Why African parents cant talk about Sex

Do you recall watching a movie
with your parents, talking and
laughing, when suddenly a sex
scene comes on which seems to
drag on forever? That awkward
silence as everyone tries to find
the remote control, ashamed to
be in the presence of such a
Advertising and Hollywood
movies proliferate ideas of sex
yet traditional African parent
still treat the act as a taboo
topic, one which is not to be
discussed with teenagers
That happened too often in my
household. Nollywood movies were
family-bonding sessions. However,
when Nollywood went Hollywood, I
ceased watching movies with my
parents. It was more for their sake,
because I didn’t want them to feel
embarrassed. Sex was the unspoken
taboo that nobody dared to mention,
so watching it was a silent
abomination. It was easier to act
like it didn’t exist.
Sex education
However it did and it does exist. We
are a sexually charged generation, in
a society where sex is at the
forefront of everything that sells. Sex
is the universal act that triggers a
common feeling amongst people,
whether in the Bandundu region of
Congo or in metropolitan cities like
London. So why have some of our
African parents avoided teaching us
this very important thing whilst
growing up? Why is it an unspoken
rule not to mention sex in a sex-
saturated world? How do we learn
without being taught?
There is an African proverb that
goes: ‘It takes a whole village to
raise a child’, but we all know that
education first begins at home. So if
our parents don’t teach us about
sex, then ultimately we will learn it
elsewhere, to our detriment or not. I
always say a lesson hard learned
should teach a person not to make
the same mistake twice, but what do
you do when that mistake stays with
you for life? And who is to blame?
Sex education at school was the first
and only time some of us received it.
Some of us in our twenties are still
waiting to have that ‘talk’ with our
parents. Many will die waiting.
As a Congolese woman I’ve noticed
that there is a culture of silence
amongst my community with the
older generation on grave matters,
such as sex or domestic violence, in
order to preserve cultural survival
and continuity. Nobody wants to be
the one who appears to be different
and be used as the example that
other people in the community talk
about. “We’re not white, we don’t do
things how they do”, I’ve often heard
said. If we were to break the silence
and speak out, it would almost be
like disrupting the harmony of the
nest: so we remain quiet and act
like we have no senses.
As second generation Congolese
children growing up in the UK, many
of us adopt this culture of silence
with our parents. When we need
them the most during those crucial
transitioning stages in our lives,
when our curiosity is enticed and we
begin to develop sexual desires, we
don’t even think to raise the subject
with them. They’ve never spoken
about it to us or made it
approachable, so it becomes an
uncomfortable subject between both
parties. However, I believe parents
need to ask themselves, are we really
preserving cultural identity by
keeping quiet about sex before
marriage? Young people are having
sex outside of marriage regardless
and sexually-transmitted infections
and teenage pregnancies are
rampant in our community. So who
is to blame for this?
Prevention is better than
intervention but refusing to speak to
your children about sex will not
prevent them from having sex. The
titillating unknown might even
become a catalyst for uninformed
and unprotected experimentation.
Some parents will only know their
children have been having sex when
a daughter falls pregnant out of
wedlock or a son admits to getting
someone pregnant. Meanwhile, many
choose to believe their godly sons
and daughters, who attend church
every Sunday and Wednesday and
youth groups on Fridays, are still
These parents leave it to their
pastor to preach to their children.
But too many of us have been cowed
by – and cocooned in – the church,
with the result that we don’t have
the courage to say anything.
Fornication is wrong and we should
be ashamed of it. Imagine how a
sheltered 16-year-old girl who
attends a youth group at church
must feel if she falls pregnant? She’s
the Devil’s child, that’s what we’re
made to believe.
But she’s merely a sexual being who
– out of curiosity – felt compelled to
explore her sexual desires, and
things might have been different
had she been better informed. I’m
sure some of our adults
experimented with the condom when
it was first invented – You mean I
can have sex and there’s something
that can actually prevent me from
getting pregnant??? – As we know in
African culture back then, getting
pregnant outside of wedlock was the
ultimate shame.
Zero tolerance
I remember that a few girls I knew
growing up became pregnant (really
young, about 14 or 15) and were sent
back to Africa (no mercy, zero
tolerance). At the time, I blamed the
girls for their stupidity but later, as
a grown-up, I blamed the parents for
failing to educate their daughters.
Punishing children for having sex,
because you didn’t think it
appropriate to talk to them about
sex, only creates an even greater
division between parents and their
children. When you don’t mention
something for so long, it becomes
ever harder to have the sort of
relationship where you can mention
it. So what is it about our parents
that they choose to ignore this
important part of our lives? And only
feel it’s relevant to speak to their
children about it after they get
Some of our parents will have
spoken about boyfriends/girlfriends
but would never even mention sex.
Did they choose to ignore this
aspect of life or were they simply
hopeful that we would wait until
marriage? I decided to do a Google
search to see if I can find any online
articles regarding attitudes towards
sex amongst the African community
and most of the articles I came
across led to HIV/AIDS. The scare
factor dominates the education
factor. Yes diseases exist, but how
can we explain to our children about
diseases if we don’t talk to them
about the act of sex?
When is the best time to talk our
children about sex? Is it when they
start playing mummy and daddy with
their dolls? Or perhaps it’s when
they hit puberty, or maybe it’s when
they meet their first boyfriend or
girlfriend. The lucky ones might get
it the night before their wedding.
The best time for our parents, it
seems, is no time at all.
We need to re-evaluate the way we
address this issue of sex in the
younger generation because, among
other things, the world as it stands
gives us easy access to so many
Last summer, I was in Kinshasa,
Congo, for the first time and was
shocked at the extent of the Western
influence. It made me realise how
African culture is developing, mixing
what we have traditionally known as
“African” with what we previously
associated only with the West.
Older Africans who moved from Africa
to the UK (or other parts of the
West) still cling to the mentality of
‘being back home’ and to what their
parents taught them, but what they
need to understand is that their
children are being born into a
completely different culture. If these
children have never lived back home,
they cannot do things according to
how they’re done back home.
Communication is the key to any
relationship, and in order to have a
better relationship and trust,
parents need to speak to their
children about sex before anyone
else does. Talking about it with your
kids might not deter them from
having sex, but it might forestall a
lot of headaches and irredeemable
situations. Cultural survival and
continuity can still exist if we
educate our kids in line with the
society we live in.
Of course, as a friend of mine
pointed out, an adult must be
equipped to have a conversation
about sex with their child, and
parenting classes might be a good
idea for parents. But how many
parents would like to attend this
type of class?