I always wonder why sex is a taboo subject even though it is a natural part of human existence. At some point in life, every one of us will have a conversation about it, or most likely engage in it. Despite being aware of sex and the controversies surrounding it, the true dilemma lies in making a personal decision to start engaging in it.

I am part of a generation that grew up with a vague knowledge of sex because nobody spoke about it. I believe the adults failed us by hiding all aspects of sex (or sexuality) by presenting it as a crime. They used cultural norms to persuade us against talk or acts of ‘adult things’. They were especially stern about self-preservation on us (girls) and gradually convinced us to view sexual awareness as shameful. It was in the small things, like being taught to sit with my legs closed, dress to hide my body, and refer to my private area by code names. It progressed to being discouraged from having male friends, and open discussions about sex or sexual health matters were forbidden. Those were all things that would be learnt as ‘adults’ and avoided till then.

I first heard of sex as an urban legend whispered by children on the playground and scribbled on bathroom walls. Although the details of the act were discovered as we progressed in school, it was taught to us as a series of consequences. Teachers, parents, and the community did everything to make the subject uncomfortable and menacing. It had me believing that sex could only bring about shame, STDs, unwanted pregnancy, and so forth. I now understand that this was a tactic used to scare us into abstaining.

As I grew older, I managed to piece together my own understanding of sex through textbook diagrams of sexual organs, cringe-worthy life-orientation lessons and television shows. Yet for the longest time, sex remained a mystery that I was too scared to openly acknowledge.

That all changed in high school, where full details of the act finally poured in from friends and classmates. It was easier for boys to be open to sexual exploration and brag about their escapades. Girls were more quiet and secretive about it, just as we had been groomed. However, it did not stop my closest friends from getting caught up in the euphoria. I spent lunch breaks huddled with them, listening to their sexual experiences. As soon as they became bored of sharing their stories, they began asking for my own. Personally, I was not ready to sexually explore. They turned my hesitation into a joke and I was left out of the lunchtime chit-chat sessions. Sex turned into an overnight rite of passage and I found myself under immense pressure to engage, so I would have something to share. The more I resisted, the more they side-lined me. That was the root of my dilemma.

I remained in a state of conflict for a long time, caught between the fear of sex and the desire to make my friends applaud me. When I did decide to engage in sex, it was based on insecurity, doubt and a lot of misinformation. However, I did not find the unimaginable horrors that the elders had taught me to fear. Nor did I experience the addictive high that friends had told me to expect. It was all new to me but the conflict continued. I still could not openly speak to elders and my friends wanted to feed off more stories than just the one experience. I was plagued by the guilt of failing to preserve myself and pressure to go dangerously wild, just as my friends were doing.

As a last resort, I walked into a clinic for the first time and asked a patient-looking nurse to calmly explain everything about sex to me. The greatest piece of advice she offered me was to consider sex to be a personal journey of exploration. She thoroughly explained the concept of sex, the precautions I have to take to protect myself and how I shouldn’t be ashamed of any aspect of it, and also that I had a right to not engage in sex as well. She did not judge me for exploring or asking questions, especially as a girl. By doing so, she liberated me from the constraints of societal expectations and made sex seem normal. Most importantly, she made me feel comfortable about the topic, something I had been deprived of my entire life.

I am one of many that stomped into adulthood on blind exploration and instinct. I sometimes wonder if people (especially girls) ever find someone to patiently explain sex in a way that allows them to make an informed personal decision about it. In all the chaos and confusion surrounding sex, I am a lot less naive about the decisions I make.