phase, there is no universally accepted definition for adolescence. However, the World Health Organization defines adolescents as those between 10-19 years of age, and young people as those in the age bracket of 10–24 years of age. Young people under 25 years of age now comprise over half of the world’s population. Adolescents alone make up 20%, with some 85% of these living in developing countries. 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 24 years, and quite a significant number become s£xually active at a very early age.
Adolescence is a transitional period from childhood to adulthood. It is a time when dynamic physical, emotional and social changes take place. Along with the rapid physical changes at the onset of puberty also come emotional changes, such as a greater desire to love and beloved, as well as s£xual desires. All of this is normal.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “A central aspect of being human throughout life encompasses s£x, gender identities and roles, s£xual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. S£xuality is [therefore] experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles, and relationships.
While s£xuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. S£xuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.”
S£xuality is also the way people express themselves s£xually. Understanding s£xuality helps us understand how important s£xual expression is in a person’s life, which in turn influences the partners they choose, the s£xual acts in which they engage, and the level of satisfaction and pleasure they experience.
S£xuality is an important part of being human. It is a complex and interacting group of inborn biological characteristics and acquired behaviors people learn in the course of growing up in a particular family, community and society. Because of the important role s£xuality plays in human life, communication about s£xuality is emotionally charged. S£xual expression is usually regulated by both written and unwritten laws specifying what is acceptable and “normal” and what is unacceptable and “abnormal”. Today young people are being bombarded with conflicting messages about s£xuality from parents, educators, radio, movies, magazines and popular music.
Unfortunately, parents do not usually talk to their children openly about love,s£x, s£xuality and contraception because they fear it would encourage them to be s£xually active – and because of their own lack of information. Because parents are mostly silent, adolescents rely on their peers as well as on sources like videos and magazines for information for s£xual matters and very often this information is inaccurate, confusing, misleading and sometimes completely false. Decisions about s£x have far-reaching consequences. Understanding the basic facts about s£x, pregnancy and childbirth will help young people make intelligent decisions that are right for them.
A healthy s£xual life for a young person requires many things. Among of them some of them are:
· having the necessary information to know the difference between fact and fiction with regard to s£xual behavior
· knowing how to express s£xual feelings in ways that are not harmful to oneself or to anyone else
· knowing how to ignore pressure from others
· knowing how to say “No, I amnot ready for s£x”
· Knowing the potential consequences of unprotected s£xual intercourseand how to avoid those outcomes before acting on s£xual feelings.
However, many young people become s£xually active without sufficient knowledge about s£x, reproduction and contraception or their rights and responsibilities as a s£xually active person. Even though a lot of information is available, a great deal of ignorance and misinformation on s£xual matters continues to exist among young people.
The result for many young people is:
§ The early onset of s£xual activity
§ Having multiple s£xual partners
§ S£xually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS
§ Unwanted pregnancy
§ Low use of contraceptives
§ A greater risk of violence within a s£xual relationship
§ A limited ability to negotiate for safer s£xual practices
§ A greater use of harmful practices, such as a self-induced abortion
§ Having s£x for financial/material gain
This makes the role of peer educators even more crucial. The level of awareness of adolescents of the above listed reproductive health conditions may differ depending on their age and exposure.