Iyamail would have made different choices as a teen had she known more about sex. Now she’s determined to help girls today avoid her missteps.
I remember having this subtle fear that I had done something wrong.
When I was 14 years old, I traveled to Yaounde, the capital city of Cameroon, to visit my Aunt Grace and her family. A few weeks into my holiday I felt some cramps in my lower stomach and later discovered a dash of blood on my panties. I told my cousins about it, and I remember having this subtle fear that I had done something wrong. I also feared I had just completely stepped out of my childhood.
My cousins told me to tell their mum about it. Aunt Grace called me into the bedroom, and while she prepared a makeshift sanitary pad for me, she gave me the only advice I have ever received about sex from a mother: “If you have sex with a boy, you will get pregnant.”
At the time I didn't have to worry about getting pregnant because I had no boyfriend and no intention of having one. Better still, the blood did not show up again for the next four months. However, three years later at age 17 I started living on my own on the university campus and soon had a boyfriend. Still my entire sex education consisted of that one sentence from Aunt Grace.
To date I have never had a genuine, heartfelt talk about sex with a competent female authority.
I appreciate my mum for the thousands of things she did wonderfully, but I wish sex had been that one extra thing she had educated me about.
I know that she, as a mother of five girl children and one boy child, has had at least some education about sex, even if it is just from the school of hard knocks and lessons learned.
Why do parents fear opening up and talking to their kids about sex?
I wish my mother had told me that I could get STDs or become pregnant from unprotected sex, and that being in an isolated place with a member of the opposite sex may tempt me to indulge in sex?
I wish she had told me how my menstrual cycle works.
I wish she had explained to me that those kids I used to envy because they had boyfriends at an early age were not the ones to look up to.
I wish she had told me that if I choose to have sex it should be with someone who respects me. Or to just wait to have sex with my husband when I am married.
I wish she had explained to me what it looks like when a man respects a woman.
I wish she had told me that I am beautiful and validated me so I wouldn't go looking for validation from boys who may themselves be misinformed about sex and under the control of raging hormones.
I wish, for the sake of my self-preservation, she had taught me about methods of contraception, including abstinence, and their advantages and disadvantages.
But she did not. Instead, I learned this information in fragmented pieces over the years and through the consequences of my actions.
I believe that if my mother (or any maternal figure I looked up to) had shown me the right path through puberty, instead of letting me stumble in the dark, I would have made different decisions in my teenage and young adult years.
I was impressionable at the age of 14; her words would have guided me. Such a conversation would have encouraged me to come boldly to my mum with any concerns about sex, and this could have made our relationship a thousand times richer at that time.
I am not saying I could have been a better woman than I am now, but I could have had a more virtuous past. I don't blame my actions totally on the lack of sexual guidance, but with it I could have been prouder of myself and my parents could have enjoyed the benefits of their daughter making sexually empowered choices.
Instead, with my lack of knowledge, I repetitively swerved toward the dark path, causing my mother more than a few sleepless nights and the kind of anguish only a mother can feel.
One time I left home when I was about 21, a graduate without a job, and angry with the world. I left with just my phone and some cash and went to live at my boyfriend’s place. I turned my phone off to avoid the calls from home. I thought my boyfriend was my savior. He promised to make my life better in exactly all the ways I wanted, but his promises yielded zero results and a lot of tears. My mum had her church members carry on chain prayers for me until I returned home.
I am not proud of many of the choices I made then, but I know better now, so I do better.
I am not yet a mother, but when I am I plan to be a light to my children. I will teach them what I have learned about what is right in life so they do not have to learn it the hard way like I did, through experience.
I am also on a mission to empower pre-teens and teens, especially girls, with sexual information that will help them make better decisions about sex. I make it a point to talk to all the teens I know because most of them are still in the dark about sex, just like I was.
Currently I am writing an online teen self-evaluation quiz designed to provide teens with advice on sex and other issues based on the answers they provide. I plan to complete this quiz in the next month, and launch it soon after.
Additionally, I blog about my views and experiences on my website in order to reach out to parents with kids aged 9 to 14. I encourage them to talk genuinely to their children about sex.
Finally, I am working on an e-book for teens that communicates knowledge about sex from a godly and big sister-like perspective.
These are initiatives I am passionate about, because I know that a needlepoint shift in direction today is worth a grand arc of change in the future.
This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe everyone has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.
How to Get Involved
You can support Iyamail’s work by sharing her e-book and online quiz with teens in your community. Get in touch with Iyamail in the comments section below, or message her directly through her World Pulse profile, to receive these resources once she has completed them!