Love, Sex and Misconceptions

I talk about sex for a living.

It's a great line for a party, late at night, when people have had a few glasses of wine. It's not so great when you're trying to explain to your grandmother what it is that keeps you busy all day.

When I went back to university to get a Masters degree in International Public Health, I had visions of myself curing malaria. Or at least fighting for new TB treatments. Talking to young people about masturbation wasn't high on my list.

But that's what I've been doing for close to four years now, and I haven't regretted it once.

So what is it that I do exactly? I'm the regional coordinator for Love Matters Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya. Love Matters is a series of online platforms engaging young people in conversations about love, sex and relationships. We do this in an open, honest and non-judgmental way. And, we take pleasure seriously. Many traditional SRHR (sexual and reproductive health rights) approaches focus on the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and STDs, in a very clinical way. Or sexual health education is focused on abstinence only. But rarely are the real reasons why people are having sex taken into consideration- because it's fun, and exciting, and amazing! Or at least, it should be.

In the (sexually) conservative societies of East Africa, things are pretty dire, especially when it comes to matters that aren't 'mainstream'. Homosexuality? Against God's law. And actual laws, unfortunately. Anal sex? A dirty perversion. Masturbation? Makes you blind, skinny and/or infertile.

Now imagine you have been enjoying the occasional self-loving session and you hear all those myths- how extraordinarily scary that must be!

On the other hand, our audience is not afraid to ask questions. In fact, this is what amazes me again and again: the trust they show us. We get hundreds of questions every day. I admit, sometimes I do roll my eyes if there is the same 'he hasn't called in two days does he love me'-question for the fifth time in a day, but then I remind myself how incredibly difficult it can be to open up about your fears. Where do you go when you can't ask your parents, or teachers or even friends? When you are embarrassed and afraid of being judged or laughed at or even shunned by your family?

Being able to support someone who is in a difficult situation- it's extremely rewarding.

One of my favorite memories started with a question on our website. Triza was distraught. She was afraid to get tested for HIV, after a recent condom slip. She suspected her partner was HIV-positive but she wasn't sure. I tried to support and encourage her, and eventually, she got tested. She seemed to take her positive result better than I did. Triza and I kept on chatting online though. She struggled with stigma from healthcare providers, and getting the care she needed. Over the coming months, she regained confidence and started coping well with her diagnosis. Triza even started replying to other people who have left comments on our website, supporting them with kind words and reassurance.

To be part of Triza's journey from being scared and not knowing what to do, to seeing her becoming a confident young woman who encourages others with her story was really gratifying.

With the content and support we provide, we can make a difference in people's lives. We help them to make better and healthier decisions and are honest with them when nobody else is.

Not all of the hundreds of thousands of people who have come to our website are 'Trizas', but every single one of them will have questions about sex, love and relationships. Because we all do.

And we all deserve honest answers.

Love Matters is a finalist in this year's Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, which honor leading groups and individuals internationally tackling censorship. The awards will be held in London on April 13.