I have had to work with sex education facilitators who believe the best way to discourage girls from engaging in pre-marital sex is by using the analogy of the girl versus the loaf of bread.
This is how it goes: the facilitator sends someone to buy a freshly baked loaf of bread, soft, not so brown, usually; the girls are already sitting, anticipating the next move. Next, the loaf is passed around the group, encouraging the girls to smell it, press it and cut out of it; by the time the bread has made the rounds, it is in a different state and shape from the way it was at the beginning.
The facilitator then asks: who wants this bread now? Would you use your money to buy this bread? Would you eat this bread even if I give you for free? Not surprisingly, many of the girls would answer no, and then the facilitator goes on to explain that only a stranger who does not know that the bread has been passed around the group would want to eat it. Then she makes a comparison between a woman who has had sex before marriage or with multiple partners and the bread, saying that only 'an unsuspecting man' would marry her, as no man would choose a woman who has 'been around the block.'
This analogy may serve its purpose, namely to dissuade teenage girls from engaging in premarital sex, but if anything, the damage it causes is far worse. For example, I find two things deeply disturbing about comparing women with bread:
First, it promotes the idea that a woman's worth depends on the 'state of her hymen.' Apart from this been sexist and disrespectful, there are no words to describe how disempowering it is to reduce women who are sexually active outside of marriage to loaves of bread that has been passed around a group.
Secondly, this graphic allegory promotes patriarchy, the sort that is deeply ingrained in most of our local religions and culture. The type that permits male promiscuity but crucifies unchastity in women, the type that permits a man who has had sex with multiple partners to 'pick and choose' a virgin when he is ready for marriage, but would not afford women such luxury, the type that defines and applies chastity only to women.
There is no need for this kind of analogy, but if it must be used, facilitators must make it a gender balanced discussion. If women lose their 'market value' by having sex outside of marriage, so should men. If no man would marry a woman who has had multiple sex partners, then no woman should marry a man who falls into same category.
Information is power and should not come at a premium especially when it pertains to young and impressionable teenage girls and issues concerning their sexuality. Teenage girls must be empowered with the correct information to help them make informed choices, not bullied and brow beaten into gender assigned roles and conformity.
As a society, we should enable both teenage girls and boys of appropriate ages to make informed decisions and choices as it concerns their body including on issues of when to have sex and with whom to have sex. Most importantly, they should be educated on the likely effects of having multiple sexual partners; unprotected sex and sex before they are ready to bear the attendant consequences without resorting to derogatory metaphors.
It is of utmost imperativeness that teenage girls are taught that ultimately, they are whole irrespective of any disability they may suffer, the state of their hymen, the colour of their skin and their socioeconomic or religious status. Not only does this approach show respect for women, it also provides the guarantee that correct information can be transmitted from mother to child, friend to friend and group to group. It allows the maker of the decision to own it, to personalize it and to live it. Decisions made voluntarily after careful consideration are best.
I worry about the means by which we achieve our goals even though some may argue that it is all good as long as it serves a higher purpose. What could possibly come out of a message that holds women ransom to the ideals of patriarchy and subjugation? Of what benefit is a message that makes a woman feel worthless because of the choices she has made because when she alone has the power to make them? What do we hope to achieve by leading young girls to believe that their hymen is their crown and when they lose it, they become half the women they were made to be?
Ironically, the loaf that has been passed around the group gets eaten by members of the group in almost all of the sessions I attended.