Sex, reproductive health and adolescents is often treated as a taboo subject, but it is something we need to talk about as silence is putting young people at risk.
At a conference organised by EuroNGOs on gender, sexual and reproductive health and rights, held in London, this issue was discussed. The International Planned Parenthood Federation explained that the reluctance to discuss girls’ and young women’s sexuality with them means they’re denied the information and resources they need to make informed decisions to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. It also adds to feelings of shame about their bodies and the view that sex is something to feel guilty about.
Girls and boys in this situation learn about sex from unreliable sources, sometimes from friends, sometimes from the internet and sometimes from experience. There are reputable internet sites with good information, however others contain myths and untruths and some are pornographic. These sites contain information that can lead teenagers to make risky decisions.
Much of this applies to Vietnam. Today’s adolescents in Vietnam have experienced much change in their lives. They grew up with a system of rote learning where authority figures were to be respected. Where families and teachers didn’t and still don’t discuss sexual and reproductive health with adolescents.
The country’s economic growth, increasing free time, easy access to the internet and lifestyle changes mean adolescents have more freedom to meet who they want and do what they want. This combination of cultural change, lack of information, freedom and exposure to unreliable internet sites has contributed to greater sexual risk-taking by Vietnamese adolescents.
This is evidenced by the fact that up to one-third of abortions (Vietnam has one of the highest abortion rates in the world) are sought out by adolescent girls.
In order to help tackle this situation, Save the Children is aiming to pilot a reproductive health education programme in Vietnam, to help teenagers make informed decisions, feel proud of who they are and protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.