‘They tell you about the risks’: Exploring sources of sexuality education among very young adolescents in rural Mpumalanga

R Essop, T Tolla, I Lynch, M Makoae


Background. Early adolescence (ages 10 - 14) is a crucial stage of development. The importance of early intervention in improving adolescent sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is increasingly acknowledged. Yet, school-based sexuality education largely focuses on older adolescents, leaving very young adolescents to contend with conflicting information from different sources. This study responds to the need for contextually nuanced research with very young adolescents, which can inform policy and programmes aimed at improving their SRH outcomes.

Objectives. To explore very young adolescents’ sources of SRH knowledge and investigate the implications of both formal school-based sexuality education and informal sources of information for their SRH rights.

Methods. This research was conducted with schoolgoing adolescents (aged 10 - 14) from the Gert Sibande district in rural Mpumalanga. Data were collected qualitatively using individual interviews and group-based participatory workshops, all conducted with the same participants. Transcribed data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results. Findings indicate that while formal transfer of SRH information takes place through school-based sexuality education, learners’ sexual knowledge is also shaped by informal sources, including household observations and sexual play. We identify three themes that cut across sources of SRH knowledge and position young adolescents in contradictory ways: prohibitive messaging, the notion of childhood innocence and everyday sexual learning.

Conclusion. Recommendations are made for comprehensive sexuality education that is responsive to this age group’s needs, draws on their everyday lived experiences and optimises the opportunities offered by foregrounding agency, while remaining cognisant of structural constraints

Authors' affiliations

R Essop, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

T Tolla, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

I Lynch, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa;Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa

M Makoae, Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

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Cite this article

South African Journal of Child Health 2018;12(2b):36-39. DOI:10.7196/SAJCH.2018.v12i2b.1527

Article History

Date submitted: 2018-09-04
Date published: 2018-09-04

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