In 1991, the Hip-Hop group Salt-N-Pepa released the chart topping single “Let’s talk about sex”, a song that essentially addresses the positive and negative aspects of sex in an age where people find it taboo to openly talk about sex. The song, which was alternatively released as “Let’s talk about AIDS”, was released with the purpose of removing the negative stigma that is attached to talking about sex. Twenty-six years later this stigma still exists.

In a university environment, there is a great need for students to openly talk about sex, specifically about the risk of unplanned pregnancies, the spread of HIV and other STIs, while learning how to handle certain situations. Robyn Luck, counselling and training manager at the Centre for Sexuality, AIDS, and Gender (CSA&G), shared her views on why there is a stigma towards sex: “I think there’s this idea that if you talk about sex then you’re promoting it, and that’s not what we’re doing. People are having sex whether we like it or not, and if they’re doing it, they must do it safely”.

Most of the time people just want a comfortable environment in which they feel they can openly speak without being judged. Duke Rasebopye, a counsellor at the CSA&G, said “More often than […] [not], here at the Centre, even outside on campus, it’s usually within social settings that conversations around sex would happen. It happens within certain groups. One would probably not have the conversation around a study group or around their home cell group at church, or people who they assume to have certain stigmas and stereotypes or views about sex. But then you could find, when it’s a different kind of social setting, where the safe space is created, people tend to be more open about sex.” The CSA&G has created a safe space where UP students can go to openly talk about sex and other issues, and they also offer free HIV testing and various forms of contraceptives. According to Rasebopye, “In counselling sessions, we’ve done well to create a safe space. We’ve done well to ensure as far as possible that people are comfortable and are actually able to open up about aspects of their lives, to a personal extent, about something like sex.” He further added, “There’s people who come to get information on STIs. Sometimes it is general counselling, sometimes someone just really wants to speak.”

Not talking about sex has led to certain misconceptions on the topic as people get facts from incorrect sources or make their own assumptions. Chris Joubert, a counsellor at the CSA&G, agrees with this, saying, “I think to a certain extent, we’re brought up thinking that it [talking about sex] is a taboo. The thing that I’ve noticed is most of the students, especially the first years, get their sexual information from peers, or Google, which equally is a bad thing.” He then went on to speak about the misconceptions that some students have, saying “the more common one, is them assuming that someone doesn’t have something like an STI, because they look healthy.” One of the most important things to talk about is STIs. Luck explained it as “something that happens that you need to take care of. And if you know what to look for, when to look for it and know when it’s something abnormal, it makes life that much easier.”

Luck spoke about what she thought university students needed to know most in terms of sex, saying, “I don’t want to say no sex is better, but just to have safe sex, no matter what. Even if you’re in a relationship, you never know what your partner is doing, so rather protect yourself.” She added, “Take your time. You’ve got three years to explore, don’t explore all in one week.” The CSA&G offers counselling, sex education, free HIV testing, and free contraceptives.

Image: Shaun Sproule

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