Mavis Mtandeki is utterly convinced of the importance of talking to children about sex.
“We can’t hide just because our parents didn’t want to talk about sex,” she says. “We have to be honest and realistic, AIDS is killing our children, we must talk to them,” she says firmly.
Enjoying a quiet Saturday afternoon at home, Mavis is matter-of-fact and comfortable discussing the subject of sex. Her open attitude and relaxed approach is evident as she ensures that her 15-year old daughter, Noma Afrika, joins us for the interview.
“It’s easier to talk about sex to children today than it used to be,” says Mavis. “Children are being taught about sex at school and even the churches are talking about sex and relationships.”
What did she do to create such an easy, open relationship with her daughter?
“I always knew that there would be a time when Noma Afrika would be interested in boys,” says Mavis. “I was fearful that she would go the same route as me, I wanted her to be aware of the dangers.”
When she was a lot younger, Mavis had realised that the man with whom she was having a relationship was not serious. He promised he would marry her, but he failed to keep his word and she was left with a young son to raise on her own.
Her son has long since left home. Mavis says she was unable to talk to him about sex because he did not live with her throughout his adolescence. “But it is very important for men to sit down and talk directly with their children, especially their sons”.
Not all of Mavis’ friends are as comfortable with the responsibility of talking about sex with their children as she is. A good friend of hers who stays nearby, neglected to talk to her grand-daughter who lives with her and the girl became pregnant.
“When that happened I spoke to my friend and said she should talk openly about these things with her grand-daughter,” says Mavis. However, she adds, the situation was complicated by her friend’s husband who was extremely authoritarian with his grandchild.
“There had been tension between him and his grand-daughter, he was very strict and harsh towards her. There is nothing that beats sitting down and talking about something. This man had been too strong and tough, the result was negative.
“It would have been much better if they had sat down to talk with her and become aware of the problems the girls are facing, rather than laying down the rules.”
Mavis admits to feeling slightly uncomfortable with some of the programmes on television that children are able to watch, but she has a philosophical and pragmatic approach.
“It’s difficult to hide these days. Sometimes I feel very shy that children see these things, but it’s best to talk about it rather than pretend it doesn’t happen.”
Asked what would be the consequences of not talking about sex to teenagers, Mavis is clear and about why she believes in keeping open the channels of communication.
“There are three reasons,” she says. ” Firstly, young people hear things from outside, this information can be difficult to process and understand, so it’s important that I talk to my daughter.
“Secondly, it’s important that people get married and don’t just live to together and thirdly, our young people are at risk of AIDS. We have to sit and talk so they understand about sex and they will be safe.”