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Surprises and Sex Ed

The women were very interested in everything we were teaching. It didn’t occur to us just how much they didn’t know. With no formal education, no libraries and no one to ask questions, there were quite a few surprises.

Our first surprise was the day we were teaching about infections, a topic we figured would be easy. But as it turns out the idea that you only rinse the external vagina, not using soap and not cleansing the inside was a shock to them. They had all been taught that the inside was dirty because of the mucus, so it needed to be cleaned daily. Their husbands actually demanded it. They had so many questions we were pretty sure they were all suffering from chronic vaginitis.

The second surprise was their question about why doing an enema once a month didn’t always prevent the baby from being born with mucus. We figured out by mucus they meant vernix and went on to explain that the vagina and anus are separate canals and discussed the role of vernix.

Our biggest surprise was when we discussed postpartum care and Tammy gave the recommendation that they abstain from sex for two weeks to ensure the vagina had a chance to heal from any tears and minimize the risk of infection. The women asked how they could do that since the husbands follow the woman to the clinic for sex. Apparently the husband asks everyone to leave the resting room and they get to work. We told them about other forms of sexual intimacy that wold not include the vagina and the women didn’t get it right away. Georgette turned back to me and asked “What do you do with the hands?” Tammy just stared as I tried to figure out how to not demonstrate oral sex or a hand job, but making sure the women understood. In the end Georgette told us the women thought we were crazy and said that type of thing is fine for Muzungu, but they didn’t want it.

We were able to calm the uproar by pulling the verse from the Bible that says a woman is unclean after giving birth. Debatable, but it gave them an opportunity to accept that maybe sex in the recovery room isn’t the best way to go.

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Jennifer Vanderlaan CNM MPH is the author of the BirthingNaturally.net website. She has been working with expectant families since 2000, training doulas, childbirth educators, and midwives. She has worked with midwives in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in public health grew in 2010, and she is now a PhD student learning to become a producer of knowledge.

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