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Sexual and reproductive rights: let’s discuss and make change

By Alejandra Teleguario 

When I was 8, mom, dad and I had “the talk” about menstruation, body changes, human reproduction, and love between people of the same sex. They explained to me that I could always say “no” when somebody wanted to do something to me that I didn’t like. I had the opportunity to ask them questions, and both responded sincerely. I grew up freely able to learn about the world and with the ability to make my own decisions. I consider this a privilege, because not all girls and boys grow up in this environment. Rather, some grow up in a context where they cannot even say the words sex, penis, or vagina.

For many people, sexuality is taboo. They grow up afraid and ashamed to express themselves, have opinions, and ask questions. What’s true is that sexuality, as a fundamental part of human development, is always present in our lives. It’s how we inhabit our bodies, expressing ourselves through thoughts, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, practices, roles, and relationships.

This wide definition of sexuality is not something that is discussed at home or in school. If we’re lucky, we’ll have learned that an egg and sperm are the keys to human reproduction. It’s ironic how sexuality is assumed to only mean sex and pregnancy, and yet even this information is hesitantly given to us through euphemisms: alternative names are used to avoid saying “penis” and “vagina.” Sex is explained through a lens of morality, not science, and Christian values promote abstinence as the only option.

Why does it make us so uncomfortable to talk about sexuality? The reality is that various factors are at play. For one, religious conservativism: certain beliefs prevent the search for and exploration of one’s own sexuality, since this would be “ignoring the will of God.” Another factor is machismo: us women are only expected to discuss sexuality when it has to do with our roles as mothers. Also, adultcentrism: girls, boys, and young people are not allowed to talk about these things, since they’re “too immature” to understand.

In sum, many elements lead to a repeating cycle of violence and inequality. These are complete violations of our sexual and reproductive rights—human rights that all of us possess that assure us the possibility of making our own responsible decisions about our lives, bodies, and relations. Sexual and reproductive rights have always existed, but now they are recognized by name, highlighting their importance and transcendence. All of us deserve to live free from violence and discrimination. We have the right to make decisions about our own bodies, decide if we want to have kids (and when), and express our own sexual orientation and gender identity. We can decide who we want to have relationships with, access sexual and reproductive health services, and have comprehensive sexual education that respects our privacy and intimacy.

This all falls under the umbrella of dignity, respect, and empathy. Every person deserves to accomplish their own life goals, but in a state like Guatemala, where in January and February 2022 12,379 mothers between the ages of 10 and 19 gave birth, approximately 949 LGBTQI+ people reported acts of violence against themselves (with the majority of cases still unsolved), and where 9 out of every 10 students reports not having learned about sexuality… this becomes a challenge. We need to organize and demand the protection of our sexual and reproductive rights as a way of claiming our existence, autonomy, and identity.

Alejandra Teleguario is a feminist, student of International Relations, gender and local development researcher, comprehensive sexual education facilitator, and family planning counselor for adolescents and young adults.