Sex is

Eight steps to sex­ual self-es­teem

Weekend Witness - - News - STE­VIE JEAN

SEX is beau­ti­ful. I know that’s a con­tro­ver­sial thing to say when for so many in our coun­try it has proved a death sen­tence.

It’s no easy mes­sage for the es­ti­mated two mil­lion chil­dren who have been or­phaned na­tion­ally due to Aids. Or close to 40% of KwaZu­luNatal’s preg­nant women (aged 15 to 49) who are HIV-pos­i­tive. Or the 25% of South African women and 10% of men who have been raped.

But the beauty of sex is an im­por­tant mes­sage to give our young­sters, partly be­cause the 15 to 24 age group is dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected by HIV.

This mes­sage coun­ters the cur­rent one of doom — that sex is dan­ger­ous and can kill. Which, ob­vi­ously, it can and it cer­tainly does. But de­spite high-pro­file cam­paigns plead­ing for ab­sti­nence, con­dom use and faith­ful­ness, new re­search shows the mes­sage doesn’t seem to be get­ting through. The 15 to 24 age group has a high aware­ness of HIV/ Aids yet high-risk sex con­tin­ues un­abated. The age of first sex­ual en­coun­ters is low, hav­ing mul­ti­ple sex­ual part­ners is com­mon, and in­con­sis­tent use of con­doms is wide­spread among our youth. What this in­di­cates is a lack of self-es­teem. Young­sters who value them­selves are less likely to know­ingly put their lives — and oth­ers’ — at risk.

We need to ac­cept that peo­ple — and the youth in par­tic­u­lar — are choos­ing not to ab­stain. And frankly, that’s not sur­pris­ing. For a youth gen­er­a­tion that re­mains largely mired in poverty and eco­nomic im­po­tence, sex pro­vides a bea­con of plea­sure and po­ten­tial love. It of­fers hope for a bet­ter fu­ture. And then there’s the feel-good fac­tor: sex boosts our sense of well­be­ing as it has a myr­iad of health ben­e­fits, such as in­creased im­mu­nity, rais­ing self­es­teem and low­er­ing stress lev­els.

It’s time we faced re­al­ity in­stead of beat­ing our heads against the ab­sti­nence brick wall. Granted, the best way not to be­come in­fected with HIV and other sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases is sim­ply to avoid hav­ing sex (or not to have sex forced upon you — a non-op­tion for many as 28% of men from KwaZulu-Na­tal and East­ern Cape ad­mit­ted to rape, as have one in three Gaut­eng men).

Us­ing con­doms pro­motes safer (but not com­pletely safe) sex, and be­ing faith­ful to your part­ner helps keep your part­ner­ship HIV-free. But in this line of de­fence against Aids, a ma­jor tac­tic is be­ing over­looked — one that pro­motes peo­ple’s sexu- al self-es­teem and em­pow­ers them to en­joy a life of plea­sur­able sex free from guilt, in­ad­e­quacy and ig­no­rance.

To ev­ery neg­a­tive there is a cor­re­spond­ing pos­i­tive. Peo­ple are nat­u­rally op­ti­mistic and hopeful for the fu­ture — their fu­ture. Sex is a nat­u­ral part of this grand plan. But there’s a deaf­en­ing si­lence when it comes to a pos­i­tive ap­proach to build­ing our sex­ual self-es­teem.

This is be­cause, apart from fear be­ing in­stilled about HIV and other STDs (and rightly so), our sex­ual self­es­teem is bat­tered on so many fronts

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