Children's Health HIV and AIDS HIV Prevention Sexuality

Helping adolescents understand themselves Living with AIDS # 524

Written by Khopotso Bodibe

Remember how difficult understanding sexuality and the changes in your body was when you were growing up? Well, today’€™s adolescents go through the same hardships and probably know no better. But help is at hand in a newly published guide that explains the changes and developments in young bodies.

089bfb549b8c.jpg‘€œTell me about… the changes in my body’€ tackles relatively easy to understand developments such as girls developing breasts and boys growing facial hairs. It also discusses teens’€™ sexual development during puberty, which can be embarrassing and difficult to understand. Making use of plain language and cartoons to explain difficult biological processes, the book reaches out to many adolescents who often find themselves alone and confused about the developments that suddenly occur in their bodies. The author, psychologist, Saranne Meyersfeld, says the idea of the book hit her several years ago.  

‘€œKids didn’€™t have anybody to talk to them. So, I thought about that for a long time and thought: How are we going to be able to get past that particular bridge? And everybody loves a cartoon. It makes them laugh. It’€™s funny. They’€™re light-hearted. And, yes, that was my biggest problem. I thought people would say: ‘€˜No, it’€™s too young’€™. But I’€™ve had an amazing reaction, mainly from adolescents, and even teachers, saying ‘€˜fabulous, it doesn’€™t intimidate, it doesn’€™t titillate. It’€™s easy and funny (and) quirky’€, says Meyersfeld.

In a country with a huge AIDS epidemic, Meyersfeld couldn’€™t avoid addressing the issue. Seventeen-year-old Emmanuel says he found the book useful in this regard.

‘€œIt gives us ideas on how to prevent getting STIs and HIV’€, he says.

The safe sex messages were also very important for 18 years-old Vuyisa.

‘€œI want to be honest’€, Vuyisa says ‘€œMost of the boys’€¦ when we have sex’€¦ we don’€™t like condoms. Some of the boys say that when using a condom, there’€™s no feeling. And when you don’€™t use a condom, you don’€™t know what that person has. You just might make her pregnant or get some diseases’€, says Vuyisa.

‘€œUse a condom all the time!’€ , is an important lesson that 18-year-old Jessica has learned from the book. ‘€œBut, then, though, I’€™m not sexually active yet because I’€™m scared. I’€™m not scared of what you go through. I’€™m just scared of getting sick, like HIV. I’€™m so scared of that stuff’€, she adds.

In a world where sex is cool, Meyersfeld also addresses the pressure that often pushes young people into early sexual activity.

‘€œKids today have an enormous problem because they are getting different messages. On the one hand, they’€™re hearing from older people: ‘€˜Don’€™t! You’€™ll get HIV. You’€™re not ready. You don’€™t know about love. Your bodies are ready, but your minds and your hearts aren’€™t’€™. And then you get the other extreme.

The media are saying: ‘€˜It’€™s so cool to have sex. If you don’€™t have sex, you’€™re just not cool’€™. There’€™s always a conflict. And I think it’€™s enormously difficult for kids when they genuinely aren’€™t ready to stay in that place. Often, they’€™re forced into having sex because of the pressure. What I really try to do is to say: ‘€˜You’€™re different. Listen to what’€™s inside. There’€™s always a voice inside that will tell you whether you’€™re right or wrong. Listen to it. (It’€™s) difficult again. I know it’€™s easy to preach’€, Meyersfeld explains.

Jessica nods in agreement with what Meyersfeld says.

‘€œAh – friends are the worst’€¦ Like clothes’€¦ Girls are always like: ‘€˜Ah, if you wear this, then, he’€™ll definitely like you. And, obviously, a girl wants to have a boyfriend. Your friends will always be pushing you. But at the end of the day you’€™re going to be the only one stuck in that bed when he’€™s forcing you. So, you shouldn’€™t listen to your friends. Just do it for yourself. Honestly, friends are bad’€, she adds.

But despite the pressure, sex is a no-go area for Emmanuel.

‘€œHonestly, I’€™m not ready. I’€™m just not ready. Time will tell’€, says the 18-year-old.

Vuyisa tells a rather concerning story of how he was pressured into having sex.

‘€œIt’€™s not only friends. Well, in my situation, it’€™s the family. I have some very naughty uncles. They tell me that ‘€˜it’€™s cool’€™. ‘€˜You feel like a man’€™. But the only thing I’€™m sure of is that I don’€™t want to be a man. Growing up is much (more) fun than being grown up. I’€™ve had sex twice, in fact. And that time I was forced. My uncles brought the girl and the girl really liked me’€, he relates his experience.

Meyersfeld encourages adults to help adolescents navigate through the changes of their sexual development.

‘€œI think the most important thing for a parent or a teacher to do is to say: ‘€˜I understand. Your body is ready. You want to have sex. It’€™s perfectly natural. You’€™re a sexual being’€™. But for the adolescent to actually realise that it’€™s a decision they should make based on their emotional readiness. And I think that’€™s (what) Vuyi was saying. That’€™s exactly what’€™s happening now. His uncles are saying: ‘€˜Come on, man! Be a man! It’€™s fabulous! It’€™s exciting!’€™ And he’€™s going for it. But his heart is saying: ‘€˜I really don’€™t want to do this yet’€™. It’€™s really an important aspect. There are so many different issues that kids have to deal with’€, Meyersfeld says.

‘€œTell me about’€¦ the changes in my body’€ is now available at book stores.

About the author

Khopotso Bodibe