How did you learn about sex? Was it through the good old ‘birds and the bees’ conversation with your parents? Maybe it was in biology where you were asked to put a condom over a test tube or through a cartoon series about puberty? For some of you, maybe it was just through trial and error.
I guess you might be wondering how I developed my knowledge of sex. Let’s just say, I’m Nigerian and did not think about boys until I graduated from university - hey mum, hey dad!
There are177 billion health searches on Google in a year
There is extensive evidence to suggest that rather than getting their sex education at school, young people are obtaining their information online. This is not a surprise. Google is said to have about 2.54 trillion searches a year, with 7% of the daily searches being health related. To put this into context, that is over 177 billion health searches on Google in a year. When we feel that things aren’t quite right – we turn to Dr Google, frantically scrolling through pages of information in a bid to find a diagnosis for the symptoms we have.
The world is evolving. The digital era we live in means that we have a vast amount of information at our fingertips. We have gone from obtaining our information through visiting libraries and trawling through pages of books to voice activated helpers such as Alexa and Siri.
Digital Sex Education
Pop Culture appears to be the main medium through which young people are accessing their information
Sexual health is often the elephant in the room. Many of us still feel awkward when it comes to discussing our bodies, sex and relationships.
So, where do we learn about sex and relationships?
School? Currently, sex education in schools is inadequate. Other than HIV and chlamydia what STIs did you know? What do you know about trichomoniasis or HPV?
Parents? The awkward conversation vs the non-existent conversation - which side do you fall under? We know that these complex conversations with our parents can often be tied to tradition, culture and religious beliefs.
Friends? Trying to explain to friends that you have the symptoms of genital warts is not exactly an easy feat. Many would prefer not to broach the topic at all.
If we are not getting adequate sex education in schools and we are not talking to our family and friends about it, where exactly are we getting our information from?
Pop Culture appears to be the main medium through which young people are accessing their information. Digital resources including music, TV and the internet are frequently used by youth as a means of answering some of their burning questions.
‘What is HPV?’ was the seventh most Googled health-related question in 2019
Health information is becoming more and more available on the internet. Over 70% of the world’s youth, aged 15-24, are searching for answers online. Interestingly, this age group also acquires half of all new Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
With questions like ‘What is HPV?’ emerging as the seventh most Googled health-related question in 2019, it is clear that people are looking to the internet for answers.
Whilst the internet proves to be a valuable resource, its rapid development as a means of disseminating medical information has its potential dangers. It can be difficult to evaluate the quality of the data young people are accessing and the risk of misinformation is apparent.
Various online sources however, seek to provide accurate information in a culturally accessible way. From SHAKE Africa, to Honey & Banana to Marie Stopes, the correct information is out there, we just need to steer our young people towards it.
Television and Online Series
In recent years, a number of shows tackling sexual and reproductive health issues have emerged with high popularity including ’16 and pregnant', ‘Sex Education’, ‘Big Mouth’ and ‘MTV Shuga’.
Many of these have been particularly successful in addressing issues around sexual health. In fact, the popular Netflix series ‘Sex Education’ was recognised for its realistic portrayal of abortion and its step-by-step depiction of the procedure.
Furthermore, MTV Shuga exemplifies how technology and entertainment can be a useful means of successfully improving sexual health outcomes. In 2017, a World Bank report concluded that MTV Shuga viewers are twice as likely to get tested for HIV as well reporting a 58% reduction in chlamydia Infections amongst women.
Whether you’re doing the shoki in Quilox or you’re komole-ing at your aunty’s 50th, music is a big part of a lot of people’s lives.
When we're listening to our favourite artist and the beat is poppinggg, it is often easy to overlook some of the messaging in the lyrics. The impact sexualised lyrics can have on young men and women is something we may not take heed of.
Music can often be a contributor to harmful gender norms and stereotypes. Sadly, it is said that ‘popular music teaches young men to be sexually aggressive and treat women as objects’, and young women are taught through certain music that their value in society is to ‘provide sexual pleasure for others’.
There is plenty of scope to use music as a means of educating young people about sexuality and sexual health. This has been well acknowledged by the Nigerian Urban Reproductive Health Initiative (NURHI) which spearheaded the development of the National Family Planning Song ‘Get it Together’ by Tiwa Savage and Paul Okoye. To date, the song has had over 6 million views on YouTube.
So where can you get useful resources online?
If you’re a young person reading this, who uses the internet as an educational resource, is interested in pop culture and needs access to accurate sexual and reproductive health information SHAKE Africa has handpicked some useful online resources for you:
SHAKE Africa (It wouldn’t be a party without SHAKE) https://www.shakeafrica.org/shake-facts – An online information hub providing educational content regarding your sexual and reproductive health.
MTV Shuga https://www.youtube.com/user/MTVShugatv - A collection of YouTube series following the lives of young people as they navigate relationships and their sexual health.
Honey & Banana https://www.honeyandbanana.com – An online platform catering to sexual and reproductive health needs.
Marie Stopes Nigeria/International https://www.mariestopes.org – provides useful sexual health services including contraceptive services, testing anf abortion care.
Mirabel Centre https://mirabelcentre.org – A sexual assault referral centre based in Lagos.
Whispa Health https://whispahealth.com – A sexual health app which allows you to access sexual health services.
Finally, mass media is rapidly becoming the sex education tool of tomorrow. We need to be a part of the culture, meeting young people at the point of their sexual health needs. This is at the heart of what SHAKE is doing. We take steps to understand pop culture and the use of mass media in order to be relevant and accessible to all.
Thanks for reading!
Tola is an experienced marketeer and the CMO at SHAKE Africa.