When I turned eighteen years old, I made the decision to be sexually active. I had the events logically planned out. It would happen a few days after my final matric exams. Prior to that, I would go to the clinic to insert a three-year birth control implant. I didn’t want to be one of those teenagers who fell pregnant while under the care of their parents. I would be different. I would be more responsible.
Sexual intimacy is something I’ve always dreaded. The rate of teenage pregnancy is skyrocketing and so is the spread of disease. I had avoided it because I didn’t want to be another statistic just because I wasn’t patient enough for the right moment.
When is the moment right? Is there ever a right moment? I would ask myself occasionally. Whether I did it now, or in five years’ time, what difference would it make?
I was venturing into the unknown. I was consumed by gut-wrenching fear. I was scared that people’s perception of me would be distorted. They would perceive me as an immoral girl because I’d lost my virginity. That is how I was raised. That is what I was taught at home and in religious institutions; that sex is sacred and should be reserved for that one special person, that person who would be at your side until the end.
I was frightened that I would not see the gates of heaven because of my hasty decision. More than that, I was scared that my mother would inevitably notice the change in her daughter and be filled with disappointment.
The moment of truth grew closer. I found myself having to answer the most important question of all: Why did I want to do this? Even my exam questions weren’t as challenging! All of my close friends had sexual encounters to brag about and I always felt a bit out of place. I could never contribute to the conversations.
When I communicated my fears to the person who I was meant to be intimate with he said we didn’t have to do it if I felt uncomfortable. But I maintained that I wanted to do it. I didn’t want him to perceive me as a frightened little girl who was unsure of herself. I was a woman who would stand firm by her decision, someone willing to “strengthen” the relationship.
There was no one to reassure me that I was making the right decision. No one was there to answer all of my questions. Questions like, what are the emotional consequences of having sex? Does having sex alter a person’s physical appearance? So, I turned to Google, the bearer of all answers. Google provided me with the side effects of the birth control implant: weight gain, dizziness and depression. The thought of self-imposed depression placed me into a state of paralysis.
I contacted a friend who had gone through the implant insertion procedure. She explained that side effects vary from person to person. She also advised that I go to the nearest clinic to have the procedure done.
I awoke on a Friday morning and headed to the clinic. Guilt was a willing companion. When I arrived at the clinic, I was met with older women who were breastfeeding their babies in the waiting room. I felt as if I didn’t belong. I did not picture myself as a mother or a young woman who frequented the clinic to get her birth control. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to handle such a commitment.
After a while a nurse called me into a room. She asked if I’d ever been on the injection and whether I’d been tested for HIV. I responded with a no to both questions. She proceeded to say that in order to insert the implant, I would need to try out the 3-month injection first. Without giving it much thought, I agreed.
I returned to the waiting area but I was suddenly overcome with doubt. If I had been afraid of inserting the implant, how could I be so comfortable with getting the injection? It didn’t feel right. I wasn’t Shirley anymore. The Shirley I knew would never entertain thoughts of sexual intercourse. She would’ve been at home buried in the pages of a book. I made up my mind that I wasn’t ready for the injection, the implant or any other prevention. I walked into the nurse’s office and asked for my clinic card back.
After thinking about it, I realised I wasn’t ready for prevention, and not being ready for prevention meant I wasn’t ready to be sexually active. I also realised that perhaps my decision to be sexually active was informed by the wrong reasons.
I might not have followed through on the decision, but I know that one day I will. When that day comes, I would have thrashed all the misconceptions surrounding sexual intercourse. I would have also gathered sufficient information to make my experience a fulfilling one. Having sex is a personal decision that shouldn’t be influenced by societal views. The idea of doing it because everyone else is shouldn’t be a reason either. Sit down and ask yourself, “Why do I want to do this?” When you have an answer that isn’t encouraged by peer pressure or fear of societal judgement, you’ll know that you’ve made the right decision.
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