It may come as no surprise to you that Romania ranks among the first two countries in the European Union when it comes to the annual amount of teen pregnancies (the other one being Bulgaria), arriving at a shocking percentage of 9.78% out of all births in 2015. Another study proves that every year, almost 10% of all teenage girls aged between 15 and 19 have had sexual intercourse that resulted in a pregnancy in the same year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also states that Romania is the first country in Europe when it comes to abortions: 480 abortions out of 1000 births annually.
To most Romanian people, these problems are either unknown, overlooked or easy to solve – by teenagers abstaining from sexual activities entirely. However, a large portion of adolescents are not familiar with the rapid changes that take place inside their bodies and the large amount of hormones that are secreted. Consequently, their curiosity is stimulated and they give in to their sexual desires, without thinking about the consequences that they may face if they don’t protect themselves properly. The fact that sex is considered a taboo subject in our country is not helpful at all in this situation, as most of the time teachers and parents don’t offer useful advice regarding contraception and protection. Thus, only one solution is left for our adolescents: to do their own research – either through sketchy websites or through discussions with friends. A flux of misinformation is hence produced, which leads to thousands upon thousands of unintentional pregnancies, dangerous abortions and sexually transmitted infections or diseases (also known as STIs and STDs, respectively).
As the fundamentally correct way to solve a problem is by addressing the root of it (and the main issue here is precisely the inaccuracy of the sources that most teenagers rely on when it comes to advice on sex), the best step we can take towards evolution is to encompass basic notions on safety during sex in our youth’s educational process.
So far, multiple solutions have been proposed, both by UNICEF and WHO. Statistically, two of the most effective ones, that have already been applied in multiple countries, have been the implementation of nationally-approved Planned Parenthood programmes and sexual education courses in middle schools and high schools.
What does Planned Parenthood do?, you may ask. The health centers that have been active in the US since 1916 provide millions of people with affordable contraception methods, ways to test for and treat STIs, lifesaving cancer screenings and safe abortions, among others. Even though multiple centers have already been opened in Romania by organizations with similar interests, they are still unknown to the majority of teenagers in need of such services.
What about sexual education? Although the term “sexual” can intimidate a lot of people (especially the politicians in our country – as a petition was signed to change this term to “sanitary” when discussing the need for these types of courses in school), it covers a broad variety of subjects: from consent, boundaries and healthy communication in everyday relationships to information on the changes that take place throughout puberty, conception, STIs and protection during intercourse.
You may think that openly talking about sex, especially to teenagers, can encourage them to engage in such activities – but this is completely false. Obviously, a vast majority of students are already familiar with this subject, mostly due to unreliable sources – and, believe it or not, they will try anything if they put their mind to it. The aim of sexual education classes is not to promote sex, but to let the youth know that if they want to start their sexual life, they should know how to protect themselves and their partners and how to act if something’s wrong.
Now, why should this kind of information be presented in schools? Of course, education can be done anywhere – especially at home or in a school environment. However, most parents are reluctant when it comes to discussing the topic of sex and if they are not, they oftentimes are basing their knowledge on past experiences or on advice that, once again, comes from untrustworthy sources – hence contributing to the vicious cycle that we are trying to break in the first place. Therefore, the most beneficial option for adolescents is to actively discuss matters of sexual reproduction with specialists in this field, that can help deconstruct any misconceptions that they have previously (and unknowingly) formed – and as one of the most effective environments to learn is school, these discussions should take the form of sexual education classes, to ensure that every single student has access to this information.
In order to provide our youth with support and guidance throughout one of the most confusing periods of their lives, while also establishing their safety, action must be taken; and even though the request for mandatory sexual education in school has not been approved so far, we may still try to let the people around us know that maybe sex and sexual identity aren’t taboo subjects after all – they are only topics that people are too scared to approach. Now, another question arises: when will we overcome the fear of addressing personal issues in order to establish a safer future?
Editor: Robert Stănescu
Grafician: Mădălina Moroșanu