Nigeria Has A Sex Education Problem

June 17 9 min read

Let us start with the story of a twenty-year-old woman trying to care for her sexual health in Western Nigeria. Abike* studies at one of the premier universities in the country. She grew up in a fairly conservative but rich family and got very little education about sex from her parents. In her family, sex was like a beloved hat you kept locked away until it was time to get married and then, you whip it out, dust it off and realise it fits perfectly! 

Abike knew she wanted to take her hat out before getting married, maybe even try on different hats. She wanted to have sex, to explore, and she wasn't willing to wait for “I do” to do that. However, she was smart enough to know she had to do it responsibly, safely. So she turned to Google and her most sensible friends before deciding - for her particular situation - that getting an IUD was the way to go.

Now, you have to understand this decision in itself was an unusual one. For many sexually active youths in Nigeria, the extent of their contraceptive use and knowledge is condoms or plan B pills, if that. So it’s rare for a woman to seek out long-term contraception like pills or IUDs. 

Abike's close friend, Chigozie* wanted to join the safe sex mission, so they hatched a plan to go to their university’s teaching hospital to ask a professional about their options. They were feeling nervous but excited: making a responsible decision about their sex lives felt good! They didn't know what they were about to walk into.

They asked the nurse for an appointment to see the family planning doctor. Instead, they were met with an unforgiving and cold wall of judgment. After discovering their age, the nurse's face had soured before she launched into a long lecture on how they were too young to be having sex and they should go “face their studies” (a typical comeback for every older Nigerian who decides a young person is going astray.) Suffice it to say, they left feeling really stupid and confused. Here they were thinking that they were the absolute hot sh*t, making such a grown-up decision only to have it trivialized by actual grown-ups. 

Their experience became even more poignant when, a few weeks after, Chigozie got pregnant. It was so frustrating because they knew it could have been avoided. She decided to abort it. It was a very hard decision for her to make, and one that she felt would stay with her for the rest of her life. The sad part was: it was easier to get rid of the unwanted pregnancy than it was to stop the pregnancy from happening in the first place. 

Youth Advocates for Sustainable Development

Chigozie’s experience is not an isolated case here, where almost a quarter of women have begun childbearing by age nineteen. But this is not to say that there aren’t hospitals and health centres that welcome young women and get them the help they need. Abike did get her IUD in the end. Years later, in another city, in another hospital, where the staff were courteous and helpful. 

Since not everybody goes to school, the onus falls on the parents to nail the birds and the bees talk. But if you ask an average Nigerian youth if their parents ever did have “the talk” with them, the answer will either be a flat out no or if they have received any sexual education, it would be sorely inadequate. Sexual matters are often shrouded in secrecy, and people just aren’t willing to talk about it openly. One reason for this is that many worry teaching young people about sex will encourage them to have it. But in a place with the world’s largest youth population, not educating has dire consequences.

If most Nigerian parents had their way, their kids would be sexually repressed throughout their young lives and then suddenly blossom into a beautiful sexually awakened flower once they're married. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing; many take this route because of cultural and religious beliefs, which is absolutely fine. But preaching abstinence doesn’t mean sex isn’t going to happen, and when it does, young people should have more than a dusty hat to go on. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone, parents inclusive, if those kids have all the information and support to make safe and informed decisions about their sexual lives? 

After Abike got her IUD put in she found guys would automatically lose interest. They thought “only whores or sexually promiscuous girls go for long term contraceptives", instead of seeing a woman making the best decision for herself. Around here, young guys are the sexually irresponsible bunch most of the time. They prefer not to use any protection, leaving the young woman with all the responsibility. But the same guy that will judge her for using contraception will also judge her for getting pregnant. It's ridiculous!

It seems there is a long way to go before true sexual enlightenment can be achieved in the world, especially in this corner of it. The only thing that can be done right now is to take little steps, chip at the problems one piece at a time. Today’s step could be having that all-important talk with your kids. Know that comprehensive education makes students more confident in refusing unwanted sex, has been shown to increase the use of condoms and reduce rates of teen pregnancies and STIs. Young people need the chance to learn to make decisions for themselves, not only to avoid stigma. Community groups like Youth Advocates for Sustainable Development (YAFSD) and Nigeria Health Watch are creating safe spaces for young people to be open about their sexuality and their deepest sexual fears, but more is needed. 

Who knows, maybe one day, we will find ourselves living in a world where a baby doesn’t need to be aborted because someone decided to let their personal beliefs get in the way of doing their jobs.

*Names have been changed to protect their identities

« Ojus is a creative writer, he is passionate about sex and relationships and writes about them any chance he gets. He believes someone somewhere is reading and it is affecting the way they think, for the better of course. He loves to swim, bake, and cook. You can read some of my other works here: » All posts →